League owners adopted a new roster rule for 2023, meaning the 49ers can actually stand to benefit when the preseason ends and roster cuts must be made.
It’s definitely a fun place for the media to be, the annual NFL owners meeting that kicks off shortly after the start of the league’s calendar year and not long before the NFL Draft in April.
Case in point, all the juicy quotes and statements from coaches and executives will give plenty of fodder for those of us out here trying to navigate the offseason.
There’s another talking point worth exploring, too, and that’s what happens on the rule-changing front. As you may or may not know, teams can submit rule-change proposals that’ll be reviewed by the league on a yearly basis.
This is where you can get some of those changes to the NFL’s overtime structure, which still doesn’t quite seem right despite seemingly yearly tweaks.
At any rate, there’s one rule change that was adopted entering 2023, and it might actually stand to benefit the San Francisco 49ers.
NFL news: League adopts 1-day pre-Week 1 roster cuts, 49ers stand to benefit
For years, the NFL employed a tiered roster-cut structure during the preseason, one which whittled a 90-man roster down to 75 players, then to 70, and finally, the eventual 53-man roster prior to Week 1 of the regular season.
In 2020, the pandemic ended both the preseason and a tiered cut-down structure, meaning cut players would be released or waived all at once, but the tiered system returned again in 2021 and lasted through 2022.
Now, according to a report from the 33rd Team’s Ari Meirov, it’ll be back to a one-day cut following the final preseason game of the year:
In theory, this should benefit plenty of teams. After all, teams can rotate in fringe players early during exhibition bouts while lessening or even eliminating injury risks to starters and primary backups.
However, for a team like the Niners, the one-day cut is actually beneficial in other ways.
San Francisco owns a Super Bowl-caliber roster, and there are going to be some starting-level players who ultimately won’t survive the 49ers’ wave of roster cuts. Rather than jettison those players early during the preseason as part of a first or second wave, the Niners can simply wait to do it all at once.
Yes, this impacts every team. However, a playoff-type team tends to have better players and deeper rosters. It benefits them to retain those players as long as possible, whereas it’s more beneficial for bad teams in need of talent to onboard recently cut players sooner than later.
Is it a massive advantage for good teams?
Probably not. But, considering the razor-thin margin between good and bad teams, anything will help.
Kyle Shanahan says ‘it’s going to be harder’ for Trey Lance to reclaim 49ers starting QB role
The Niners could dump one of their three rostered quarterbacks at cut time, but it doesn’t seem likely. Even for No. 3 quarterback, Sam Darnold, as he’s receiving $3.5 million guaranteed on his one-year deal.
That said, Trey Lance and Brock Purdy could have a notable competition for the QB1 role.
Except both are returning from injuries, and Purdy might not even be ready for the start of the regular season after his torn UCL was surgically repaired recently.
In theory, this gives Lance a bit of an edge to reclaim his starting job after going down with a season-ending broken ankle in Week 2 last year.
That’s how head coach Kyle Shanahan sees it, but he also echoes that it’ll be a challenge to unseat Purdy, whose rocket-like ascent late last year could be enough to fully clinch the starting job upon his return.
Here’s what Shanahan said from the owners meetings (h/t 49ers Webzone):
"Brock played eight games and won all of them and played at an extremely high level. We’re very excited to have that level of a player as our quarterback. Now, we believe Trey can be that. I think he would have done it last year if he stayed healthy. The good thing for him is, with Brock being hurt and stuff, he has an opportunity to try to regain that and everything."
That said, Lance isn’t going to have it easy upon his return, especially lined up side by side with Purdy:
"I think it’s going to be harder for him, too. I mean, Brock played in eight games, and Trey had that job going into last season. And if he would have played eight games like that, no one else would have been able to come in and beat him out."
With a mere four NFL regular-season starts under his belt, it’ll be tough for Lance to emerge from the shadows after being named the No. 3 overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft.
Yet there’s no better opportunity with Purdy sidelined.