San Francisco 49ers

Report: 49ers considered signing Julius Thomas, releasing Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis 49ers Week 1 2013

Around the NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal listed “15 potential surprise training camp cuts,” and at the top of the list was Captain Torpedo.

1. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Around the NFL heard whispers that the 49ers “sniffed around” tight end Julius Thomas when he was a free agent. If the 49ers were able to consummate that deal, Davis would have been released. Davis has received predictable offseason buzz this offseason for a potential bounceback. He’s due $4.35 million in the final year of his deal.

In this case, I think Rosenthal is only partially correct. The 49ers were probably interested in Julius Thomas, who has 24 touchdown receptions over his last 27 regular season games (12 in 2013 and 12 in 2014). And if they signed him, they would’ve had no use for Davis, plus they would’ve been up against the cap. Thomas ended up signing with Jacksonville for $21 million guaranteed (“$46 million over five seasons”).

Since then, things have changed. Four guys retired, including three who were set to make significant money in 2015. As a result, the 49ers are $10.3 million under the cap. That’s why Ahmad Brooks is still around, and also why there’s no obvious reason to release Davis — even though doing so would create $4.7 million in cap savings — other than sheer frugality.

But a trade is certainly possible.

As noted in my July 17 story about Davis potentially being a key player this season, the 49ers have eight tight ends on the depth chart (nine if you count Kyle Nelson, who’s listed as a TE/LS on 49ers.com) after drafting two (Blake Bell and Busta Anderson) in May. That’s a huge number, considering they have seven running backs (five halfbacks and two fullbacks). There’s no reason to carry so many tight ends unless they’re trying to figure out Davis’ long-term successor or even replace Davis as the starter in 2015, unless they secretly think Bell could make the jump from “emergency QB” to a legitimate backup to Colin Kaepernick.

In order for a trade to take place, a few things would need to occur.

— Davis would have to prove that he’s still a top-notch athlete who cares about football by putting on a few shows during open practices and in the preseason.

— Another tight end would need to play like a starter. Carrier is the most likely among the group, because he showed strong chemistry with Kaepernick last season. But if a guy like Anderson looks like a stud in August, Baalke could start making/fielding some calls on Davis.

— Another team would need to part with a pretty decent draft pick in return for Mr. Torpedo. Like a fourth-rounder. Davis is still a big name, and the 49ers don’t have enough red zone weapons to part with Davis for a pick in the sixth or seventh round.

— Unless … another team offers an active player the 49ers could use this year. For example, if one of the assumed starters from their already-shaky offensive line group gets hurt, the 49ers could be in a major bind.

In all, Rosenthal’s report is kind of weak. We all knew from watching Davis’ pitiful 2014 campaign that the 49ers HAD to be considering a change — especially with only one year remaining on his deal — but it seems highly unlikely that they’ll dump Davis at this point. Since Baalke has enough cap room to add players, there’s no reason to cut him unless he came to camp either out of shape (doubtful) or awful (possible, but Davis always seems to look good during practice).

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