The San Francisco 49ers protected four veteran players on their practice squad.
The San Francisco 49ers are less than a week away from kicking off their 2020 season at home against their NFC West foes, the Arizona Cardinals. But prior to Sunday’s game, the team had to do a little housekeeping first.
The NFL made a few changes to the practice squad this season, mostly as a direct response to the unorthodox offseason brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps the biggest rule was the expansion to 16 players, but that certainly wasn’t all that was changed. Teams are now permitted to have up to six “veteran” players, or players with any number of accrued seasons under their belt, on the practice squad.
That’s why you’ve seen players like Johnathan Cyprien and Dion Jordan land on the 49ers’ practice squad this season. Moreover, teams are allowed to promote up to two players on game day to make for a 55-man roster.
Those players will not be subject to waivers, but each player can only go through this process twice in one season. Finally, teams now have the ability to “protect” four players on the practice squad each week to prevent other teams from signing them.
And on Tuesday, the 49ers announced who those four players would be for them this week.
Which practice-squad players did the 49ers opt to protect?
The likes of wide receiver Kevin White, center Hroniss Grasu, cornerback Dontae Johnson, and the aforementioned Dion Jordan were the four players protected by San Francisco. Notably, each of them has a fair amount of NFL experience under their belts.
It makes sense for the team to protect a player like Grasu who stands a very good chance of being promoted to the active roster come this weekend. The status of Ben Garland remains uncertain and if he’s forced to miss Sunday’s game, Grasu can step right in as the starting center.
The veteran former third-round pick struggled this summer, but his presence would allow the team to keep Daniel Brunskill at right guard instead of Tom Compton taking that role. Or Grasu could simply serve as Brunskill’s backup if Garland is held out.
As for White, he could also step in for guys like Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk if they aren’t ready to go for Week 1. This also says a lot about where they feel seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings is in his development.
In the case of Jordan and Johnson, both are veteran defensive players who the team clearly feels are adequate depth. Particularly with Johnson, we’ve seen the 49ers have an unwillingness to move on for good in the past so clearly they’d like to keep him around.
The next question will be which two players the 49ers promote on Sunday. But we’ll have to wait until the weekend to find that out.