The San Francisco 49ers currently have a significant number of players exempt from their 53-man roster. We have been talking about Aldon Smith's suspension, but even beyond him, the 49ers could welcome back other players in the coming weeks. The PUP list includes NaVorro Bowman, Garrett Celek and Kaleb Ramsey. The NFI list includes Marcus Lattimore, Trey Millard, Keith Reaser and Brandon Thomas. And of course, the 49ers have Glenn Dorsey listed with the return designation on injured reserve.
From all those players, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Garrett Celek and Marcus Lattimore are the most likely to return to the 53-man roster before the end of the season. All the rookies are likely to spend the season on their respective injured lists. They could get up to three weeks of practice in, but even then, they would likely just finish off the season on the injured lists.
The 49ers will need to find space on their roster to fit these returning players. They have a full 53-man roster, but with several players returning, some of those current roster members will be gone.
The 49ers outside linebacker will be back no later than Week 11, but as we have heard, he could be back as soon as next week when the 49ers come back from their bye. PFT, Matt Barrows, Chris Mortensen and Ian Rapoport all suggested it was a possibility, and John Clayton went so far as to say he is hearing Smith will be reinstated after the bye. If Smith returns right after the bye, the corresponding roster move could be when they move Daniel Kilgore to injured reserve. Kilgore suffered a fracture and reportedly had surgery on Tuesday. Once the 49ers place him on IR, they will have a roster spot. Maybe that one belongs to Aldon Smith.
The 49ers inside linebacker is expected back later this year, potentially in early December. There is hope he could be back earlier, but with the extra time available to get him back on the practice field, the team is going to take their time getting him ready. Much can change between now and Bowman's potential return, but we know that someone at the end of the roster will be released to make room.
A special teams player like Raymond Ventrone would seem to be the most logical candidate at this point. When Bowman returns to his starting role, Michael Wilhoite would likely go back to an extensive special teams role. That would provide space to remove another special teams player. Ventrone has been the last guy on the roster, having missed most of the season after being cut at the end of training camp. Guys like Corey Lemonier and L.J. McCray are options as well, but it seems like it would make more sense to release a veteran.
When the 49ers defensive tackle returns, the 49ers defensive line will have tremendous depth. Of course, that might result in the departure of some aspect of that depth. There have been on reports on his rehab status, but December seems like a logical return point.
As it currently stands, the 49ers defensive line depth chart includes Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Demarcus Dobbs, Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine. Dial gets a little bit of playing time, while Tank remains inactive. Do the 49ers keep an eighth defensive lineman when two are already seeing little to no playing time?
The 49ers running back is expected to re-join practice after the bye, and take the full three weeks before he is activated to the 53-man roster. My guess is he spends most of the rest of the season inactive, but it is possible he gets some opportunities alongside Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. Once again, I'm not entirely sure who will get the axe when he returns.
There has not been a single word about Celek's back problem during the regular season. Jim Harbaugh mentioned early in training camp that it was a disc issue, but we have heard nothing since.
What positions see departures?
I mentioned special teams above, but one position that could see a player released is in the secondary. If everybody is healthy when a guy like Lattimore or Bowman is returning, could we see a cornerback released? If the team is comfortable with Dontae Johnson as a reserve, could Chris Cook end up getting released? Heck, could Chris Culliver be on that short list? I don't expect it, but given that both are hitting free agency this year, who's to say it is not possible one of them gets released to make room for a returning player?
I honestly have no idea if it will happen, but given the number of corners they have, it would not be entirely shocking. Of course, this past Sunday proved there is no such thing as too many cornerbacks on the roster, so I could be entirely wrong.