McCown released, leaving 49ers in search of third QB

After a much-publicized search for a third quarterback, Josh McCown was among 26 players released by the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday to get the team's roster to the NFL's 53-player limit for the regular season.

With McCown's departure, San Francisco is down to starter Alex Smith and second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick as the backup. If parting ways with McCown means the 49ers have their eyes on another quarterback who might become available is unclear.

"Like any team that only carries two quarterbacks at this time, you're rolling the dice. We understand that," first-year 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, adding there could be someone new in uniform soon. "I anticipate that there will be one (third quarterback) in the building, practice squad or other. ... There's nothing that precludes us from doing anything that we feel helps our football team. That goes for any position."

The team opens its first season under Harbaugh next Sunday against the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco also placed tight end Nate Byham on injured reserve Saturday with a season-ending knee injury. Cornerback Phillip Adams, guard Tony Wragge and wideout Dominique Zeigler were among the others released.

McCown, who spent last season with the United Football League's Hartford Colonials, has passed for 6,584 career yards and 35 touchdowns with the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers.

"I'd love to come back," McCown, 32, told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. "As for right now, I'm headed home to coach (high school football in North Carolina) and will continue to stay ready."

Harbaugh was vague about what went into the decision to cut McCown, whose best season came in 2004 when he started 13 games for the Cardinals and threw for 2,511 yards and 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

"There was an effort to get our best 53 on the roster. Just decisions that we made," Harbaugh said.

The team worked out former NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper last month before signing McCown to a one-year deal for the league minimum of $810,000.

So, for now, it's Smith -- the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah -- and Kaepernick.

Smith was formally named the starter by Harbaugh after Thursday night's 20-17 preseason victory at San Diego. Kaepernick threw five interceptions during the preseason, including two against the Chargers.

"We feel confident in Colin," Harbaugh said of calling upon the rookie right away if needed.

The 49ers held a workout Saturday, and two-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore and All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis addressed the team after being named captains by their teammates.

"It is a noteworthy honor that Frank was elected captain on offense and Patrick was elected captain on defense," Harbaugh said.

In addition, Harbaugh said the competition for Gore's backup is still ongoing. Gore on Wednesday received a new three-year, $21 million contract extension that could keep him around through 2014. The deal includes $13.5 million guaranteed.

Kendall Hunter "is ahead on the depth chart," Harbaugh said.

Byham, a proven blocker at the tight end position, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during last Saturday's practice and is scheduled to undergo surgery in the coming weeks. He had been the expected third tight end behind Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

Zeigler and Adams both were limited by serious injuries in 2010, when the 49ers finished 6-10 and failed to reach the playoffs or have a winning season for the eighth straight year. Zeigler went on IR in late November with a torn ACL in his left knee, and Adams broke his left ankle in the second-to-last game at St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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