The 49ers are either going to finish the season 4-12 or 5-11 — depending on the outcome of the season finale in Los Angeles. Regardless, fans are not concerned with the result of a meaningless contest in Week 17 of a lost season, they are already looking forward to the team’s improvement in 2019.
With that in mind, NFL rosters change dramatically from season to season. Unless you’re a franchise quarterback or have a large dead salary cap hit, no player is guaranteed a roster spot. So which 49ers’ players may be suiting up for the final time in red and gold, as they are set to take on the Rams on Sunday?
1. QB C.J. Beathard
Once viewed as the ideal backup behind QB Jimmy Garoppolo, a lot has changed since QB Nick Mullens has been elevated into the starting role over the last seven weeks.
Beathard’s best trait was his toughness in the pocket and ability to get up after taking numerous hits. But his lack of accuracy, mobility and consistency in moving the offense made it really difficult on the 49ers early in the season.
The second-year quarterback had five starts after Garoppolo’s injury — all losses of course. Beathard threw for a lot of yards, but it also came with seven interceptions and uninspiring performance after uninspiring performance.
Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the 49ers’ brain trust should move forward with Garoppolo and Mullens in their quarterback room next season, letting Beathard go this offseason to let him find a new home elsewhere.
2. OG Joshua Garnett
The former first-round pick in 2016 was a player that the 49ers — namely, GM Trent Baalke — traded up to draft at No. 28 overall. Since then, the story’s been the same for Garnett, a player that’s been hampered by injuries and hasn’t found his footing on offense.
So far this season, Garnett has played in a grand total of — wait for it — 29 snaps. That’s just a little less than 3 percent of the total offensive snaps on the season. Garnett’s lost his starting spot to a guard that the 49ers signed this past May, G Mike Person.
The former first-round pick has the backup spot, but how much longer will the 49ers be patient with Garnett? His fifth-year option will come into play next season, but I don’t think he makes it that far with San Francisco. I think the 49ers’ front office cuts tie and Garnett won’t be in the red and gold in 2019.
3. WR Pierre Garçon
Yes — he’s not necessarily suiting up on Sunday, but I think it’s the last time we see wideout Pierre Garçon as a 49er.
With the emergence of receivers Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne towards the end of the season, I think it’s very plausible that the 49ers decide to go with a youth movement in their receiver room.
Garçon’s been productive as a 49er, but he has been unable to finish the last two seasons due to various ailments. He hasn’t suited up since the Raiders’ game and there’s a chance that was the final time fans got to see Garçon as a 49er.
His salary cap hit in 2019 is set to be $8.2M, but I think the 49ers are willing to eat the dead salary, if it frees up a spot for a younger, healthier receiver. Remember, availability is always better than ability.
4. DB Jimmie Ward
Another player who’s season is already over, but I also think defensive back Jimmie Ward’s chapter in San Francisco is officially closed as well.
During Thursday’s press conference with the media, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh briefly touched on Ward, adding “He was doing a really, really nice job back there at free safety. So, it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate at the end of the year.”
The elephant in the room all year long has been Ward’s steep $8.5M salary, for a player that hasn’t played since a 27-9 loss at Tampa Bay. The defensive back is set to be a free agent, but with the emergence of Antone Exum Jr. at free safety, along with rookie D.J. Reed, it’s starting to make Ward expendable.
With his lengthy injury history, it makes more than enough sense for the 49ers to cut ties with another former first-round selection.
5. LB Malcolm Smith
Another player that was signed on a very lucrative contract during Lynch’s first season at the helm. Smith red-shirted his entire first season as a 49er and has been out-played by 23-year old backup linebacker Elijah Lee in his second season.
Lee has played in more snaps and has been more effective in his time next to linebacker Fred Warner. With the surprising release of linebacker Reuben Foster, there was a need at the position, but it’s been temporarily filled by Lee, who’s received high praise from Saleh and Shanahan in recent weeks.
I’m sure the 49ers would look to address the position in the draft or free agency, but they probably don’t keep Smith on the roster in 2019. While the 49ers’ team option isn’t until 2020, I think they still release him this upcoming season and eat the $4.2M in dead salary cap money.