A lot more jobs are available for NFL players this summer, and the 49ers are lining up to have a stockpile of veterans in reserve.
Last week, the 49ers added veteran free-agent wide receivers Tavon Austin and J.J. Nelson to their 80-man roster.
When they return to the practice field on Thursday after a day off, three more players with significant NFL experience -- wide receiver Jaron Brown, center Hroniss Grasu and safety Johnathan Cyprien -- are expected to be on the field to begin competing for jobs.
The 49ers are attempting to best set themselves up for what figures to be an even-more unpredictable season. Injuries are a part of the game, as always, and this season there is the additional unknown element of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Practice squads have been expanded from 10 to 16 players for this season, and six of those players are allowed to have unlimited NFL experience. That opens the door for a lot of possibilities.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said the loosening of practice squad restrictions was part of the thinking when the club signed Austin and Nelson. Not only are all the veterans competing for spots on the active roster, they are candidates to fill spots on the practice squad, too.
“The whole thing with this year of having an option where you can have a veteran on practice squad, and who knows how that'll work out, but we want guys like that to where it could be an option,” Shanahan said.
“They’re going to push people to make this team, or hopefully they can show they can be a part to help us at some time.”
General manager John Lynch said the club's personnel department is trying to think outside the box as the best ways to set up their roster up for any unforeseen circumstances this season.
“We've challenged everybody in the building, ‘Hey, we want you to come up with ideas and there's no wrong answers,’ " Lynch said.
“How do you comprise a practice squad for all the possibilities that could happen during these times? That's where you can gain an edge. Fortunately, we have a really great bunch of individuals, both in the coaching staff and in the personnel staff, that are incredibly bright, who take a lot of pride in what they do and from their perspective, are coming up with great ideas on how we best do that.”
Although camp rosters were trimmed this summer from 90 to 80, the vast majority of players who remain through training camp will have jobs at the start of the regular season.
The 49ers have five players on injured lists who are eligible to remain with the team even if they open the season ineligible for the first six weeks of the season: Receivers Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist), center Weston Richburg (knee), and defensive linemen Ronald Blair (knee) and Jullian Taylor (knee).
The NFL regular-season rosters remain at 53 players. And with 16 players allowed for the practice squad, it’s possible the 49ers could retain 74 players who could help the team at some point this season.
Last season, 66 different players saw game action for the 49ers.