As if the 49ers and Seahawks needed more spice to their rivalry, the Niners have added a dash of cayenne pepper.
Just days before the 2013 season opener against the Green Bay Packers this Sunday – and less than two weeks before the 49ers and Seahawks meet in Week 2 – the 49ers have snatched wide receiver Chris Harper from Seattle’s practice squad and signed him to a three-year deal.
Harper, drafted in the fourth round by Seattle out of Kansas State this April, was cut by the ‘Hawks this past weekend, but then stashed on their practice squad. San Francisco, which already was carrying five receivers on its roster, then acted quickly to sign him – an act that required the 49ers to put Harper on their 53-man active roster. The Niners were able to make the move by trading linebacker Cam Johnson to the Colts Monday, clearing a spot for Harper.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported the Seahawks “fought like crazy” to keep the 49ers from signing Harper, but lost out.
Harper, 23, played one season at Oregon before transferring to Kansas State, where he played 51 games, had 132 catches for 1,856 yards and scored 14 TDs. His senior year, he had 57 catches in a run-first offense. In the preseason, Harper had four catches for 39 yards, but also dropped two passes, including one that would have been for a touchdown.
Harper now joins Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore and Jonathan Baldwin as receivers in San Francisco.
As NFL.com reported, however, Harper gives the 49ers some flexibility. At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Harper gives the 49ers another very versatile receiver who is big enough and physical enough to play H-Back and tight end in the role played the past couple of years by Delanie Walker. Rookie MarQueis Gray could have filled that role, too, but he was picked up on waivers by the Browns this past weekend.
Wrote Chris Wesseling of NFL.com: “Harper impressed the Seahawks with his physicality and athleticism at rookie camp, but he quickly fell behind receivers Jermaine Kearse and Stephen Williams in training camp. Harper will be a developmental project in San Francisco, with the hope that he’ll evolve into a matchup problem down the line.”
The Niners also take him away from their fiercest division rival, too, which becomes one more shot – of many – the teams have fired across each other’s bows over the past couple of seasons since head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll (former Pac-12 Conference rivals) have taken command.
As Mike Sando of ESPN.com noted Tuesday, Harper also is in the mold of Boldin, a physical, aggressive pass-catcher who could serve as a mentor for him.
When the Seahawks drafted Harper, Carroll was very high on his potential.
“He makes catches with guys hanging all over him, so we really like that kind of element that he brings to us,” Carroll said.