Ray McDonald’s sudden exit from the 49ers on Wednesday means another unacclaimed player will take on a major role on defense over the final two weeks of the season.
McDonald became a starter at left defensive end in 2011, and he has played in all but three games since. It’s likely that Tony Jerod-Eddie will start Saturday against the Chargers, with Tank Carradine filling in as a backup at both left and right defensive end.
Depending on how much San Diego passes – and how often the 49ers are in their nickel defense – nose tackle Quinton Dial also could see action at defensive end.
At one point this season, the 49ers had what seemed like an overabundance of defensive linemen. But since the start of the regular season, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs was released and nose tackles Ian Williams (leg) and Glenn Dorsey (biceps) were placed on injured reserve.
Starter Justin Smith’s status for next season also is up in the air, meaning the bedrock of the 49ers’ defense in recent years, their defensive line, could have a drastically different composition in 2015 and beyond.
In a way, the odd lineup for the defensive line Saturday is appropriate in a season in which every aspect of the 49ers’ defense has undergone drastic changes. By the end of Sunday’s game in Seattle, for example, the 49ers’ starting inside linebackers were Nick Moody and Michael Wilhoite. Their top three cornerbacks were Perrish Cox, Dontae Johnson and Leon McFadden.
McDonald, who was signed through 2017, was scheduled to earn $4.2 million next season with a salary cap figure of $6.5 million. His release will accelerate the signing bonus he was due to earn, which means he still will count $4.6 million against the 2015 salary cap.
Running back added – With Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde both ailing this week, the 49ers signed running back Phillip Tanner to the active roster.
Tanner, 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2011. In three seasons with Dallas, Tanner played in 39 games and had 56 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns and nine receptions for 93 yards. He also added 21 tackles on special teams.
Tanner also has been with the Colts and Bills. He was released by Buffalo last month. He and Alfonso Smith are the only healthy running backs on the 49ers’ roster. Gore suffered a concussion Sunday against the Seahawks and Hyde is dealing with ankle, knee and back issues after an awkward tackle. Neither practiced Wednesday.
Et cetera – The University of Michigan is offering 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh a six-year, $48 million contract, the NFL Network reported. Harbaugh is believed to want to stay in the NFL if he and the 49ers part ways when the season ends. Michigan also approached Harbaugh in 2011.
▪ Receivers Michael Crabtree (knee) and Stevie Johnson (knee) also missed Wednesday’s practice.
▪ For the Chargers, quarterback Philip Rivers (chest, back) and receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone, ankle) missed practice. Allen will not play Saturday.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.