The San Francisco 49ers have a number of questions that need to be answered before Sunday's game in New Orleans after Vernon Davis, Eric Reid and Garrett Celek went down with injuries in the loss to the Panthers.
The team activated rookie linebacker Nick Moody from the Injured Reserve with the designation to return Tuesday, and also waived two players: Kyle Williams and Perrish Cox.
In doing so, they now have the flexibility of an open roster spot. How they use will likely be determined by the health of Davis, Reid and Celek.
Davis and Reid both suffered concussions in Sunday's 10-9 loss to Carolina, while Celek left the game early with an apparent hamstring strain and wasn't able to return.
That status of those three players remains in question. But given how much Jim Harbaugh's offense uses multiple-tight end formations, the team could use the opening to fill that void in case Davis and/or Celek can't return Sunday.
With just one of three healthy tight ends, the 49ers couldn't muster up enough offense to put away the Panthers, who scored just 10 points against San Francisco's defense. San Francisco had multiple opportunities, including a 4th-and-1 chance from Carolina's 2 in which they elected to take a delay of game penalty after trying to draw the defense offsides. It led to a 25-yard field goal and instead of upping their lead to 13 points, it was just nine.
The other chance came early in the fourth quarter when rookie Vance McDonald was unable to haul in a long pass that would have given the struggling offense the ball deep in Panthers' territory while holding a 9-7 lead.
The 49ers have tight end Derek Carrier on the practice squad who could make the jump to the active roster. Carrier (6'4", 241) was undrafted out of Div. III Beloit last season and signed with the Raiders before moving to the Eagles' practice squad. The 49ers signed him in September after losing MarQueis Gray to the Browns via waivers.
"We're looking at some options right now and there's some decisions to be made. You wait until you get the medical results back and then have more evidence to make those decisions," Harbaugh said Monday when asked about potentially adding Carrier to the 53.
San Francisco could also look outside the organization and sign a free agent, although the pickings are slim and bringing someone in with less than a week to learn the complicated system would be a tall order.
With C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl currently on the roster, it's unlikely the team would add another safety with Reid's potential absence. But if they did, Michael Thomas would be the leading candidate off the practice squad. Reid suffered his second concussion of the season Sunday after sustaining his first in Week 2 against the Seahawks.
Things could change, but it's unlikely the roster spot would be taken by Michael Crabtree, who began practicing for the first time last week after tearing his Achilles back in May. Crabtree is still working his way back into football shape and has limited himself to running routes and getting himself re-acclimated to the offense.
The 49ers elected to waive Williams because of his ineffectiveness in the return game and lack of production on offense. He averaged just 5.1 yards per return and led the NFL in fair catches. San Francisco seemed content with his return skills, but he struggled to field the ball cleanly in Week 8 against the Jaguars and lost his punt return duties to LaMichael James Sunday, while Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter handled kickoffs.
Colin Kaepernick targeted Williams 27 times, but the two were able to connect on just 12 receptions for 113 yards. Kaepernick had just a 25.7 QB rating when targeting Williams as a result of two interceptions.
But Williams is most known for his two punt-return fumbles in the 2011 NFC Championship game against the Giants, which the 49ers lost 20-17 in overtime.
Williams was in the last year of his rookie contract after being drafted in the sixth round in 2010 and is subject to waivers.
Cox was made expendable by the activation of Eric Wright, who will become a contributor in the defense's dime package initially. The Saints are coming off a 40-first down performance Sunday against the Cowboys and will likely attempt to spread San Francisco's defense out, which could allow for Wright to get his first action of the season. He was inactive for the Panthers game.
Going forward, the 49ers will look at Wright as a candidate for a contract extension. Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown will be free agents following the season while Carlos Rogers has a very high cap number. If Wright, a San Francisco native, makes a good impression, the 49ers could end up bringing him back next year. Wright will also be used as Rogers' back up in the slot in nickel situations for the time being.
San Francisco elected to keep special teams ace Kassim Osgood inactive Sunday. Carolina made them pay, getting solid play from Ted Ginn in the punt return game when he averaged 21.7 yards.
With Williams gone, it should allow Osgood to return to the active 46 assuming Crabtree isn't added before Sunday's game.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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The 49ers announced they have activated rookie linebacker Nick Moody to the 53-man roster Tuesday and waived wideout Kyle Williams and corner Perrish Cox. Inside we'll break down the implications and how the team could fill its open roster spot.
San Francisco has a decision to make with the release of two players and the addition of Nick Moody.