I am energized by what Harbaalke has been able to do putting together the 49ers roster, and I am interested in what it will take to keep the nucleus together. We have a number players becoming free agents after this season. The question is how many can we afford to resign?
I posted something on this about a month back, and while most of the feedback was positive, I did get hammered on one thing, the value of Tarell Brown. Given his excellent play in 2012, and assuming he keeps it up, I had thought he would be in the market for a contract in the 8-9M range. The nation spoke and collectively said, "you are nuts." This made me realize that we are in a unique situation with the NFL labor market. We just completed year two of the 10 year CBA, teams are now fully understanding the value of the rookie wage scale, and we have a relatively flat salary cap. On top of all this, the CBA calls for league minimums for salaries, but teams underpaying in 2013 don't have to cough up the cash until 2017. The result is a major market correction that has shifted money to the top flight quarterbacks and 2nd contract players in their mid-20s. Rookies are locked in to the new rookie wage scales and the nfl middle class, veterans in their 30s, are being squeezed. If you listen to the NFL network, you will hear broadcasters blame the rookie cap, but I don't believe that it right. The issues are the flat salary cap and the lack of a league minimum.
The flat salary cap has made teams fear "dead money." If you give a player a 10M signing bonus, for instance, that pro-rates to 2M per year for 5 years. If the player retires or is cut after two years, however, the remaining 6M gets accelerated into the year of the cut, and is called dead money. With a flat salary cap, that can be hard to swallow. The one position where teams have not been afraid to give money is QB. Why? An "elite" QB is considered invaluable, and other than kickers, QB's have proven the ability to perform the longest before father time takes its toll. A number of top flight QBs, such as Warren Moon, were good into their 40s. The QB position is the most important, and has the least risk due to age, so the money has flocked to it. Top flight players in their 20s have also been able to get big contracts. This is because of the same low risk of incurring dead money that they represent.
The second issue driving salaries down is the lack of a league minimum salary this year. There is a minimum, 89% of the cap, but that minimum needs to be spent by 2016, not today. The result, teams can store up cap space, which can be carried over to future years, and then will be in a position to set the market in 2015 and 16. A team like Cleveland, for instance, can bank their cap space now and then unleash it in 2015 or 2016, basically outbidding and getting any free agent they want. They get new management this year, take a conservative approach and build through the draft for the next 2-3 years, and then in 2015 they can afford to pay a player like Aldon Smith 20M/year and there is nothing that we can do about it (I know, it sucks. This is why our time is now).
The result of these market shifts is what I am trying to gauge. I believe over 10% of the players in the league are playing off of 1 year deals this year. It didn't make sense for owners to offer expensive contracts when they don't have to spend the money this year, and it didn't make sense for players to sign cheap long term deals when eventually the money will have to be spent. The exception are those players that only have a few years left, like Dwight Freeney. Players like that get short term deals for low to medium money, with incentives that kick in if the player performs at a high level. They can't afford to wait, and they have enough juice left in the tank that at least one team still wants their services.
So, how will this play out for the 49ers? Modesto Matt put together an excellent forecast for 2014 that starts to frame up the picture for us. We have cap space, but we have many roster holes to fill. Approximately 25 of the 90 players currently under contract will be free agents after this year. Matt proposed resigning the following guys: Colt McCoy, Mario Manningham, Justin Smith, Tarell Brown, Donte Whitner, and Phil Dawson.
The purpose of this thread is to establish the market value for these players, so that we can determine which ones are worth signing. I have no problem with resigning them all, but we just don't have the cap space. Our priority will be Colin Kaepernick. He is not a free agent next year, but he becomes eligible for renegotiation. We will resign him to a deal with a 20-30M signing bonus. His salary for 2014 will be pretty low, as he plays out his rookie contract, but 20% of the signing bonus will apply to 2014 (e.g. 30M/5 = 6M for 2014).
After Colin, we also have the ability to negotiate with Aldon Smith, but since Aldon was a first round pick, we can extend his contract through 2015. We will do this, and then negotiate with Aldon after the 2014 season. Now, I'm sure the FO will begin discussions with Aldon as soon as possible, but unless Aldon wants to give us a big discount it will make sense to wait to complete the deal.
The first player I'd like to focus on is Justin Smith. Justin is listed as a DE, but he plays DE in our 3-4 defense. Most high paying DE's play in a 4-3, which we shift to on passing downs. In our 4-3 Justin shifts over and plays DT. I believe Justin will complete in the DT market given his playing style. Justin is a monster against the run, and he does an amazing job collapsing the pocket on passing downs, but he doesn't get the fancy stats that other top flight linemen will get. Any GM worth anything would understand this, however, so assuming Justin returns to his old form there will be a demand for his services. The biggest knock against Justin will be his age. He turns 34 this season.
Top DT contracts for 2013:
|Ricky Jean Francois||IND||4||$22,000,000||$5,500,000|
|Sammie Lee Hill||TEN||3||$11,400,000||$3,800,000|
You wonder why the 49ers lost RJF and Soap? There just weren't a lot of top flight DTs out there this year. You can immediately argue that Justin is better that RJF, but Ricky got his 4 year deal due to his age and upside. Justin has no upside. He peaked in 2011 and it is simply a matter of how much longer he can keep it up.
Justin also wants a ring, and to be part of a dynasty. Because of this, I believe he will give us a discount. Something in the $4-5M per year range. He gets to stay where he is comfortable and finish his career building his legacy (hopefully multiple SB rings).
