49ers roster 2023: Ray-Ray McCloud to see a diminished role?

It's possible Ray-Ray McCloud reverts back to being a return specialist only, scantly impacting the offense this upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The 49ers used Ray-Ray McCloud as more than just a returner in 2022, but more wide receivers will be vying for his offensive touches this year.

Combing through essentially each one of Niner Noise's preview pieces for the San Francisco 49ers' wide receiver room, veteran Ray-Ray McCloud is one of the four who is all but guaranteed a roster spot heading into 2023.

It might not necessarily be for his receiving skills and talents, although he nearly eclipsed his career-best marks on offense he enjoyed with the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to joining the Niners as a free agent in 2022.

No, instead it's McCloud's return abilities that make him such a vital part of the team.

True, McCloud had 14 receptions for 243 yards and a touchdown last year, and he also added a 72-yard rushing touchdown to go with his receiving stats.

But McCloud's 599 kick-return yards and 356 punt-return yards are what'll keep him safe as part of that foursome that'll make the 53-man roster, staying alongside Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and the All-Pro, Deebo Samuel.

However, the 26-year-old McCloud faces some notable challenges entering 2023, and those will come from some of his own teammates, including some fresh faces to San Francisco.

What are the 49ers paying Ray-Ray McCloud this season?

The 49ers signed McCloud to a two-year, $4 million free-agent contract during the 2022 offseason with $2.785 of that fully guaranteed at signing, according to Over the Cap.

This year, McCloud has a base salary of $1.08 million, and combined with his bonus money spread out over the two years of the deal, his 2023 contract value will be up to $2.09 million.

If cut, the Niners would incur $875,000 in dead money but would save the difference of $1.215 million.

Considering McCloud was one of special teams coordinator Brian Schneider's top targets a season ago, though, it doesn't seem likely there'll be any transactions here soon.

Why will Ray-Ray McCloud face a reduced role with 49ers?

The Niners are going to face some tough financial challenges here in the next few years, one of which will be navigating the salary cap when and if All-Pro edge Nick Bosa finally gets his lucrative contract deal, which has forced a holdout during San Francisco's training camp.

Tack on Aiyuk wanting to get paid after his current contract expires, plus other players hitting more expensive years on their respective contracts, and it doesn't seem likely McCloud will figure into the 49ers' long-term plans unless he does so on the cheap.

Related to that, the Niners also have some new faces at the position, rookie Ronnie Bell and veteran Chris Conley, who'll be fighting for one of those precious few spots at the back end of the receiving depth chart. Tack on another player in a similar fight, second-year pro Danny Gray, and it might be more prudent for San Francisco in the long run to have Gray and/or Bell see more offensive field time than McCloud this season, provided one or both of them make the 53-man roster.

That likely points to McCloud being more of a return specialist than anything else, which could also make him much more expendable on the open market in 2024.

Or a cheaper re-sign, if that's what the 49ers are gunning for by diminishing his offensive stats.

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