Pay can't match production: Cota, McGrew are gone

Now it's getting interesting. The 49ers trimmed some of the fat off their roster Saturday, releasing a couple of veterans whose salaries didn't justify their projected 2002 roles with the team. There were arguments for keeping both defensive tackle Reggie McGrew and safety Chad Cota around, but the bottom line is each was the fourth player at his position, and those aren't places where a prudent organization places some of the highest base salaries on its payroll.

It wasn't just a money decision. McGrew needed to show this summer that he could put heat on starter Dana Stubblefield and also hold off free-agent pickup Jim Flanigan for playing time in the defensive interior. He didn't. The 1999 first-round draft pick finally developed into a decent run stuffer, but when Flanigan passed him on the depth chart, there was no reason to keep McGrew and his exorbitant base salary - at $700,000, one of the team's highest in 2002 - on the team.

"We could not bear to pay that much money to somebody who, if everybody was healthy, could be inactive or playing less than 50 percent of the time," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said late Saturday afternoon. "And it came down to a production decision. His production hasn't been good enough."

Now finally might be the right time to officially label McGrew a first-round bust. Many observers have been doing that for years, but the 24th overall pick in the 1999 draft did show some development last year. However, he never became the player he was supposed to be - an effective starter to take over the void created when Dana Stubblefield left the team after the 1997 season - and never really even came close to it. The team had to hire back a diminished-skilled Stubblefield in 2001 to be the starter because McGrew still wasn't ready to handle the role.

The Niners decided that Cota had to beat out Ronnie Heard for the third safety role behind starters Zack Bronson and Tony Parrish to stick around. In the two weeks he was with the team, he couldn't do it. He'd be nice veteran insurance to have around, but the Niners got by with just three active safeties last season, and opted to do that again instead of pay Cota $650,000 (of which $450,000 would have counted against the cap).

There's still a chance the Niners might keep a younger - read: cheaper - player around as a fourth safety, and that player would be Al Blades, but those decisions will be made by Sunday afternoon as the team still must cut five more players to reach the NFL's 53-man roster limit.

Other players released Sunday were:

--- Linebacker Cornelius Anthony: The first-year player came on strong in camp after a successful NFL Europe season, but he just had too much competition ahead of him at what probably is the deepest position on the team.

--- Wide receiver Scott Cloman: Showed nice size and hands and was more than everybody expected, but he wasn't going to slip into the top four at this position, and the Niners opted to keep James Jordan around another day instead while they decide whether or not they're going to keep five receivers.

--- Defensive end Bobby Setzer: Fought hard to keep his roster berth, but the acquisition of Sean Moran and the development of Jerome Davis put those players ahead Setzer on the depth chart and made him expendable.

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