49ers safety Donte Whitner expects to sign with his hometown Cleveland Browns shortly after 4 p.m. today, a source close to Whitner told cleveland.com.

If all goes as planned, Whitner will agree to a deal with the Browns right way, say farewell to the 49ers and their fans and head back home to Cleveland.

Whitner, 28, is expected to replace Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward, who figures to be lost in free agency. The 49ers were interested in re-signing their two-time Pro Bowler, but Whitner is set to come home instead.

The source said Whitner is excited to return to Cleveland and help turn his beloved city around. He starred at Glenville High under Ted Ginn Sr. and at Ohio State.

"This would be a chance for him to come back home and give back to the community,'' the source. "He feels it's his responsibility to make his hometown a better place.''

Whitner would also fill the leadership void left by D'Qwell Jackson. Heading into his ninth NFL season, he's an outspoken leader and role model for younger players.