The 49ers on Friday got a head start on final cuts ahead of the deadline to assemble their 53-man roster by Saturday at 1 p.m. They released 12 players, including running back Joe Williams and receiver Aldrick Robinson, and acquired a new offensive lineman in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
San Francisco sent a 2019 seventh-round draft pick to Cleveland for Shon Coleman, 26, who started 16 games last season. The former Auburn Tiger was a third-round pick in 2016 and lost out on the competition this offseason to replace longtime left tackle Joe Thomas, who recently retired.
The 49ers could use depth along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, where top backup Garry Gilliam is working back from a concussion suffered in the exhibition opener Aug. 9. The team is also facing an absence from Erik Magnuson, who started two games at right tackle in 2017.
Magnuson suffered a hamstring injury in the second preseason game. The length of his recovery is unknown, though he remains a candidate for injured reserve. But he would have to claim a roster spot over the weekend to be eligible to play for San Francisco in 2018.
Coleman fell out of favor with the Browns coaching staff and was demoted to the third-team right tackle this preseason, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. He allowed six sacks, nine quarterback hits and 49 hurries to rank 59th of 92 tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. The Browns ranked 18th in rushing offense and allowed 50 sacks, the fifth most in the NFL en route to the second 0-16 season in league history.
Adding another tackle became prudent after the 49ers released two battling behind Gilliam: Darrell Williams Jr. and Pace Murphy.
Kyle Shanahan said after Thursday’s preseason finale that he thought his roster improved from 2017, when his team finished 6-10. A sign of progress is releasing players who wind up playing for other teams.
“There’s definitely more than 53 guys that I’d like to keep on our team, and there’s definitely more than 10 guys I’d like to have on our practice squad,” Shanahan said. “... That wasn’t as much of a problem last year. I hope that’s a problem that we have every year.”
The 49ers released eight additional players, none of whom were surprising: offensive lineman JP Flynn, running back Ja’Quan Gardner, guard Chris Gonzalez, quarterback Jack Heneghan, defensive tackle Chris Jones, punter Jeff Locke, tight end Wes Saxton and defensive lineman Will Sutton.
Williams struggled to assert himself after the 49ers tapped him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft. He averaged 2.4 yards per carry in two preseason games before going down with a rib injury. He becomes the first draftee of Shanahan and John Lynch to get waived, though he could rejoin the team’s practice squad if he passes through waivers.
Robinson turns 30 next month and became expendable after the team used a second-round draft pick on Washington wideout Dante Pettis, who impressed during his first training camp. Pettis is a favorite to be the team’s punt returner while Robinson offered little value on special teams. Robinson was drafted by Shanahan with Washington in 2011 and then followed him to Atlanta in 2016. He signed a two-year deal with San Francisco last offseason to help Shanahan remake the receiving corps.
But Robinson struggled to become a factor in the 49ers’ offense. Quarterbacks completed just 40 percent of their passes to the veteran in 2017. He finished with 19 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns working in a reserve role.
Friday’s moves leave the 49ers with 77 players on their roster. Linebacker Reuben Foster is suspended for the first two games of the season following his January arrest for marijuana possession and possession of an assault rifle in February. He won’t count toward the 53-man roster until his return Week 3 against the Chiefs. Same for receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Rookie fourth-round pick Kentavius Street (torn ACL) won’t play this season and will go on season-ending injured reserve, leaving the 49ers with 21 more transactions to get to 53 players by Saturday.