First-round status didn't mean much to 49ers

Being a first-round draft pick used to mean something in the NFL, but the 49ers just dumped two off their roster in the past week, including 2002 No. 1 overall selection David Carr, even though the team has a strong need for veteran experience at the QB position. With their contracts outweighing their worth to the team, Carr and Nate Clements became endangered species once the NFL lockout ended.

Those two former 49ers joined a rather large crowd, because In the post-lockout NFL, it seems, there is nothing sacred.

Including former first-round draft choices.

Perhaps lost in the wild frenzy that has ensued since the league re-opened its doors for business is that former first-rounders – many of them older players with bloated and unaffordable contracts, but also five young veterans chosen since 2007 – have been a big part of the NFL endangered species list. Before training camps adjourn and regular-season rosters are set, the list could expand by a few more.

Carr turned 32 in July and Clements will hit that age in December, and Clements in particular carried an unaffordable contract that was due to pay him more than $15 million in 2011.

As of Monday morning, Carr and Clements are among 20 former first-round selections whacked since the end of the lockout. Only three positions – center, fullback, and safety – have been immune from the purge. A person could almost fill out an all-cut team comprised of former first-round choices.

The old saw is that franchises are reluctant to give up on first-rounders because of the money and prestige invested in them. But after paying underachieving defensive end Derrick Harvey roughly $20 million for three years of lackluster play, officials from the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to cut their losses.

And they weren't the only ones.

"(Stuff) happens," said linebacker Nick Barnett, the 2003 first-round choice of Green Bay, who was sliced by the Packers, and landed on his feet in Buffalo only a few days later. "There are no guarantees. Just because you're a first-rounder doesn't mean that you're going to stick around forever with the same team."

It's interesting that one of the ramifications of the new CBA, and of the rookie scale that is part of the agreement, is that most first-round picks that have signed to date have gotten guarantees for their full four-year contracts, including 49ers' first-pick Aldon Smith, the No. 7 overall selection. Smith is one of 10 first-round picks currently on the San Francisco roster, eight of which were selected by the 49ers. Defensive end Justin Smith and receiver/returner Ted Ginn were selected in the first round by other teams before they joined the 49ers.

Teams and agents have divined a formula for partially compensating for the reduction in money to the top picks. There has been some criticism of the four-year guarantees but, for the most part, the four-year term is a relatively safe one.

With the emphasis on relatively.

Harvey, who signed with the Broncos on Monday, played only three, most unproductive, seasons in Jacksonville.

Next to Vernon Gholston, chosen by the New York Jets two spots ahead of Harvey's No. 8 slot in '08, he's the earliest player from recent drafts to be released. Three other first-rounders from the 2008 class, most recently cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, have been traded. So maybe '08 was just a bad year?

But 2007 wasn't too far behind. The '07 first-round class has suffered four cuts – three of them defensive linemen – in the past week. The 49ers hit a bonanza in the 2007 first-round, when they selected linebacker Patrick Willis and offensive tackle Joe Staley, who both have developed into franchise cornerstones.

Said the general manager from one of the team's that jettisoned a first-round choice from 2007: "You can't wait forever."

That seems to be the key to the recent lopping off of onetime first-round picks. Only six members of the gang of 20 were from the 2006 draft or more recent. Fourteen were from 2001-2004, meaning they had at least seven seasons in the league. That's a little less than the 9.3 seasons of tenure the NFL says first-rounders enjoy on average, but five of the 14 have already signed with new clubs so they may yet reach the mean. In all, eight of the players have found new homes.

Notable is that the 20 former first-rounders include seven players chosen among the top 10 picks in their respective years. Carr was the top overall pick in 2002, with the Houston Texans. Enigmatic quarterback Vince Young, who has signed with Philadelphia as a free agent, was the No. 3 choice in 2006. Not surprisingly, given the gambles historically taken at the position, seven of the 20 released first-rounders are defensive linemen.

"After a while, I guess, you lose that (first-round) label" said tailback Willis McGahee, who came into the NFL in 2003, and has now been traded once and cut once, and signed over the weekend in Denver. "It doesn't mean as much."


Here's the list of former first-round picks released in the past week, with their position, original team and draft placement:

DE Jamaal Anderson, Atlanta (2007, 8th overall)
OT/OG Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia (2004, 16th)
LB Nick Barnett, Green Bay (2003, 29th)
QB David Carr, Houston (2002, 1st)
CB Nate Clements, Buffalo (2001, 21st)
OT Marc Colombo, Chicago (2002, 29th)
WR Craig Davis, San Diego (2007, 30th)
DT Justin Harrell, Green Bay (2007, 16th)
DE Derrick Harvey, Jacksonville (2008, 8th)
TE Todd Heap, Baltimore (2001, 30th)
WR Michael Jenkins, Atlanta (2004, 29th)
WR Bryant Johnson, Arizona (2003, 17th)
DT Jimmy Kennedy, St. Louis (2003, 12th)
RB Willis McGahee, Buffalo (2003, 3rd)
DT Amobi Okoye, Houston (2007, 10th)
DT Marcus Stroud, Jacksonville (2001, 13th)
DE Ty Warren, New England (2003, 13th)
OT/OG Mike Williams, Buffalo (2002, 4th)
WR Roy Williams, Detroit (2004, 7th)
QB Vince Young, Tennessee (2006, 3rd)

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