The 49ers acquired offensive tackle Shon Coleman in a trade prior to the 2018 season as insurance.
He was not needed in his first season as he learned the system, spent last year on injured reserve and will not be available in 2020 after opting at the Thursday deadline due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Coleman is a cancer survivor.
Speedy slot receiver and return man Travis Benjamin was signed in the offseason to compete with Trent Taylor and Richie James. But he will not take part in that battle for playing time or a roster spot. He opted out early in the week.
In all, three 49ers decided to opt-out of the upcoming season as part of a league-wide group of 69 players.
Offensive lineman Jake Brendel, who was in camp with the 49ers, became the third member of the organization to opt out. He appeared in 21 games with the Miami Dolphins from 2016 to ’18. Brendel entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. He spent time with Denver and Baltimore but did not get into a regular-season game.
Brendel was a long-shot to make the team. But he could have remained on the team’s list as an emergency fill-in for later in the season.
And while neither Coleman nor Benjamin was not assured of making the team’s 53-man roster out of training camp, it does not take much of an imagination to envision a scenario in which either or both could have been counted on to fill big roles.
The 49ers will retain the contracts rights for Coleman, Benjamin and Brendel for 2021.
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Coleman entered camp a year ago as the favorite to be the team’s swing offensive tackle -- the game-day backup to then-left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers had to scramble after Coleman sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the team’s first preseason game.
Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill served as the backup tackles and both did commendable jobs under the circumstances. This year, the 49ers added West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz in the fifth round of the draft.
Brunskill will compete for the starting job at right guard with veteran Tom Compton and McKivitz. The losers of that competition, along with Skule, will be in play to serve in the backup role for which Coleman would have been competing.
Coleman's decision couldn't have been viewed as a surprise. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia as a senior in high school in 2010, approximately six weeks after signing his letter of intent to play at Auburn. He redshirted as a college freshman in 2011 and returned to practice on a limited basis in 2012. He started at left tackle for Auburn in 2014 and ’15.
The Cleveland Browns selected Coleman in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He saw action in seven games with the Browns as a rookie before starting all 16 games in 2017 at right tackle.
Benjamin wrote in a statement that opting out was “the best decision for my family.” He would have been reunited with coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his offensive coordinator in 2014 with the Browns.
The receiver has battled injuries in recent seasons. Benjamin had just 18 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown in 17 games over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. The best season of his eight-year NFL career came in 2015 with Cleveland when he caught 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns.
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The 49ers have high hopes for slot receiver Trent Taylor, who was expected to be a top contributor the past two years. A back injury limited him in 2018 and a fractured foot and five subsequent procedures wiped out his 2019 season.
If Taylor remains healthy, the impact of losing Benjamin should be softened.
But, like missing Coleman along the offensive line, the 49ers have less depth at wide receiver at the start of an uncertain training camp and season without Benjamin on the team.