The 49ers on Thursday released veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who fell to No. 5 on their depth chart in 2011 and who was due to earn $3.3 million in 2012. Spencer, 30, now becomes a free agent.
"The 49ers would like to thank Shawntae for his eight years of service to the organization and the Bay Area community," general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "He has always represented himself, his family and this organization with the utmost class. We wish him, and his family, the very best."
Spencer was a second-round draft choice out of Pittsburgh in 2004. He started 72 games for the 49ers, most of them at right cornerback, including 32 straight games in 2009 and 2010. Spencer was one of the longest-tenured 49ers, and he was one of three players on the roster -- punter Andy Lee and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga are the others -- drafted by the Dennis Erickson regime.
In 2011, however, he suffered a series of injuries beginning in training camp, slid down the depth chart as a new coaching regime took over, and never was able to climb back up. He played only 84 defensive snaps and 38 on special teams and was inactive for both of the 49ers' playoff games.
By the end of the season, Spencer knew that he would be released and was resigned to that outcome. The 49ers granted him permission to seek a trade last month, and presumably his agent already has made inroads with teams seeking a veteran cornerback on the free-agent market. (Indeed, his agent says that four teams already have shown interest in Spencer).
The 49ers likely waited until today to release Spencer because 1.) They recently added depth at the position with the signings of Carlos Rogers and Perrish Cox and 2.) They wanted to see whether a run on cornerbacks at the start of free agency would trigger a trade for Spencer. His release frees up another $3.3 million of salary-cap space, and the 49ers have plenty of room to sign quarterback Alex Smith, another free-agent receiver and a free-agent guard.
On a personal note, I always found Spencer to be one of the smartest and most thoughtful players in the locker room. I wish him the best of luck.
-- Matt Barrows