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49ers get their first opt-out in Travis Benjamin, a bigger loss than initially meets the eye

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


On Monday, general manager John Lynch said he hadn’t had any discussions with players about opting out. The 49ers, at that point, and up until Tuesday night, were among the teams to not have a single player opt out of the 2020 season.

That changed with Travis Benjamin, who posted the following on Twitter to announce he would be voluntarily opting out of the season. He’ll receive a $150,000 stipend in the form of a contract advance.

At first glance, it might not seem like a substantial loss for the 49ers, and they may well go out and replace him with someone like Taylor Gabriel, formerly of the Chicago Bears, who’s played under Kyle Shanahan and was described, when with the Falcons as “just a really good wide receiver.”

But for the moment, there’s a serious depth and age issue. While Benjamin’s best years are behind him, and he’s steadily declined since his career-best year in 2015, he was a known commodity, who has played under Shanahan before.

Just about all of the team’s wide receiver options are mostly inexperienced and have dealt with injuries. This was a look at the team’s depth with Benjamin, and why he had a great chance to make the team.

Benjamin is an outside receiver, which the 49ers are severely lacking. He also has a history as a successful kick returner, another area where the team has limited options. Kyle Shanahan might be alright with Brandon Aiyuk returning punts, but does he really want him returning kicks? It’s the highest-risk, lowest reward play in football.

Currently, this is the team’s wide receiver situation. It’s not pretty.

Keep in mind that Deebo Samuel might miss the entirety of training camp and the start of the season and Richie James Jr. will certainly miss training camp and the start of the season, if he even makes the roster.

While there’s some positional flexibility here, Dante Pettis has struggled as an outside receiver, Jauan Jennings proved in college he’s almost exclusively a tall slot option, or someone who plays inside of other receivers, and James Jr. wasn’t favored by the team as an outside option and again, may not make the team due to his injury. I can’t honestly say I’ve seen enough of Chris Thompson to make a fair assessment, but in his short time in training camp last year, he didn’t stand out.

Now, surely Shawn Poindexter is not going to make the team just because he’s tall and plays on the outside.

Wait.

Is Shawn Poindexter going to make the team just because he’s tall and plays on the outside?

It’s a hard maybe.

Poindexter is coming off an ACL tear and never had a legitimate chance to make the roster this season, but the one benefit of that injury is that he got to be around this team and coaching staff for a full season. Many receivers struggle with Kyle Shanahan’s system, but all Poindexter could do last year was study, watch and learn, which could prove invaluable if he can get his body right.

He’s also got the frame and ball-attacking athleticism that the 49ers lack, and like. He’s 6’5″, 212 pounds and had 42 receptions for 759 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns in his senior year at Arizona.

This isn’t a “Shawn Poindexter Will Definitely Make the 49ers’ Roster” take, but he has to be taken seriously as a roster candidate at this point.

Shanahan and this team love to quietly recruit and hide talent on their roster via undrafted free agents and the practice squad. It was done with Matt Breida, Emmanuel Moseley, Kendrick Bourne, Daniel Brunskill and Jeff Wilson Jr. A similar version of that might be coming with sixth-round pick from 2019, Tim Harris Jr., who the team is fairly excited about, but spent all season on injured reserve, and is discernibly part of the reason no corners were drafted this offseason.

What this all comes down to is numbers, fit, and athleticism.

The 49ers no longer have a safe backup behind Brandon Aiyuk and they’re already likely without Deebo Samuel for the start of the season. They don’t care where guys come from or what their pedigree is, and if Poindexter is healthy, his frame and positional fit on the weakest positional group on this team means he has a genuine chance to make the roster.

 

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