What set apart the 49ers' Brian Jennings

News that longtime San Francisco 49ers long-snapper Brian Jennings received his release Saturday marked the end of a special-teams era in the NFC West.

Jennings, 36, had been unerringly consistent since 2000 and was the final 49ers player remaining from the Steve Mariucci coaching era. But with the 49ers pinching salary-cap dollars with an eye toward continued roster building, they decided undrafted rookie free agent Kevin McDermott was a better value.

So, congratulations to McDermott for doing what no one had done before: unseating Jennings as the 49ers' snapper. But let's also acknowledge the roles age and cap/cash savings played in the switch. Jennings was scheduled to earn $940,000 in salary for 2013, compared to $405,000 for McDermott. At a certain point, that type of savings was going to trump whatever advantages Jennings provided from a skill standpoint.

Moving on from a player a little early can beat doing so a little late, particularly with salary implications affecting longer-term plans. The 49ers' total salary-cap allocation for the three specialist positions had been about 80 percent above average at one point. So, this move made sense in that context, even if it was a difficult one on some levels.

Most of us cannot tell the difference between a great NFL snapper and a serviceable one. I certainly could not. But my friend and former colleague at the Tacoma News Tribune, Dave Boling, made sure I acknowledged Jennings' excellence. Dave had played center and long-snapper at Louisville back in the Lee Corso days, and he would watch Jennings through his binoculars during warm-ups with the rapt attention of a birder who had spotted a rare species. To him, Jennings was the rufous-necked wood rail of American snappers.

"Those who appreciate the Art of The Long Snap, will sadly note the Niners release of Brian Jennings," Dave noted Saturday. "One of the best."

So, what made Jennings so special?

"Precision and consistency," Dave explained. "Speed is great and Jennings had that, but you have to be able to do it again and again and again. Secondarily is being able to block. He was one who could snap without looking. He could bring his head up and watch the defenders, then snap it blind. Then, some guys just aim for the middle of the punter. Others aim for the right hip, which is where the punter will drop it over that right foot. He had that. And he was athletic enough, certainly in his younger days, to cover a little bit, too."