Right off the bat, there are two things that stand out about the 49ers' new 53-man roster.
First, special teams coach Brad Seely will have his work cut out for him.
The 49ers will have a new long snapper, personal punter protector and two new gunners this season. Saturday the team waived incumbents Kevin McDermott, safeties Bubba Ventrone and C.J. Spillman, wideout Kassim Osgood, and corner Darryl Morris.
The new long snapper will be Kyle Nelson, while rookies Jimmie Ward and James McCray will take over as gunners.
The 49ers' had the Football Outsiders’ fifth-ranked special teams units based on their advanced metrics in 2013, in part because of the team's ability to cover punts and kickoffs effectively. Seely's group loses a great deal of experience with Spillman, Ventrone and Osgood gone, who were second, third and fourth in special teams tackles in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.
"There’s young players that are going to have to rise to the challenge," Jim Harbaugh said. "And it’s a big challenge for our whole football team, the veteran players, young players, to get our special teams where we’re used to them being."
The second key takeaway Saturday: salary cap space.
"It's a concern," Harbaugh said when asked about the cap's impact on Saturday's decisions, "something that always has to be looked at."
According to Overthecap.com, releasing veterans Osgood ($955,000 base salary), Ventrone ($855,000), Spillman ($1.225 million) takes over $3 million in cap spending off the books for the coming season.
The 49ers will give out significant raises next year and need all the salary cap space they can get. Colin Kaepernick's new deal will kick in causing his cap figure to jump from $3.767 million to $15.265. Aldon Smith's fifth-year option means he gets an increase of over $5 million next year. And the 49ers are still looking at lucrative extensions for receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati.
Indeed, there's a price to pay for having one of the league's most talented rosters. The 49ers are hoping that price isn't a drastic decline in special teams production.
San Francisco used one of its open roster spots on quarterback Josh Johnson, who had the best preseason of any signal caller in camp. He had a 110.8 passer rating, compared to Colin Kaepernick's 69.3 and Blaine Gabbert's 54.0.
It was widely speculated the 49ers would keep just two quarterbacks to address depth elsewhere, but instead Johnson played his way on to the roster after completing 14 of 17 passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns in the exhibition finale.
As expected, Blaine Gabbert, and his guaranteed $2 million salary, made the team and will likely remain the backup. Johnson provides some insurance should they need to call upon their reserve QBs. Gabbert completed just 46.8 percent of his throws in four preseason games.
Rookie center Marcus Martin is believed to miss just six weeks, Harbaugh said, after an initial report indicated he would be sidelined for eight weeks with his kneecap injury he suffered in the third preseason game.
The hastened prognosis allowed Martin to get a roster spot and not go on injured reserve ending his season.
The surprise of the group is Dillon Farrell, who played both guard and center during the preseason at a high enough level to get a roster spot. The team will save $878,333 in cap space by going with Farrell instead of Snyder, who had a $1.3 million cap number.
"(Farrell's) done a fine job. He’s been versatile. He’s played well in the games and felt like he earned a position,” said Harbaugh.
Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who is holding a roster spot, will likely be placed on injured reserve with the early return designation Tuesday, which means the 49ers will have an opening on the 53-man roster.
That will give them an opportunity to sign a player they cut or someone from outside the organization. It's likely Ian Williams will start the year as the team's lone nose tackle.
The cornerbacks were given a lot of attention over the last few weeks. The 49ers Elected to keep five with Chris Cook, Perrish Cox, Dontae Johnson backing up the starters Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.
Sixth-round pick Kenneth Acker made the team, but was placed on injured reserve after having a foot injury that required a significant amount of time off, Harbaugh said. Fullback Will Tukuafu also went on IR while recovering from a concussion suffered in the preseason.
Morris, one of the fastest players on the team, was let go. Under the league's new practice squad rules, he remains eligible after appearing in 13 games in 2013. But he will have to pass through waivers, which appears unlikely.
Lloyd only appeared in one preseason game, making just one catch for seven yards against the Broncos. He's been dealing with an injury over the last two weeks.
It will be interesting to see which receivers are active on game days. Considering Lloyd doesn't play special teams, he could be the odd man out.
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