Sunday afternoon, word got out that the Cleveland Browns claimed offensive tackle Michael Bowie from the Seattle Seahawks. Bowie was also claimed by the Patriots, Saints, and Cowboys, but the Browns got him due to a higher waiver priority.
The Seahawks had waived/injured Bowie due to a shoulder injury that was going to require surgery. Had Bowie cleared waivers, the Seahawks likely would have placed the 2013 seventh round draft pick on their injured reserve list. They could have also come to an injury settlement and cut him loose, but odds seemed good he would have been placed on IR.
I bring this up not because of my fascination with the Seahawks, but because it provides some insight into why the 49ers are handling Kendall Hunter the way they are. Hunter tore his ACL on July 25. The 49ers could have elected to use the waived/injured designation and place him on injured reserve. Had they done that, they would cleared one of their 90 roster spots for another camp body. However, it would have subject Hunter to the waivers process.
The waived/injured designation is an offseason tool. There has generally been an "unwritten rule" that when a team uses the waived/injured designation, other teams don't place a claim. That "unwritten rule" appears to be going out the door. In 2012, the New England Patriots claimed Jake Ballard when the New York Giants waived/injured him after he suffered an ACL tear. Late last month, the Patriots claimed Tyler Gaffney after the Carolina Panthers waived/injured him because of a torn meniscus. And now we have the Bowie transaction as well.
If a team claims a player off waivers, that player joins their roster. However, for the Patriots and Browns, if they hold on to Gaffney and Bowie for the next few weeks, they can then slide them to injured reserve when the team cuts down to 75 players. The rules state that at that cutdown, injured players no longer need to be waived/injured.
The 49ers have dealt with several injuries, but they continue to hang on to Kendall Hunter. Although he is a free agent after this season, retaining him gives the 49ers exclusive negotiating rights until the free agency negotiation period next March. I suppose it is possible the 49ers think Hunter can pull a Jerry Rice and get back from his ACL by the end of the year. I imagine hanging on to him is more about retaining negotiation rights, and maybe preventing the Seahawks from talking to him about their playbook. I think the playbook thing is a bit overrated, but given that Hunter has been with the 49ers for three seasons and now four offseasons, he knows a thing or two about what the 49ers do. If the 49ers can get to the 75-man cut down without waiving him, why run the risk?