On the Clock: San Francisco 49ers
by Mario Granata
Coming off an 8-8 season, the 49ers cleaned house when it comes to the coaching staff, and the fact that they are a mere 1.3 million under the current cap, expect the dismantling of the 49ers to continue with the players as well. New Head Coach Jim Tomsula, OC Geep Chryst and DC Eric Mangini are going to have a tall task, and some difficult decisions to make as the Niners go into the 2015 season. Signing some big name free agents is a virtual impossibility at this point, as the team has some notable current ones that could be playing elsewhere. Jim Harbaugh took off for the Big House and left the 49ers in the outhouse.
As stated on an episode of Hashtag Sports concerning the contract of Colin Kaepernick that broadcasted on June 6th (which can be heard here) along with the pre-existing contracts on this defense, the 49ers were going to inevitably be in cap jail, and it is starting to show. The Top 13 contracts for the 49ers equate to 91 million of their cap space. Names such as Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Vernon Davis headline a list of decisions, not players that the 49ers will have to make this offseason. For the 49ers to have any hope for the 2015 season, they will have to do it the old fashioned way: through the draft.
Colin Kaepernick signed a 6-year, 114 million dollar contract extension last season after only starting 23 games, and it seems likely that into the first year of his deal, he is going to have to restructure for the 49ers to have any hope of adding some valuable pieces and make a run at the NFC West. The 49ers could push some of his 10.4 million dollar base salary to some type of bonus, but this does completely erase their problems, it merely starts to fix them. Many times when a new regime comes in, the ‘incumbent’ quarterback is replaced, and if the 49ers decide that they are in full rebuild mode, they could cut Kaepernick post June 1st, and only take a 2.5 million dollar cap hit while saving 12.8 million. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened in the NFL.
Aldon Smith came into the league on fire recording 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons, but only has 10.5 the past two due to injury and off-field problems. His cap hit is 9.7 million and is all base salary, so he could restructure, or if the 49ers don’t think he is worth the headache, could cut him with no hit to the cap.
Patrick Willis only played 6 games, and NaVorro Bowman missed the entire 2014 season, yet combined they equate to a 15.8 million dollar cap hit for 2015. Offensive lineman usually have problems with these two, but now the front office will have their hands full with these monsters.
Stevie Johnson will likely be cut, saving 6 million, and if the 49ers are in full ‘dismantle’ mode, they will probably do so as well with the 35-year old Justin Smith. Cutting Smith will free up 4.2 million, while causing a 2.1 million dollar hit in a dead money bomb.
All told, the 49ers could cut Aldon Smith, Stevie Johnson, and Justin Smith and open up nearly 20 million in cap space, and IF they can come to terms with Kaepernick, Willis, and Bowman, the might make it through the 2015 season, and sign some of their current free agents.
RB Frank Gore, who is one of the most decorated backs to occupy the 49ers backfield, might not be spending his 2015 season in red and gold even if the team restructures and cuts some players. Gore will be 32 when the season begins, and over 2,400 carries over a 10-year career might mean the end of his stay in San Francisco. He will likely carry a 6 million dollar cap figure, so it’s either retirement or a smaller paycheck for Gore. Not to mention that Carlos Hyde proved he could be a formidable player in the league.
G Mike Iupati has garnered some attention for his play during his 5 years in San Francisco. Kaepernick was sacked 52 times last season, 2nd most in the NFL (Blake Bortles – 55) and if the 49ers cannot open up some space for him, expect that number to rise in 2015. Iupati has started 75 games and had been elected to 3 Pro Bowls during that span.
Corners Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver accounted for 9 of the 49ers league leading 23 interceptions in 2014, and both of them expect to get some attention from other teams if they cannot be signed. Unless the 49ers want to leave Eric Reid on an island in the secondary, some drastic measures have to be made.
If Eric Mangini learned anything from his time with the New England Patriots and his time with Bill Belichick, hopefully for 49er fans it was building solid role players through the draft. Otherwise the team will not meet expectations for the 2015 season. With WR Michael Crabtree unlikely to be resigned, most of the experts have the Niners taking WR Kevin White (WVU), if he is still on the board. This seems like a stretch, because Kaepernick cannot find him if he is on his back. While White possesses qualities that the 49ers need, it is not their most glaring need.
San Francisco could go with either DT Arik Armsted (Oregon) or LB Alvin Dupree (Kentucky) to bloster Mangini’s 3-4 defense, and both look to be up to the task. Armsted, while he is listed as a defensive tackle, his 6’8” 290 pound frame makes him more likely to be a defensive end, and if the 49ers decide to part ways with Aldon Smith, look for them to take Armsted. Alvin Dupree seems like the typical linebacker that could fit in very well with Willis and Bowman, but will likely be a project, and with all the other projects that the 49ers have selecting one with the 15th pick seems to be a stretch.
The player that gives them the most options is LT La’el Collins (LSU). With 4-time Pro Bowler Joe Staley firmly at the left tackle spot, Collins could be a force at right tackle as he is more of a brawler. And if it doesn’t work out at right tackle, Collins has the mentality to slide down to guard if San Francisco doesn’t sign Iupati.
With the current cap numbers, and the players that the 49ers have to try and resign, don’t look for them to make a splash in the free agent market this off-season. They are in full “clean house and start new” mode, and unless something is done to the current contracts on the team, they are going to be in for a rough 2015. San Francisco lost 4 of their last 5 games, and scored 17 or fewer points 8 times last season, and playing in the ultra competitive NFC West, the immediate future of the 49ers doesn’t look too bright.
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