The San Francisco 49ers made official on Wednesday their transaction to sign linebacker Elijah Lee off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. They cleared room for him by releasing offensive tackle John Theus. The move provides depth with Reuben Foster expected to miss some time with a high ankle sprain.
Kyle Shanahan had a chance to address the signing on Wednesday before practice. The 49ers had linebacker Ben Boulware on the practice squad, but elected to release him to add a defensive back. Shanahan was asked why go outside the organization for this kind of addition.
"[Boulware] that had been here had only been here for three days. And when we went out there — I don't really get to see the guys at this time of the year, but we tried to figure out the best guy that we thought could help us on special teams and hopefully get him ready to play linebacker. You’re still two injuries away from getting that person in, the fourth guy. But we needed someone who we thought could learn to do that once the time came and could be our best player on special teams."
Shanahan mentioned that Lee was someone the team had been interested in during the lead up to the draft. He was one of their 30 official pre-draft visits back in March. The Vikings ended up spending a seventh round pick on him, but the 49ers personnel department did not forget about him.
“[O]ur personnel department keeps an eye on him throughout preseason, guys that we targeted in the draft. So, usually, those are guys, when we go do it, we put a lot of time into it with their college play."
The Vikings were hoping to stash Lee this season on their practice squad. Our friends at Daily Norseman pointed out that Lee saw his snaps decline late in the preseason, likely in hopes of keeping him under the radar. I spoke with Christopher Gates to get some quick thoughts on Lee.
Lee is someone that I really thought had the chance to make the Vikings' squad this year. He's a bit undersized for a linebacker, but displayed some very solid coverage skills at Kansas State. I don't think he performed badly in the preseason or anything, but the Vikings just had some played (like UFDA Eric Wilson) that stepped up and passed him by. Since he was a seventh-round pick, there wasn't much to be lost by the Vikings cutting him and putting him on the practice squad.
Shanahan mentioned Lee is the fourth linebacker, and that makes sense given where we are in the season. NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong are starting at MIKE and WILL. Brock Coyle is the first backup, and while he is primarily a special teams player, he has more knowledge of the defense than Lee.
I’m not entirely sure if Lee will be active this week while he gets accustomed to things. The 49ers have no backup options behind Coyle. Lee might not be ready to get defensive snaps, but he should be available for special teams snaps pretty quickly.