SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers are expecting some key reinforcements to return in the coming weeks, meaning they must clear room on their 53-man roster.
That means general manager Trent Baalke will likely be active leading up to Tuesday afternoon's trade deadline to try and get compensation where he can for players taken off the roster, instead of releasing them and getting nothing in return.
ESPN reported Sunday San Francisco could trade away one or two defensive players on the back end of the roster. CSN Bay Area confirmed that report, indicating a leading candidate to be traded is second-year outside linebacker Corey Lemonier.
Lemonier showed promise while filling in for Aldon Smith during his five-game leave of absence in 2013, registering a sack and 23 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. In the same role this season, he provided very little to the pass rush in the first three games and was surpassed on the depth chart by rookie Aaron Lynch. Lemonier had one QB hurry in 100 defensive snaps and went four games without seeing the field aside from special teams work before playing late in Week 7's blowout loss in Denver.
With Smith potentially returning to the team early from his nine-game suspension, possibly as soon as this week to play the Rams, Lemonier would likely have a hard time being apart of the active 46-man roster on game days, which could make him expendable.
The 49ers used a third-round pick on the Auburn alum in 2013, hoping to provide depth and another versatile pass rusher to the team's talented group of outside linebackers. But it was Lynch, a fifth-round pick in May, who made a more immediate impact during Smith's suspension.
Lynch's first career sack came in the team's last game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. In limited use, mostly in passing situations, the rookie has been the team's most consistent pass rusher. He's second on the team with 11 QB hurries (Ray McDonald leads with 15 having played 169 more snaps).
Eventually, the 49ers must clear room for the return of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and running back Marcus Lattimore, who is expected to return to practice this week.
Given Lemonier is 22-years-old with physical tools and upside, he would have the most value on the trade market of any 49ers player they would be willing to part with. He would likely garner a mid-round draft pick in a trade. Other players likely to be included in discussions are reserve defensive linemen Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie.
Defensive line might be San Francisco's deepest group. It invested a 2013 second-round pick in Tank Carradine, who has yet to play. Quinton Dial, a fifth-rounder in the same class, has seen just 36 snaps this year, with 17 of them coming against the Broncos after the game had been decided.
Dobbs and Jerod-Eddie will be free agents following the season and would each likely be worth late-round draft picks to team's needing depth along their defensive front. Both have had nondescript seasons backing up starters Justin Smith and McDonald.
The deadline to make a trade is Tuesday at 1 P.M. Pacific time.
KILGORE, COOK PLACED ON INJURED RESERVE
The 49ers over the weekend placed center Daniel Kilgore and cornerback Chris Cook on injured reserve ending their seasons. Kilgore broke a bone in his left lower leg in the team's loss to the Broncos.
Cook, who came to the 49ers as a free-agent in the spring, left the same game with a torn hamstring. The team has an open roster spot after adding special teamer Bubba Ventrone back to the active roster.
San Francisco's cornerbacks have been banged up in recent weeks. Against the Broncos, they were without starter Chris Culliver (shoulder, hamstring) and rookie nickel back Jimmie Ward (quad). Both are expected to return this week to join Tramaine Brock, who played for the first time in Week 7 since suffering a toe injury in the first quarter of the season opening win in Dallas. Brock looked rusty and allowed two touchdowns in his first action in 42 days.
Cook's absence likely means an expanded role for rookie fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson, who has done well in his limited time on the field. Johnson has allowed completions on 46 percent of his targets in coverage (6 of 13) and 8 combined yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 49ers have defensive back Leon McFadden on the practice squad should they choose to add to the secondary in Cook's absence.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
E-mail Niners Digest: NinersDigest@gmail.com
Follow Editor-in-Chief Chris Biderman on Twitter.