The San Francisco 49ers played it fast and loose with the 53-man roster last season, taking advantage of obscure rules to keep what was essentially a 54th player. They accomplished this with a series of releases and re-signings, usually between third quarterback Josh Johnson and special teams players Kassim Osgood and Bubba Ventrone.
It's Osgood and Ventrone who are most-interesting going forward, though we already talked about Johnson's future (or lack thereof) with the 49ers. Both Osgood and Ventrone were released prior to the start of last season, with Osgood getting picked up shortly into the season. The coverage units last year were ... not very good, to say the least.
Eventually, the 49ers (after saying Osgood was the best special teamer) released Osgood and signed Ventrone off the street. That's when the roster stuff got out of control, as Osgood was re-signed just a few days later and the releases/re-signings started happening plenty.
But in making sense of all of this, who actually played well on the field? Ventrone and Osgood were both special teamers, but Ventrone, who didn't make final roster cuts, was brought in as a reaction to poor special teams play. San Francisco was miserable in covering both kickoffs and punts, a stark contrast to the year before where they were one of the best.
That has a lot to do with the absence of Anthony Dixon and C.J. Spillman (who was also a serviceable backup safety, I thought), but Osgood and Ventrone were definitely solid special teamers. Chris Borland was also very effective on special teams, but that dropped off once he took over for Patrick Willis on defense. I definitely think the 49ers need to address the special teams situation next season, but it's hard to point out specific guys and suggest the 49ers sign 'em.
Whatever the case, I thought the 49ers got better on special teams when Ventrone was on the field, but Osgood is the guy San Francisco put its faith in at the start of the season.
Why Osgood will return or depart
The 49ers, as noted above, put their faith in Osgood and it's easy to see why he could return. Osgood was second on the team in special teams tackles, behind backup safety Craig Dahl. He won't cost much and all of that. He could depart if the 49ers elect to go with someone younger or if another team wants to sign Osgood for his special teams ability. I'm not sure that's particularly likely, given he's been pretty darn available in the past, but it's an option.
Why Ventrone will return or depart
Ventrone was excellent on special teams, I thought. He could come back just for that, and because he seems like he has plenty left in the tank. He could depart if the 49ers decide that they can go on without him, or if they find another special teamer. But he'd be one of the first guys they call if there's more troubles.
Odds of returning for both
This is more important than the reasons either will stay or go -- as those reasons are largely the same for both. The 49ers need special teamers, and the only definitive thing I think we can say is that one or both of these guys will end up in training camp, unless another team signs them to a deal. Given that Osgood saw the most playing time last season, I'll go with a 50 percent chance of returning for him, and a 40 percent chance for Ventrone.