49ers, inevitably, trade punter Lee to Browns

After the 49ers drafted a punter in the fifth round last month, there was little doubt Andy Lee's days with the team were numbered. He was traded Saturday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There's an regrettable unwritten rule in the NFL.

If there is a significantly cheaper option that produces nearly as well, teams will go with that cheaper alternative to gain flexibility within the salary cap.

Case and point: punter Andy Lee and the San Francisco 49ers.

Lee, San Francisco's longest tenured player, was traded to the Cleveland Browns Saturday, in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2016 draft. This comes as little surprise after the 49ers drafted punter Bradley Pinion, 21, out of Clemson in the fifth round last month.

By investing a draft pick in a punter, it was clear Lee, 32, would not be wearing red and gold come September. He was scheduled to make $2 million in salary in 2015, with his contract lasting through 2018. His salary was scheduled to escalate up to $4.134 million in the last year of his deal, according to Overthecap.com

“For the last 11 years, Andy has been a tremendous representative of the 49ers organization both on the field and in the community,” general manager Trent Baalke said in statement. “While he may be best known for his production on the field, we have come to know Andy as a great teammate and family man. We would like to thank Andy for his commitment to this organization, while wishing him and his family continued success throughout his career and beyond.”

The trading of Lee is emblematic of the entire offseason for the 49ers, who have seen key player after key player leave the team, either through free agency or retirement. The news of Lee's trade comes a day after right tackle Anthony Davis, 25, announced his retirement. San Francisco will also have to find ways to replace retired linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, along with All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith.

“It has truly been an amazing 11 years with the 49ers organization, and I’m thankful for everything they have done for me,” said Lee in the statement. “San Francisco gave me the opportunity to play in the NFL by drafting me in 2004, and will forever be a special place for me and my family. Thank you to the York family, my teammates, the coaches, the football staff and the Faithful for your support over the years. It’s been a great time!”

Lee was a four-time All-Pro and three-time Pro-Bowl selection during his 11-year tenure with the 49ers. He ranks fifth in league history with a 50.9-yard gross average after getting drafted in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. He holds the team records in all major punting categories, including punts (941), yards (43,468), gross average (46.2), net average (39.5) and punts downed inside the 20-yard line (300).

The Westminster, SC, native is going closer to home in Cleveland, which is not far from where he played collegiately at Pittsburgh.

Pinion is scheduled to make $435,000 as a rookie, and is signed through 2018, when his salary will escalate to $705,000. At 6-5 and 229 pounds, Pinion has been impressive during his brief time with the 49ers during the team's voluntary offseason program.

Pinion averaged 42.6 yards per punt in his last season with the Tigers, while also working as a kick-off and long field goal specialist. He landed 55 punts inside the 20 yard line with just two touchbacks during his three-year career at Clemson.

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Brown a candidate to replace Davis at right tackle

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