Biggest Surprises and Snubs from the San Francisco 49ers' Roster Cuts
While there still may be a lot of movement between now and the first game of the season—Glenn Dorsey might be placed on short-term IR, and there is suddenly a breaking story regarding Ray McDonald and alleged domestic violence, first reported by Damian Trujillo of NBC Bay Area (via Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today)—the 49ers have at least made their initial decisions.
Most of the cuts and moves were expected, either due to the quality of the players or the financial ramifications for cutting players—there was no way, for example, that Blaine Gabbert was going to be cut, thanks to his salary hit.
There still were some surprises and snubs, however—no one quite nailed the precise series of cuts that led us to this point. The 49ers went young at some places people thought they would be older at, and some expected players, especially on special teams, were sent packing.
In no particular order, here are five of the most surprising cuts and non-cuts the 49ers made this weekend.
QB Josh Johnson—Made Team
Call this one a pleasant surprise. With Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert locks to make the team for financial reasons, if nothing else, Josh Johnson had an uphill battle to climb to make the final 53-man roster.
It’s becoming more and more in vogue for teams to keep only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. The last time the 49ers needed three quarterbacks in one game? December 21, 1997, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, when Steve Young, Jeff Brohm and Jim Druckenmiller took the field in a meaningless Week 17 matchup.
Johnson was the most effective of San Francisco’s quarterbacks in the preseason, finishing with a quarterback rating of 110.3 with three touchdowns and one interception. He wasn’t lights-out, however, and I questioned whether it was enough for him to make the final roster.
Jim Harbaugh had said, via CSNBayArea.com, that he wanted to keep three quarterbacks on the final roster. I thought Trent Baalke would overrule him to keep more depth on the offensive line or defense.
At the end of the day, however, Harbaugh was more comfortable with Johnson on the roster. Now we’ll see which of the three quarterbacks gets deactivated on game day and which one earns the primary backup role.
G Adam Snyder—Cut
With an injury to Marcus Martin, I thought Snyder would make the final roster as the primary veteran backup. Snyder, with nine years of experience in San Francisco and Arizona, can play every position on the line, although none of them brilliantly.
The 49ers' initial 53-man roster only has eight offensive linemen, and two of them—Marcus Martin and Anthony Davis—are injured, though Davis might return by Week 1. It just feels like an odd move to cut a veteran presence like Snyder while the line is in flux.
This may not be the end for Snyder, though. By cutting Snyder, the 49ers avoid the $1 million base salary he was owed, which would have been guaranteed had he made the opening-day roster. If they sign him back after Week 1, however, Snyder only gets paid for the games he’s actually on the roster for.
They did this last season with Kassim Osgood, and it’s entirely possible that’s the overall plan with Snyder, too. Keep your eyes peeled on that one.
C Dillon Farrell—Made Team
By the time you read this article, it’s possible Dillon Farrell will be gone. The 49ers have reportedly come to an agreement that will bring Alex Boone back to the roster, according to CBS Sports. If the team waits until Tuesday to officially do that, they can bring him on in the roster spot vacated by Glenn Dorsey’s trip to the short-term IR list. If not, Farrell might get the cut.
For now, however, Farrell is the healthy backup center. In 161 snaps this preseason, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) reports that Farrell gave up four quarterback pressures, having a notably hard time against Denver.
Farrell’s an interesting developmental prospect, but I was surprised to see him make the team over Ryan Seymour. Seymour, who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks last season, had a solid preseason and has a year of experience on Farrell.
Seymour was quickly snapped up by the Cleveland Browns, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (h/t Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee), and it seems the 49ers wanted to place him on their practice squad. I think it would have been better to keep Seymour, or Carter Bykowski or Al Netter, on their initial 53-man roster and try to pass Farrell to the practice squad.
Again, this might be nothing, as he might be cut for Alex Boone, but it was an odd selection for an initial player on the 53-man roster. To have Joe Looney as your backup center, or have someone else step in for Looney if Daniel Kilgore goes down, seems to make more sense.
CB Darryl Morris—Cut
One place the 49ers went for veteran experience over young potential was at cornerback, where Perrish Cox made the final team over Darryl Morris.
Morris, an undrafted free agent from last season, was an interesting prospect. Fast and strong, and a key player on special teams, Morris was essentially immediately picked up by the Houston Texans. Since Houston had the top wavier priority, there may have been other teams interested in him as well—it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
He was admittedly against the bottom of opposing rosters, but I thought Morris had a very fine preseason. He made 14 tackles on defense and another couple on special teams. I was fairly sure he wouldn’t make it through waivers, so if they wanted to keep developing him, they would have had to keep him on their 53-man roster.
The 49ers’ special teams units have been somewhat devastated from last season. Osgood and Bubba Ventrone also didn’t make the 53-man roster, and with Michael Wilhoite being temporarily moved to starter, the 49ers will need a bunch of young players to step up in coverage.
S C.J. Spillman—Cut
That leaves C.J. Spillman, the 49ers’ leading special teams tackler from last season. I figured his special teams leadership and production, as well as his role as a depth safety, would ensure him a spot on the final roster.
Instead, the 49ers kept undrafted L.J. McCray out of tiny Catawba College. Based solely on preseason performance, that was definitely the right move. According to PFF (subscription required), Spillman whiffed on four tackles this preseason, while all of McCray’s tackles have been “stops,” creating offensive failures. McCray added another couple of tackles on special teams, while Spillman wasn’t credited with any.
Cutting Spillman saves the 49ers a little over $1.2 million against the salary cap, according to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, so perhaps that was the deciding factor in going with youth at the position. I’m just surprised that, in a secondary that’s already seen the loss of Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown this offseason, the 49ers would choose to part with another veteran.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.