The 49ers biggest roster battle ended Friday when the team cut veteran quarterback Matt Barkley, thus making rookie C.J. Beathard the top backup behind Brian Hoyer going into the season.
There was heavy foreshadowing throughout August. Beathard started the 49ers’ game against the Chargers on Thursday, the third time he entered a contest ahead of Barkley in the preseason. Another rookie, Nick Mullens, played the second half, Mullens’ only work of the preseason. Barkley didn’t play at all.
The decision at quarterback seemed to fit a theme in which the 49ers held onto younger players and moved on from older ones.
▪ At running back, seven-year player Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs were among the cuts. That leaves the 49ers – for now, at least – with three inexperienced players behind starter Carlos Hyde: Matt Breida, Joe Williams and Raheem Mostert. Breida and Williams are rookies; Mostert has one NFL carry on his résumé.
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▪ The team cut six-year veteran offensive lineman Tim Barnes, who started Thursday’s game at center. That appears to be good news for undrafted rookie Erik Magnuson, who’s been playing both center and guard in recent weeks. He could end up being the team’s top backup at center.
▪ While veteran safety Vinnie Sunseri was let go in the first wave, a pair of rookies, seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert and undrafted Lorenzo Jerome, remain on the team for now.
When the 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to reshape the roster, they gave them six-year contracts. That’s longer than the standard deal, and it’s obvious the duo is looking toward the future.
Barkley’s ouster suggests the 49ers will enter the season with two quarterbacks – Hoyer and Beathard – on the active roster and with Mullens perhaps being added to the practice squad Sunday. It’s possible that if the 49ers suffer injuries at the position, they will be able to re-sign Barkley, who last year was the Bears’ No. 3 quarterback.
“I’m young and (I) make mistakes in games,” Beathard said Thursday when asked if he thought he’s done enough to earn the backup role. “And I think that’s the biggest part about being a young quarterback, a rookie, is learning from those mistakes and never letting them happen again. I just focus on getting better and on improving in any way I can.”
Beathard was 26 of 45 for 401 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in four games. His passer rating was 107.7. Barkley was 13 of 21 for 197 yards with a 92.8 passer rating in three games.
The 49ers have not made a decision on guard Joshua Garnett, who had knee surgery last month. If they place Garnett on injured reserve before 1 p.m. Saturday, he will miss the entire season. If he makes their initial 53-man roster, the 49ers then could put him on injured reserve and he could return to the active roster after six weeks.
The 49ers reduced their roster to 71 players. They still must make 18 more transactions to reach the 53-man limit by 1 p.m. Saturday. Linebacker Shayne Skov, receiver Louis Murphy and two 2016 draft picks, cornerbacks Will Redmond and Prince Charles Iworah, also were cut or waived Friday. Redmond and Iworah were waived with injuries.