The 49ers almost certainly will be in the market for another speedy wide receiver after Travis Benjamin announced his decision Tuesday night to opt out of the upcoming season.
Benjamin’s exit marks the fourth 49ers receiver from the player-organized offseason workouts who will not be on the field when the team’s practices begin.
Deebo Samuel, the team’s top receiver, could be out for the first six weeks of the regular season after undergoing offseason foot surgery to repair a Jones fracture. Slot receiver Richie James is also on the non-football injury list due to a fractured wrist.
The 49ers recently waived another slot receiver, former Notre Dame standout Chris Finke, who failed a physical due to a hamstring injury.
While the 49ers could bring in another wide receiver for training camp, they certainly will expect one of their own to soften the blow of Benjamin's absence.
Benjamin had a history with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan from when they were together with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. When asked after his signing why he is such a good fit for the offense, Benjamin answered, “Speed. Kyle loves speed.”
Benjamin, like James and Finke, is a slot receiver and a strong option as a punt returner.
Now, it’s more important than ever that Trent Taylor remains healthy and in a contributing role.
Benjamin’s spot on the 49ers’ roster for 2020 was not guaranteed after signing a one-year contract with the 49ers. He said he knew his job was to come in to compete for a job. He caught just 18 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown over 17 games in the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers.
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After 54 players around the league already had chosen through Tuesday to opt out of the season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, Benjamin made his announcement. He wrote in a statement that he made the decision “after much consideration and discussion” with his family.
Benjamin will remain under contract to the 49ers for the 2021 season with a salary cap figure of $1.05 million. Receivers Kendrick Bourne and Taylor are scheduled for unrestricted free agency after this season.
Benjamin, 30, an eight-year NFL veteran, came to the 49ers as an insurance policy. Taylor, if healthy, always wa considered the 49ers’ top option at slot receiver.
The problem is that Taylor has not been healthy since his rookie season in 2017. Taylor caught the same number of passes (43) as George Kittle during their rookie seasons. Taylor had 430 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
He also was productive as a punt returner with a 9.4-yard average on 30 returns.