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Curtis Robinson could be the 49ers long term insurance at the linebacker position

Robinson will miss the first four games with an ankle injury

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

It has been an exciting week in 49ers land. The news of Jimmy Garoppolo returning understandably dominated the headlines, but amidst all the chaos, a very interesting transaction was made on Tuesday.

The 49er’s front office retained linebacker Curtis Robinson on the final 53-man roster before placing him on injured reserve as he recovered from an ankle injury in the preseason finale. Robinson is entering his second year in the NFL after signing as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos after the 2021 draft.

Robinson saw action in three regular-season games with Denver last year, logging 84 snaps on defense and 52 on special teams in those two contests. The 49ers signed Robinson off the Broncos practice squad on December 6th, 2021, then inked Robinson to a futures/reserve contract on February 2nd, 2022.

The futures contract is a great tool to sign a player who is identified as talented but needs a little time to develop. There is no guaranteed money in the deal, and it does not count against the team’s 53-man roster limit in that league year but rather the 90-man roster of the following league year when the calendar flips in March.

A player signed to a futures contract cannot be signed by another team while they are on the 90-man roster. This allows teams to lock up players they feel will be able to compete for a roster spot in training camp while not stressing about handing out guarantees to a player who might not make the team.

Fast forward to cut-down day, and Robinson impressed the 49ers brass enough to lock down a spot on the final 53-man roster before being placed on injured reserve. This is important because, despite the injury, the 49er’s willingness to have Robinson eat up one of their valuable spots on the 53 rather than exposing him through waivers shows how valuable they believe Robinson is.

Robinson fits the mold of what the 49ers have looked for at the linebacker position under this current regime. Take a look at Robinson’s physical traits and how he measures up against another 49ers linebacker.



235 pounds

4.6 40-yard dash

4.26 20-yard shuttle

Fred Warner


236 pounds

4.64 40-yard dash

4.28 20-yard shuttle

It was evident during camp that Robinson puts his speed to good use and can operate in the wide open spaces of the modern NFL, something the 49ers have coveted as they have assembled a linebacking corps full of converted defensive backs.

While it’s always in the best interest of a well-run organization to constantly plan for the future by developing in-house talent, this move to keep Robinson on the final roster could also be insurance for a linebacker room that could look drastically different heading into next season.

Current starters Dre Greenlaw and Azeez-Al Shaair are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents following this season. Given how talented both players are, it’s well within reason to foresee an outcome where the 49ers cannot retain one, or possibly both, beyond this season due to the money they will command.

Over the last three seasons, Greenlaw and Al-Shaair have logged 1,538 and 1,209 defensive snaps, respectively, and replacing that kind of production could prove to be an arduous task if done on the fly.

Oren Burks is signed through 2023, but with an out for the team after this season if they decide to go into another direction. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles is due to be a restricted free agent following this season, leaving Warner as the only player concretely locked into the long term at the position for the 49ers.

Here is why Robinson becomes extremely valuable. Because Robinson has less than three accrued seasons, he is designated as an exclusive rights free agent for the next couple of off-seasons. If the 49ers offer him a contract for the league minimum based on his accrued seasons to that point, he cannot negotiate with other teams.

This means that the 49ers would have a cost-controlled player at the position for at least the next couple of seasons, which could prove to be a highly prized commodity considering how talented the roster is and how many players will be signing extensions in the near future.

It will be interesting to see how Robinson fits in when they have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster upon his return from injured reserve, but in the meantime, it looks like the 49ers have a well mapped out blueprint of how they will proceed at the position in the coming years, with Robinson poised to play a major role in how it shakes out.