Saturday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers announced the release of 22 players, including former first-round pick Joshua Garnett and recently-acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews, the nephew of 49ers great Jerry Rice.
“The hard part about today, I won’t speak on one decision but I’ll speak on a number, where we felt like a guy earned his way on the roster but we weren’t able to keep them,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “But I guess that’s a good problem to have.”
As well as cutting 22 players, the 49ers also announced six additional roster moves, including placing running back Jerick McKinnon on injured reserve. According to Lynch, McKinnon will have a second procedure performed on his knee after experiencing a trio of setbacks this summer. He’ll miss all of the 2019 season.
His $3.7 million salary for 2019 is fully guaranteed. He made $12.5 million in his first year with the 49ers, including an $8 million signing bonus.
McKinnon, 27, signed a four-year, $30 million deal with San Francisco in March of 2018 after spending four years with the Minnesota Vikings. He missed all of 2018 after tearing his right ACL before the start the season. After being activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Aug. 6, he was sidelined for three weeks after another issue. His struggles continued during practice this week.
“He needed to undergo another procedure where being available in eight weeks wasn’t an option,” Lynch said. “We’re hopeful for Jerick that this one will be successful. There were some mechanical issues that did not allow him to play.”
The 49ers also placed receiver Nick Williams on season-ending injured reserve, and waived safety Adrian Colbert (leaving just three on the roster) and offensive lineman Andrew Lauderdale. Tight end Garrett Celek will start the season on the PUP list and long snapper Kyle Nelson will be placed on the reserve/suspended list per the 49ers, after testing positive for a banned substance last season.
Along with Garnett and Matthews, here are the remainder of the cuts made by the 49ers:
DB Antone Exum Jr.
LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
DL Jamell Garcia-Williams
DL Kevin Givens
S Marcell Harris
TE Daniel Helm
WR Malik Henry
LB Elijah Lee
LB David Mayo
DL Damontre Moore
LB LaRoy Reynolds
G Ross Reynolds
S Tyree Robinson
QB Wilton Speight
WR Chris Thompson
DL Jordan Thompson
OL Najee Toran
DL Jeremiah Valoaga
RB Austin Walter
RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
In the case of Garnett, the Stanford product’s four-year stint with the 49ers has been marred by injuries.
Including toe, knee and thumb issues over that span, Garnett missed the majority of the 2019 preseason with a broken ring finger that was surgically repaired in early August.
Making only seven starts in four seasons, Garnett’s biggest shortcoming was availability. This also showed up Thursday night in the 49ers’ 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, as he was forced to leave the game due to cramps, according to the 49ers.
“He’s had a rough time over the last few years being available,” Lynch said. “You need to be on the field to get better… unfortunate in the time that he’s been here, he hasn’t had that extended time. It was in our best interest to move on.”
Without Garnett, the 49ers go-to backup at guard and center will be Ben Garland, who formerly played for the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons during his 10-year NFL career.
Coming as necessary depth, the 49ers decided to keep seven wide receivers on their roster Saturday.
With Trent Taylor (toe) and rookie wideout Jalen Hurd (back) out for at least the season opener, the additional bodies will help maintain a fresh rotation of pass catchers for head coach Kyle Shanahan and his offense.
The odd man out, however, was Matthews, who was signed by San Francisco in March. The hope, initially was to add height to a receiving corps that lacked it, averaging just 5-foot-11.
Despite looking the part from a physical standpoint, Matthews had an underwhelming camp, which caused the former Philadelphia Eagle to fall on San Francisco’s depth chart.
“I’m thankful for the professionalism that Jordan brought to our team,” Lynch said. “Ultimately we had to make a hard. All and we’re excited about the group that we have now.”
In fact, Matthews was relegated to special teams play Thursday night instead of getting playing time on offense.
Instead of Matthews, the 49ers opted to keep second-year wide receiver Richie James Jr. and three-year veteran Kendrick Bourne, who were both on the bubble heading into the weekend.