Now that the 49ers have locked up outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks to a 2012-cap friendly contract, the time has come for wild speculation as to the reasons behind the deal. Brooks' contract is not wildly backloaded, but year one has only a $2.85 million cap hit. The figure is reportedly made up of a $750K base salary, $1.5M proration of the signing bonus, $500K roster bonuses and $100K workout bonuses.
The 49ers have done solid work in keeping the deal from getting too crazy at any point as we saw quite often in the past. For many contracts, you can tell right off the bat that the player will not see the final year or two or even three of the deal because of backloading. Under Ahmad Brooks contract, it is entirely possible he plays out the deal with the 49ers if he remains productive.
However, that $2.85M cap figure for 2012 has me pondering all sorts of ideas, both wild and relatively restrained. The 49ers have sizable cap space this year, and have used it in part for decisions like re-working Patrick Willis' contract to take a huge $17M hit this year and lower his later hits.
Matt Maiocco estimated the 49ers current cap room at approximately $23 million, which is based on a salary cap close to last year's $120.327 million. That does not count what it will cost to sign rookies, nor the potential $3M or so savings from releasing Shawntae Spencer. For comparison's sake, in last year's rookie salary pool, the 49ers were allotted just over $6.9 million. While it will change this year, I can't imagine it increasing too much.
The 49ers financial commitments for 2012 have plenty of question marks still to be answered. Dashon Goldson will end up as a $6.2M cap hit if he ends up franchised and signing the tender. Alex Smith is looking at a sizable contract, although I would imagine some manner of cap flexibility there. They have guys like Blake Costanzo, potentially Larry Grant and Joshua Morgan, and some deals for exclusive rights free agents Tramaine Brock and Will Tukuafu. Individually none of those should be too big, but together that starts to add up a little bit.
I might not be 100% accurate on this, but if you net out $3M saved from Spencer, $6.9 million on the rookies (2012 won't reflect the full pool allotment b/c of prorated bonuses, but it's a hypothetical) and $6.2M for Goldson's franchise tag, that puts the 49ers at around $13M. We don't have the final cap figure yet, but this will work for discussion purposes.
There are plenty of ways for the 49ers to spend their cap money. While I am showing $13 million in space, I've got to think it is not so simply as subtracting and adding those various numbers. I'll place my trust in Paraag Marathe that he could make certain scenarios work.
Scenario I: The Big Splash
The biggest of splashes for the 49ers in this free agency class would be Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace. The Steelers are expected to use a first round restricted free agent tender, which means the 49ers would have to give up their No. 30 pick along with the contract they would be paying Wallace.
In order to sign Mike Wallace away from the Steelers, the 49ers will need to put together a deal that will keep the Steelers from being able to match it, while also being more than what another team could offer Wallace. The Patriots are a team that could afford the draft pick (with two in the first round), and also have some solid cap space to make a deal happen.
In order to get past the first part, the Steelers, it basically just requires a sizable first year salary. The team basically would need to sign Mike Wallace to something along the lines of a front-loaded deal. If the first year cap number is too big for the Steelers to work with thanks to a sizable base salary and proration of the signing bonus, that leaves Pittsburgh out of the picture.
Personally, I think Wallace is a good fit given his skill set. Whatever you think of Alex Smith, I think Wallace could make him look good and would be a boon for this offense across the board. If the 49ers can make it work, I think there is a lot to be gained from adding the Steelers play-maker.
The 49ers have come up with quite a few cap-friendly contracts, including Ahmad Brooks' deal. This would seem to open the door for them to make some kind of big splash in free agency. While this has not been a "splashy" team recently, could we see them go against the public grain this time around? If they can't fit a bit first year base under the cap, maybe they look at a Vincent Jackson or Stevie Johnson if available?
I know we've had plenty of discussions about these receivers, but given how the team worked out Brooks' contract, I find myself all the more curious about a potential big move. I never want to get my hopes up heading into free agency, particularly coming off the low key patient approach we saw last year. At the same time, it would be foolish to not get at least a little excited about the possibility of a big move.