San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan glances at the scoreboard as he plays the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of their preseason game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (Jose Carlos (Fajardo/Gulf News Group)
It was a stressful day of downsizing around Santa Clara.
Making the 49ers into the 53rd meant cutting NFL-caliber players. The rest of the NFL watched who got let go from Santa Clara, knowing that the Niners roster was the deepest in the league.
San Francisco’s trash proved to be a treasure for the other teams.
In 2020, the Niners cut Jauan Jennings (but managed to get him into the practice squad). In 2021, they replaced linebacker Jonas Griffin with a late draft pick. He made 92 tackles in 22 games for the Broncos. Last season, running back JaMychal Hasty was released on the cut-off day, after which he had a stellar season as the Jaguars’ third quarterback.
Are any of these players a future professional player? No, even after leaving the Gulf, they are not even close to family names.
But it was clear that the Niners felt compelled to move on from her.
They are strong and capable players in the NFL. The Niners simply had too many of these types of players in camp.
It was a big problem.
This is not a problem for Niners anymore.
On Tuesday, when the 49ers roster was whittled down to 53 players, there was no such glaring omission from the roster.
In fact, there were a few players that the Niners had kept who were at a loss.
It highlights the biggest difference between this season’s Niners squad and previous Kyle Shanahan lineups:
The 49ers have created consistent Super Bowl contenders with the deepest roster in the league, but that depth has dried up by 2023.
Don’t get me wrong, the Niners still have an impressive roster, but it’s pretty heavy.
San Francisco has had eight players on the annual NFL Top 100 players list this season.
The issue with the 49ers is that great players deserve big, big contracts. Success comes at a price. The Niners have rightfully pushed their best players over the past few seasons, with the exception of Nick Bosa, but that doesn’t leave much money to fill out the rest of the roster. The Niners have eight players that are more than half of the salary cap combined. (Two players are no longer in that group with the team: Dee Ford and Trey Lance.)
Now, if the Niners’ best players can stay healthy, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating them in a weak NFC this season.
But staying healthy isn’t the Niners’ thing.
The Niners’ depth in past seasons has proven crucial, as over the past decade the Niners have lost the most games to injury in the NFL. Under Shanahan, the 49ers are consistently one of the worst hit teams in the league.
The Niners’ extremely deep rosters have allowed them to weather this flood of bad luck.
But getting a roster so heavy is a hope that the team’s ongoing bad luck will turn around.
At this point, I doubt that will happen. Perhaps the football gods’ final cruel joke was the Niners running out of quarterbacks in the NFC Championship Game.
Then again, they’ve hit both the Niners with injuries this pre-season, so it’s hard to say they’ve stopped.
The good news is that narrowing down the 53-man roster is little more than a made-for-TV event these days. Rosters are never static in the NFL. The person who made the roster on Tuesday could be cut on Friday if the team finds a promotion.
And Dontae Johnson, God bless him, is always hanging around.
However, the shoe is in full swing for the Niners this season. They’re now a team that needs to round the waiver wire, looking for small free agent wins at the bottom of the roster.
Don’t think for a moment that the Niners aren’t Super Bowl contenders this season. They still have a great menu.
But while this team’s ceiling is high in the Super Bowl, Tuesday proved its floor is lower than in years past.