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San Francisco 49ers: Five Players with the most to lose

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As training camp opens, the San Francisco 49ers have numerous positions in flux. The outcome of training camp and dashes the dreams of dozens of players on each squad. Some are end of roster players hoping to latch on, but every year there are players thought to be key components who find themselves on the outside looking in. These players have the highest stakes in preseason, and today we take a look at five players on the 49ers who have the most to lose if training camp does not go their way.

Colin Kaepernick

It wasn’t all that long ago that Colin Kaepernick just missed a fade to Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone. 49ers’ fans may wonder which time I am referring to, but that question is exactly why Kaepernick is potentially on his way out. Kaepernick burst into the league leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl when he took over for Alex Smith.

Ever since then, Kaepernick has failed to build on that potential. His career has become a series of disappointing incomplete fades in the end zone.He never grew as a player, and learned the game behind one of the best lines. When that line broke down, Kaepernick’s lack of development became a glaring issue. He could not process the game with the requisite speed to flourish. He began seeing ghosts in the pocket, and could be seen actively fighting his instinct to take off and run. Everybody told him he needed to learn to be a pocket passer, and doing so fought against his every instinct.

Now coming off of surgery and with a head coach who seems to have a system that would perfectly utilize Kaepernick’s physical talents, he is out of excuses. Kaepernick won’t be injured, and he will have a coach who has shown he can emphasize a QB’s talents and hide their weaknesses. Currently the backup to Blaine Gabbert, it will take a big preseason to get Kaepernick his starting role back. If he doesn’t have that big preseason, he may be regretting not restructuring his contract to head out to Denver.

If the 49ers cut Kaepernick, he tacks an additional $4 million onto the cap this year, but clears out $19 million for each of the next three years and $21 million in 2020. He won’t be cut, however, as the 49ers’ have an even more dire situation behind him. Instead, he will likely be the first against the wall after the season if he doesn’t turn it around.

Tank Carradine

One of the biggest flops of Trent Baalke’s all-ACL team, the 49ers envisioned Carradine holding the edge as the heir to Justin Smith. The 49ers took him with the 40th overall selection, envisioning him both returning from his ACL tear and converting his college potential to NFL production, but he has been nothing but disappointing along the defensive line.

Instead, Carradine has been mostly useless for the 49ers, completely failing to live up to his billing. What increases the sting is that six of the next thirteen players drafted after Carradine have been Pro Bowl selections (including another defensive lineman, Kawann Short).A bust along the defensive line, the 49ers advised Carradine that he would be dropping weight, keeping his hand off the ground and converting to outside linebacker, where a team bereft of talent is especially bereft of talent.

This will be Carradine’s first full season at OLB, and the team needs him to step up in a big way. With the ineffective Ahmad Brooks inexplicably likely to keep a roster slot, and Aaron Lynch missing the first four games, it will fall on Carradine, Corey Lemonier (another converted DE) and Eli Harold to carry the load with the outside pass rush. If Carradine cannot show that he will flourish as an outside linebacker, the 49ers are likely to show him the door.

Quinton Patton

The former fourth-round selection and de facto WR3, Patton has been maddeningly inconsistent in his few years in the league. He has shown some flashes as a playmaker, but has shown that his emotional intelligence will be his downfall. Everyone has famously seen Patton go the wrong way for a massive loss.

What you may not have seen is several other notable mistakes Patton makes; fighting for a couple extra yards on the sidelines instead of going out-of-bounds on two-minute drills, screaming at referees and other moronic extra-curricular activities on the field. Patton has some talent, but does not stand above the other receivers behind Torrey Smith and Bruce Ellington. The current WR3 may be without a roster spot or be delegated to special teams only if he keeps it up.

Erik Pears

The 49ers’ offensive line was atrocious last season, and center and right side of the line were especially bad. Pro Football Focus ranked Pears as the #50 right tackle last season, and considering there are only 32 starting right tackles, he was next-level bad. The 49ers brass is hopeful that jettisoning Jordan “Tuba” Devey in favor of first rounder Joshua Garnett will put a stronger player to Pears’ left, allowing him to better focus on his assignments.However, Pears is already 34, and is a free agent after the season.

Cutting him saves the 49ers $3 million against the cap, but they are nowhere near the cap ceiling, so cutting him serves no real purpose. What’s more likely is that Pears, whose talent level better suits him to be a backup, serves as a swing tackle behind Joe Staley and Trent Brown.

Pears makes the list because if he does not perform in camp and preseason, he’s likely lost a starting gig for good. He’s been terrible, and a benching on a bad 49ers team makes it unlikely he gets a starting contract season—or even a contract at all.

Antoine Bethea

Like Pears, Bethea is an aging player who faces becoming a casualty of the insane number of young players on the roster who play the same, or similar positions. Bethea had numerous injuries last year, including a concussion, an ankle, and the pec injury that knocked him out for the season after week seven.

While the salary cap is not a concern for the 49ers, Bethea represents only $2.5 million against it if he is cut, compared to $6 million if the 49ers pay him. Accelerating his prorated bonus from 2017 to 2016 would give the Niners some extra flexibility next season. Since they aren’t in a position to compete now, using up cap space to free up extra cash later is a good idea.

With the 49ers using first or second round picks on defensive backs in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt), there may not be room left for Bethea in the rotation. He still has something left in the tank, but could be getting pushed out in favor of the future.

While it is unlikely any player on the 49ers gets cut for cap reasons, it is highly likely that the squad will pivot away from the Tomsula-Harbaugh personnel towards ones that better fit Chip Kelly’s coaching scheme and style. This change will see several players without a valuable position on the 49ers, and may find themselves on the free agent wire for players who have more upside, potential and fit in the new scheme in San Francisco.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]