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Decent linebackers the 49ers might pick up

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A huge wave of roster cuts is coming by Saturday. Are there any gems?

Concept Korea - Backstage - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014 Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

By 1:00pm PST on Saturday, September 2nd, every NFL team will have to cut its roster from a maximum of 90 to 53. (Previously, there was a cut to 75 after the third preseason game, and then to 53 after the fourth.)

That’s over 1,100 released players all at once, giving the 49ers a decent chance to improve their roster. Not only has their talent level been among the NFL’s lowest, but they are second on the waiver wire and have by far the most salary cap room left — nearly $70 million.

So they are well placed to grab either veteran salary cap casualties (like CB Joe Haden) or rookies whose teams are hoping to hide them on the practice squad. Teams may also try to get some trade return for players they don’t love, like the fifth round pick Minnesota got for Laken Tomlinson.

One move to look out for is the delayed cut, essentially the draw play of roster moves. Especially this year, everyone will be frantic to pounce on that first round of waiver opportunities. So teams that expect to pick up at least one player and want to sneak a guy onto the practice squad might NOT cut him on Saturday. Instead, they will wait as long as possible and cut him a day later when they grab a waived player, hoping that teams that wanted him will have grabbed someone else at that position in the meantime.

On Sunday, we looked at offensive guards who might become available. Today, we shift our focus to linebackers.

That may seem odd, since NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong are back from injury. First round pick Reuben Foster may be the single most exciting rookie in the NFL this year, and special teams ace Dekoda Watson showed strength on defense too in Thursday’s night’s game against the Chargers. But Bowman and Foster present significant injury risk, as much from their fierce style of play as from their previous damage, and LB depth was a serious problem last year.

Meanwhile, the team is overhauling its defensive scheme and lost Malcolm Smith (their projected starting WILL linebacker) to a torn pectoral injury earlier this month.

The logical place to start looking is defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s previous employers, the Jacksonville Jaguars (where he was LB coach) and the Seahawks (whose scheme he uses). But neither team has much depth; discarded ex-49er Michael Wilhoite is a key reserve for Seattle and competing for the starting SAM job.

Buffalo Bills: Matt Milano or Tanner Vallejo

Buffalo drafted outside LBs in both the 5th and 6th round this year. One of them is likely headed for the practice squad, meaning only Cleveland could stop the Niners from grabbing him. Milano, out of Boston College, seems more likely to be available. While not a top prospect, he had a good pass breakup against the EaglesCarson Wentz, and his youth makes him intriguing. Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated named Milano as his choice for the Bills’ sleeper draft pick.

Philadelphia Eagles: Mychal Kendricks or Joe Walker or Don Cherry or Nathan Gerry or Najee Goode

The Eagles have a strong roster of linebackers and need to cut three of these five.

Fifth round pick Nate Gerry (6’2”, 209 lbs) hurt his hamstring in preseason game 3 and the Eagles may stash him on the Injured Reserve list for a redshirt year. The converted safety is strong in coverage and had 13 interceptions in college.

Najee Goode, 6’0” 244, is a versatile depth LB with great intangibles and ST skills. The four-year pro veteran majored in Industrial Engineering in college and was a dual threat QB in high school as well as linebacker. The Eagles cut and re-sign him every year, but he’s available on the waiver wire as a result.

Former Oregon Duck Joe Walker (6’2”, 236) is an athletic playmaker coming off of a preseason torn ACL in 2016, his rookie year. He’s the guy who picked up the ball carelessly dropped by Utah WR Kaelin Clay one yard short of the goal line, and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. Thursday night, he knocked the Jets starting QB Josh McCown out of the game with a hard QB hit on a near sack. He may not be 100% of the way back from his ACL, which makes him a good gamble for the Niners if he’s cut.

Another 2016 rookie, 6’2”, 240 lb. Don Cherry was on the Eagles practice squad last year. He had an interception and an awesome 42-yard return against Miami last week that was so awesome, it doesn’t fit into a 9-second GIF. At least one beat writer thinks he’ll make the team.

Mychal Kendricks (6’0”, 240 lbs) has tons of athletic ability, but there’s a reason Philadelphia has been trying to trade him for years. There’s something off about his instincts; he tends to over-run tackles and just is not a playmaker. He’s the opposite of the Eagles emerging star LB Jordan Hicks that way.

After leaving the team, former defensive coordinator Billy Davis criticized Kendricks directly.

"Mychal, sometimes Mychal kind of drifts on you at the wrong time. He makes some great plays, but there are other plays that hurt you."

At the time, Kendricks admitted that he is not great wearing the microphone to “quarterback” the defense. That’s a problem since Kendricks would likely play middle linebacker in the Niners’ 4-3.

Kendricks opened some eyes with three interceptions this preseason, but as Eagles beat writer Jimmy Kempski notes, he got lucky with tipped balls, and the last time he caught a ball in the regular season was 2013. He’s better at rushing than coverage, and was dogged by coaching staff murmurs that he wasn’t highly motivated to return from his many hamstring pulls.

On the other hand, pop stars Rihanna and Tahiry Jose both confessed to having crushes on the famously handsome athlete (see above). I mean, who could resist this adorable slab of beefcake?

Whoever the Eagles decide to keep or cut, there should be at least one quality prospect available.

Minnesota Vikings: Emmanuel Lamur

The Vikes are projected to start rookie 4th round pick Ben Gedeon, who would become only the third rookie Mike Zimmer has started since 2009. (Vontaze Burfict and Eric Kendricks weren’t good enough.) Meanwhile, 28-year-old Emmanuel Lamur has been losing snaps to Gedeon, and suffered a concussion against the Niners Sunday. The Daily Norseman projects him as a salary cap casualty.

The oft-injured, converted safety only makes $2,750.000 a year, which gives you a sense of how little his talents are valued. What, did you think someone like Luke Kuechly would be released? It’s a premium position.