Anquan Boldin/Mario Manningham
Yes, I combined these two players together. Really, so did Matt if you re-read his analysis. Crabtree will be back in 2014. I am also confident that one of the guys from our trio of WR noobs (AJ/Patton/Lockette) will emerge by season end. We need an experienced slot receiver to complement the two, and Anquan and Mario both fit the bill. Which one we sign may come down to numbers, and we may be forced to sign the cheaper of the two versus the better.
Top WR contracts for 2013:
This year we had 5 big contracts, 3 medium size (still millions, more than I will make my entire life), and then the floor drops out. Why so much big money this year? Not a lot of free agents in 2014. NYG studs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz may be on the market. Otherwise, Jacoby Jones, Eric Decker, Kenny Brit, and Mike Williams. All good, but I don't know if they are $10M/year guys.
The thing about our two receivers in question is they both already have SB rings. If either guy sticks around in SF, it is really going to be because they like the team. Anquan will be 33 this year, but he may retire rather than play for peanuts. Mario gave us a great deal this year, but it is because he is coming back from injury. If he has a strong 2013 he will want to get paid in 2014 (and I don't blame him).
I could see our front office putting a value on this position, something like 4M/year, and then finding the best player available. If Crabs doesn't recover, however, then all bets are off.
This is the guy that got me going on this thread (blame him, not me). Pro Football Focus had Tarell as the #7 CB in 2012 and #75 in the top 101 players in the league. I get it. I don't watch the all-22 film, but what I saw from the regular telecast was a guy that didn't show up often, good for a CB, and then when he did show up he didn't miss a tackle.
Tarell is 28 years old and entering his 7th season in the league. At the end of this season he will have made about 9M dollars. I haven't heard Tarell in interviews, but based on his life circumstances, I'm guessing this next contract is his best chance to get PAID.
Top CB contracts for 2013:
As far as CBs are concerned, you are either a shutdown corner or you are not. The drop between the 2nd and 3rd largest contracts this year is staggering. So, is Tarell a shutdown corner? As much as I like him, I have to say no. Assuming another great season, I do believe he will be at the upper end of that second tier, and possibly get 6M/year. He will NOT get the 8-9M I prognosticated last month. I will learn, "the nation is always right."
Will the Niners pay 6M/year for a corner? We are paying that now for Carlos Rodgers, so yes. The problem is that we can't afford to pay that on both sides of the field (both CBs).
We will draft a CB with one of our first two picks and also pick up a journeyman CB (like Nnamdi). Unfortunately, we may have to cut Carlos just to pay for Kaep, Justin, and WR To Be Named.
The other guys
Matt also mentioned resigning Colt McCoy, Donte Whitner, and Phil Dawson. Colt has sounded great in camp reports, but I don't believe he wants to be a backup. There are a lot of teams that could be looking for a QB next year that may take a flyer on him, including: TEN, PIT (yes, PIT), JAC, TB, SD (yes, SD), and AZ. A year working under Harbaugh could give Colt the bump he needs to be considered. I can't fathom the team bringing back Donte Whitner. I think Fangio likes the guy, but we've brought in so many cheaper safeties that we will have to let him walk. Donte should be able to get 4M/year, and we are not going to want to go there. We will resign Phil Dawson, probably about what he is making now (2M/year).
So, how do we pay for all this?
Good question. How much do we need?
|Colin Pro-Rated Signing Bonus||6.0M|
|WR to be Named||4.0M|
|Tarell Brown (iffy)||6.0M|
We've got about an 10M bogie to close. We can let Tarell walk, but if he has another good season I hope we don't. Realistically, we are going to have to restructure or cut a few of our existing players under contract to make this happen. Top candidates are Frank Gore and Carlos Rodgers.
Frank Gore is one of my favorite 49ers of all time. I believe he will play in 2014, and I can't imagine him playing in another uniform. We can't afford to pay him 6M with Hunter and LMJ and Lattimore ready to go. Just writing this makes me sick. Frank, play for 1 dollar and know that every respectable restaurant in SF will comp you dinner for the rest of your life.
Carlos Rodgers already restructured his contract for us at least once. He gets hammered a bit covering the slot, but he is the best we have. It's not like the FO is putting someone else in there, and there is a reason for that. His CB numbers when lined up on the outside are fine. Depending on how the negotiations go, we will either keep Carlos or Tarell, but not both.
What about the guys you didn't mention?
This is already over 2000 words. You really want me to keep going? If I missed someone critical, let's talk it in the thread.
I will mention one name, Mike Iupati. Mike is signed through 2014. If we can lock him up longer, I am all for it, but you can see from our current situation that any large increases in salary will not be able to happen until 2015. Since we can't give him money now, it may stall the negotiations. We could franchise Iupati or Crabs in 2015, but not both. We are so tight on cap space that I can't see us wanting to risk guaranteeing money 2-3 years down the road without significant benefit. Unless we get an offer we can't refuse, I don't see us completing a contract before 2013.
For you people that really like to suffer, here are links to the other posts on this subject:
A big shout out and thanks to Fooch for pushing the original FanPost to the front page and for Modesto Matt for properly framing the discussion. The conclusions here are pretty consistent with Matt's and I've tried to build off his work. I've just tried to provide some additional background.
OK nation, if you made it this far you have to comment just so people know you read the whole thing. Thanks for reading.