SANTA CLARA -- It’s happening more and more.
A team will take the calculated game of waiving a promising young player with a significant injury during training camp to create a roster spot. Another team claims him with the intention of taking over his rehabilitation so that he’s available for future seasons.
It happened this week when the Cleveland Browns claimed offensive lineman Michael Bowie from the Seattle Seahawks. Bowie, who started eight games at right tackle as a rookie, is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
The Patriots have done the same thing in recent years with tight end Jake Ballard, who was cut by the New York Giants but never played a game with the Patriots. This offseason, the Patriots claimed rookie running back Tyler Gaffney from the Carolina Panthers.
The 49ers did it in the late-1990s when they claimed offensive lineman Dave Fiore from the New York Jets after Fiore sustained a torn ACL during training camp. The move paid off, as Fiore eventually started 47 games over a three-year period.
So that brings us to 49ers running back Kendall Hunter.
Are the 49ers taking a risk in exposing Hunter to waivers? The answer is no.
The worst that could happen is that another team claims Hunter and pays his $645,000 salary and funds his rehab this season from a torn ACL he sustained in the second practice of training camp. The 49ers would save $645,000 in salary-cap space if another team claims Hunter.
[REWIND: Kendall Hunter diagnosed with torn ACL]
Unlike the other instances when teams claimed players, Hunter does not have a contract for next season. So it makes little sense for a team to claim him.
Any team that’s willing to claim Hunter would get only the benefit of sole negotiating rights with Hunter until the start of free agency in March. Any claiming team would also get compensatory pick credit if he were to sign with another team in the spring.
But if anotheer team really wanted Hunter, all they would probably have to do is pay him the equivalent of his salary for this season on top of the league minimum and they could have him anyway.
Hunter is a fine player, no doubt. But he does not figure to be a hot commodity on the open market. After all, in four NFL seasons, Hunter has already sustained two significant injuries: a torn Achilles in 2012 and the knee injury this summer.
The 49ers have expressed to Hunter and his agent that they are interested in re-signing him for the 2015 season. It’s also been made clear that they value him as a potential backup, although the 49ers had no other choice but to place him on waivers to create the much-needed roster spot to sign an additional running back. After all, the 49ers were short 20 players in practice Monday from their 90-man roster limit.
Hunter was placed on the waived/injured list on Monday. If, as expected, no team claims him on Tuesday, he will automatically revert back to the 49ers’ injured reserve list and receive his entire scheduled salary from the 49ers.
And it'll be as if nothing ever happened.