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What Jeremy Kerley-Brandon Thomas trade means for 49ers

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The 49ers traded a reserve offensive lineman for a slot/returner option. We break down what the Jeremy Kerley trade means for the team.

The San Francisco 49ers made three roster moves on Sunday. They announced they have released offensive lineman Erik Pears and tight end Busta Anderson. Additionally, Adam Schefter reported the team traded offensive guard Brandon Thomas to the Detroit Lions for Jeremy Kerley. The moves have varying impacts, so I thought we’d take a look at each move individually. We discussed the Pears release here, and now let’s move on to the trade that sent Brandon Thomas-Jeremy Kerley trade.

The move comes following Bruce Ellington’s hamstring injury on Friday. That followed a sprained ankle, and there seems to be a good chance Ellington will be unavailable when the season gets going on September 12. Ellington has been the team’s slot receiver and primary kick/punt returner, so his absence is notable.

Kerley has had very little work as a kick returner (three in five seasons with the Jets), but he has extensive experience returning punts. Last season, he fielded 48 punts for the New York Jets, averaging 8.5 yards per return. He was second in total punt return yards, but 14th in return average. He set an NFL record in 2012 with 36 fair catches. Our Jets blog described him as a passable punt returner.

The big “winner,” if you will, following Ellington’s injury is DeAndrew White. He has been working the slot and return jobs in Ellington’s absence. He made the 53-man roster last season, but did not get many opportunities. Kerley will compete for work, but White could move into a significant role fairly quickly.

The departure of Thomas is not surprising. The team has developed more depth on the offensive line than I think many of us expected. Additionally, Thomas was slipping down the depth chart, and probably would have been cut if the team did not do a deal.