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It was one of the minor surprises of the 49ers final roster that Antone Exum Jr. was retained while Marcell Harris was not. The move made more sense with the context that free safety Jimmie Ward was coming back from a broken collarbone and had limited practice time. Ward then fractured his finger on the Wednesday before the 49ers’ first game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, adding further validity to the decision.
Exum provided the ability to play at free or strong safety while Harris was a more traditional strong safety; he also had the added bonus of veteran experience (four years of NFL experience coming into the season compared to Harris’ one). Harris was retained on the 49ers’ practice squad when the season began. The 49ers have decided to flip that initial decision, announcing on Wednesday that they have released Exum and promoted Harris to the active roster.
The move could be the result of a few things. First, it could represent a confidence that free safety Jimmie Ward is finally healthy (he’s been practicing in a limited capacity for the last few weeks and has been inactive for all three games) and could be activated for the first time on Monday night. It could also simply reveal a preference to have Harris over Exum, or bely a fear that Harris could be signed by another team (it could of course be a combination of all three).