New 49ers WR Addition Has Ties to Kyle Shanahan, Fills Needed Spot

Kyle Shanahan

Getty 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan during the December 19 home win versus the Falcons.

The San Francisco 49ers have now signed three players who worked out in front of them during 2022 training camp.

But the newest signing on the afternoon of Friday, August 5 fills one of two open roster spots on the ‘Niners and adds an extra option to a needed area: The slot receiver spot.

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Via the NFL transaction wire, Willie Snead has signed on with the 49ers. Aaron Wilson of the Pro Football Network was first to report that the veteran 5-foot-11, 195-pounder was on his way to a tryout with San Francisco on Friday morning.

Snead’s signing comes off the heels of two transactions the 49ers have made in the last 24 hours: Putting injured tight end Jordan Matthews on injured reserve for a torn ACL and the ‘Niners cutting WR Taysir Mack. The 49ers also signed defensive linemen Tomasi Laulile and Akeem Spence after their workouts.

But for Snead, his arrival to S.F. comes as a reunion.

Snead’s Ties to Shanahan

After putting together a stout college career that saw him catch 89 and 106 passes in his final two seasons at Ball State, plus tally 2,991 receiving yards and score 26 touchdowns per Sports Reference, Snead entered his name in the NFL Draft in 2014 but was never selected.

Eventually, the Cleveland Browns swooped him up as an undrafted free agent. And who was the offensive coordinator at the time? The head coach of the 49ers Kyle Shanahan.

The future 49ers’ coaching leader spent just one season on the Browns’ staff — with that Browns team being led by former first rounder Johnny Manziel. A January 8, 2015 report from ESPN’s Pat McManamon, however, revealed how sources indicated that Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains “didn’t see eye-to-eye” with the Browns’ front office about Manziel getting the QB1 duties. McManamon added in his story “Shanahan felt the decision to start Manziel was forced on the coaching staff, and that the yearlong insistence to play him when he wasn’t ready wore on Shanahan, the team source said.”

Snead, meanwhile, was trying to make the most of his first NFL opportunity. Noted by The Athletic’s David Lombardi, the 49ers insider revealed how the former Ball State and All-Mid American Conference (MAC) performer used that 2014 camp experience to set the tone for a future career as a starting slot.

“Vet WR Willie Snead, whom the 49ers are working out, entered the league under OC Kyle Shanahan as a UDFA with the Browns in 2014. Although Snead didn’t make the 53-man roster cut, he had a productive camp/preseason and has obviously parlayed that into a nice NFL career,” Lombardi tweeted.

Snead would go on to blossom in his first four seasons of action — producing three seasons of catching between 62 to 72 passes in stops with the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. While with the Saints, 99 of his catches were good enough for the first down over the course of three seasons and he caught a combined seven touchdowns.

While with the Ravens, Snead gave Lamar Jackson a rare red zone option.

And an additional deep threat for the Baltimore offense.

Snead, however, has only caught a combined eight catches since his final season with the Ravens in 2020 — as he’s had brief stops with the Carolina Panthers and Las Vegas Raiders. But the decision to sign Snead not only helps replace Mack, but gives the 49ers a needed extra slot WR as the team moves around Deebo Samuel and has Brandon Aiyuk emerging in camp. Rookie Danny Gray has also put together a strong first training camp.

49ers Try Out Other WRs

Turns out Snead wasn’t the only WR tryout on Friday morning.

He was one of three wideouts running through drills. Here’s who else tried out via the transaction wire:

Christian Blake: The 6-foot-1, 181-pounder is another past MAC representative out of Northern Illinois. Blake was waived by the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, August 2. Blake was also previously with the Atlanta Falcons from 2018 to 2021.

Dede Westbrook: The 6-foot, 178-pounder was last on a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings, where he caught just 10 passes. But after that deal expired, he’s since searched for his next NFL stop. Westbrook was once a top target for then Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield and was the Big 12 Conference’s 2016 Offensive Player of the Year. Like Snead, Westbrook was briefly a 60-catch WR — putting together 63 and 66 receptions in 2018 and 2019, respectively, for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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