49ers playing 54-man roster trick with Josh Johnson

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NFL teams are permitted to have 53 players on the roster.  Sometimes, teams find a way to carry a 54th.

It goes like this:  A vested veteran not subject to waivers gets cut late in the week, after being around long enough to get a game check.  Then, immediately after the next game, the player returns to the roster.  Eventually (sometime later that same week), the player is cut again.

Lather, rinse, repeat; right up until the trade deadline, after which all players who are released must pass through waivers.

For the 49ers, the 54-man roster trick has been accomplished twice this year with quarterback Josh Johnson.  On Saturday, September 20, he was cut in favor of tight end Asante Cleveland.  On Tuesday, September 23, Johnson was re-signed when Cleveland, who provided depth at a time when Vernon Davis had an ankle injury, was released.

Most recently, Johnson was cut again on Saturday, October 11.  He has been re-signed today.

Asked Saturday by reporters to explain why Johnson wasn’t cut earlier in the week, coach Jim Harbaugh said, “Wanted Josh to get to practice.”

In other words, Harbaugh wanted the 49ers to have three quarterbacks to take the week’s practice reps.  With no quarterbacks on the practice squad, the only alternatives would have been Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert.

Asked if Johnson could find his way back to the team again, Harbaugh said, “Yes.  Hopefully, yes.  He’s, like I said, he’s a 49ers quarterback.”

But Johnson wasn’t a 49ers quarterback when Harbaugh said that.

While Johnson could have signed with any other team after being released, the 54-man roster trick hinges on a veteran who goes along with the wink-nod understanding that the player will slide off the roster until after the game, and then return.  Given Johnson’s long history with Harbaugh (Johnson played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego), Johnson becomes an ideal candidate to go along with the 54-man roster trick.

The move will entail much more risk after October 28, since any player cut at any time following the trade deadline will be subject to waivers.  Which means any other team can claim Johnson or whoever the 54th man dropped from the roster may be.

The 49ers aren’t the only team to do this.  But few coaches have been as candid as Harbaugh about the desire to bring back the 54th man after he’s been released.

34 responses to “49ers playing 54-man roster trick with Josh Johnson

  1. But if some team was interested in Johnson, they’d just let his agent know, and sign him the next time he came free. It’s not like he’s getting paid huge dollars in San Fran, or has a great chance to be a starter there. Regardless of his relationship with Harbaugh, it wouldn’t take much to sign him away, and probably his agent has been checking around since training camp to see if there is any team interested.

  2. The 53 man roster limit in a sport that sees teams regularly end up with double-digit players on injured reserve is dumb enough that I can’t work up any outrage for anyone who uses technicalities to pick up an extra spot or three.

  3. They also chose to cut him later to reduce the risk of the rams signing him and having their game plan revealed like Craig Dahl did when he first signed with the niners.

  4. Gee, and I wonder why there is a pervasive disregard for all rules by the players? If the management and the ownership say, “Hey, let’s get away with whatever we can.” then it can’t exactly be surprising that we have a team leading the league in arrests, bringing back players who really need some serious help, dissension in the locker room, playing not-so-hidden games with Kaepernick’s contract.

    It’s not whether or not the 53 man roster limit is a good rule–it’s idiotic. But it is the rule. Leave it to a team like the 49ers to game the system.

    It’s too bad, because when I was a kid, I looked up to the 49ers, as a model team. I deeply admired them. Not so much anymore.

  5. Nobody else seems to want him anyway, so meh. Even the Niners don’t think that highly of him. Witness: The Great Gabbert is the 53rd man and Johnson is 54th.

  6. Cue the Harbaugh hater and #AboveReproach comments.

    Also agree with the man above. I can’t count how many times I’ve accidently clicked the “Report Comment” button when trying to click the “like” thumbs up. Seems like it would be easy enough to move the report button to the bottom far right corner.

  7. Wait, you mean the 49ers are breaking the rules? I’m shocked. I’ve always considered that team and its fans as being “above reproach.”

    I mean, if you forget about the players beating women, shooting people at parties, doing hit and runs, making bomb threats at airports, enjoying police corruption in DV cases, their fans stabbing each other and beating each other into comas and brain damage, etc. Other than that stuff. But who’s counting? It’d be hard to keep track, really.

    Harbaugh cheats but he never wins. Must be so frustrating. Couldn’t even beat Oregon in the PAC-12. Must suck to always be second at best.

  8. true2thegame83 says:
    Oct 14, 2014 5:17 PM
    They also chose to cut him later to reduce the risk of the rams signing him and having their game plan revealed like Craig Dahl did when he first signed with the niners.

    Dahl signed with the niners in March at opening of free agency and just told the coaching staff that Rams were picking up their play calls. That’s not exactly what you are talking about though. Care to use another example?

  9. ^Says the guy whose team and coach got fined and lost a mini camp day for violating the rules.

    Nice try, but breaking the rules and exploiting a loophole are not the same thing. If you need an example of that, it’s what your boy Sherman did to avoid punishment for his PED use. How’s third place in the division?

  10. Let’s see, just this season alone, the 9er’s have:

    Paid cops to respond to a DV call in attempt to protect a player, and delayed the legal process which allows that arrested player to continue to play.

    Had fans assaulted in their new stadium bathroom, one of which is now paralyzed.

    And now we have another ongoing ‘bending of the rules event’….is there anything the 9er’s won’t do to attempt to win a bleepin game?

  11. As you said in your article that most readers ignored, this is a common practice throughout the league. Of course, focusing on the 49ers is a guarantee for stirring the pot!

  12. Having “49ers” in the title increases click-thru so of course PFT is going to talk about SF when it comes to stuff like this. How many readers/comments would “Bills playing 54-man roster trick…” get?

  13. Increase the Roster size.

    Especially since Overtime games are longer with the “Score a TD” crap and the Thursday Night Games.

    Teams are going to have a ton of injuries.

  14. It’s really frustrating when you accidentally report yourself…

    Roster tricks: many of the moves made with vested veterans are moves made to preserve cap-space. In Osgoods case, his veteran/vested status meant that he would be guaranteed his full year’s salary if he is on the roster for the first game of the season, the same is the case with Johnson and Ventrone. Basically, the Niners (and every other team) go through and cut certain players to avoid having to pay them the higher/guaranteed/vested price and opt to pay them a “per-game” check (still around $60K for Osgood).

    I promise not to self report

  15. I’m pretty sure I reported every comment that mentioned moving the “report comment” button. Either that or I liked every one of them. Either way it changed nothing.

  16. How long does one need to be on the roster to get a game check? Is it just any day on the active roster during the week leading up to the game? Looks like he makes around 45 grand a week. Pretty good deal for essentially a practice squad player with too much experience for the practice squad.

  17. Somehow this means Harbaugh is just a terrible person, that he lost the team, that the Niners will go winless, and that Kapernick is evil and Wilson is the second coming.

    Blah blah blah,

    the 12th Man

  18. 6 ball, I’m pretty sure belichick has done that in the past. I think with a safety and a tight end.

    Also I don’t understand why people think this is against the rules or should be. If your team sucks at cap management that is their problem.

  19. In the NFL, rules are made to be broken. You’ll notice that the NFL takes no action against these teams for breaking the rule.

  20. Like the article says…the 49ers aren’t the only team to do that. Goodell can always close that loophole and nobody else but you complains so get over it.

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