(All contract data from Sportrac)
I know the NFC Championship Game is coming up in a couple days, but seeing all the mock drafts starting to come out made me start thinking about the Niners needs for 2014. After all, anything can happen on any given Sunday, but in my opinion the best way to plan to win a Super Bowl is to consistently make the playoffs and increase your shots on goal. Obviously, that's not easy over time with the salary cap, which is where smart drafting and cap management come in.
So what happens when a Niners fan who's bored at work has time to Google the Niners' salary cap situation and dump it into Excel? Let's find out.
2013 Salary: $116,634,829
Current 2014 Salary Commitments: $116,965,486
Upcoming Free Agents
11 things I know and think I know
1. We will cut Carlos Rogers and Jonathan Baldwin
Carlos Rogers has not made as many big plays as in the past, and is projected to be the highest paid 49er in 2014. Pro Football Focus graded him -6.8 in coverage this year. So cut. It's possible that we re-sign him to a smaller deal as depth, but given Tramaine Brock's extension it's clear that the team views him as a long term starter.
Jonathan Baldwin has barely gotten onto the field and has been clearly behind Crabtree, Boldin, Patton and even Osgood on the roster.
Manningham hasn't been healthy. Dixon is probably done as a FB unless Bruce Miller isn't ready for next season. The Niners used only Miller at FB before he was hurt, and with Lattimore presumably making the active roster next season, that squeezes Dixon out of the RB4 spot he's been holding. Dixon has also played some on special teams, so that's probably his one shot at staying on the roster, but I don't know as much about the ST depth chart, so I won't comment there.
Tukuafu was only re-signed after Miller got hurt, so again if Miller is healthy I don't see him being on the roster.
Cox was only signed after Rogers went down, so that's not a big surprise. Wright has played sparringly this year and is a free agent. So I'm not exactly going out on a limb here. See below for more thoughts on the CB depth chart.
4. We are pretty much set at quarterback running back, defensive line and linebacker.
At QB Kaep can re-negotiate for 2014, but he's still under contract. Colt McCoy is the backup QB and is a free agent, but you know, who cares. The only defensive lineman not under contract for next year is DeMarcus Dobbs and the team has Tank Carradine coming back. All the LBs on the roster this year are under contract for next year.
5. The team will work out a long term deal for Kaepernick.
Kaep is a free agent after 2014 and eligible for extensions for the first time. We currently have $89 million in salary already committed to the 2015, but that falls to $80 million if we cut Rogers.
Some money needs to be set aside for draft picks, etc., and I'm not yet at the point where I'm going to predict what kind of deal they'll sign and what cap impact it'll have, but given his performance to date and the lack of a developmental QB on the roster, and the fact that Jay Cutler just signed a deal that guarantees him $18 million per year, I think it's pretty safe to say something will get done here.
6. But what about Aldon Smith?
The other star who will be a free agent after 2014 is Aldon Smith, and how the Niners address his contract this offseason will reveal a lot about their plans. Normally, signing a young player who ranked in the top 5 of Pro Football Focus' pass rush productivity stat would be a no brainer, but consider this: the team already has Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks signed to big money deals through at least 2016.
Something will probably have to give somewhere down the line, since I highly doubt the team will want to commit upwards of $32 million or so of its cap to linebackers (that's over 1/4 of the entire cap!), but damned if I know how it's going to work out.
Probably also worth noting that Dan Skuta played a good number of snaps this season, and Corey Lemonier is a 2013 3rd Round Draft pick who also got on the field, and both are signed to very team friendly contracts. Neither of them is Aldon Smith, but just putting that out there.
7. Taking into account departing FAs and projected cuts, the Niners will have about $8 million in cap room to work with.
Where did the rest of the money go? Some big money raises are kicking in.
8. How will we replace Anquan Boldin and what will our WR depth chart look like?
This is clearly the Niners' biggest short term need, with almost no meaningful depth or youth at the position. Given the team's approach to the last couple offseasons, I'm sure the main approach will be to build through the draft, with a little bit of roster flexibility for a veteran if the right deal (like Boldin last year) becomes available.
This is pretty much the only position where I'm sure the Niners will invest meaningful draft capital, and a place I could see the team target a player if it likes one, as they did with Eric Reid last season. If they don't, I think that will be a reflection that the front office doesn't see a player it wants.
9. Cornerback would seem to be the number 2 need on the roster.
As discussed above, there's a good chance that Rogers is gone. Tarrell Brown is also a free agent. We have clearly committed to Brock, and the team seemed high on Culliver before he got hurt.
Just given the amount of depth we have to fill here, the team will likely keep/bring on some veteran depth. I could see the team re-signing Brown if he can't find a multiyear deal on the FA market, similar to what the team did with Dashon Goldson two offseasons ago. Otherwise, the team is clearly familiar with and comfortable with Perrish Cox and Eric Wright on some level.
That said, this would seem to be an obvious area of need for the 49ers to try to address via the draft.
10. Who will be the starting safety?
There's also not a lot of depth or youth here. Whitner is an older player who's going to be a free agent. Dahl was signed to be veteran insurance last offseason and other than when Reid has been out, he has not gotten on the field. On top of that, Reid has already suffered two concussions this season.
It's possible that the team uses some of its cap space on Whitner, particularly if they don't re-sign Boldin, but I think the team's approach last season tells us that the front office doesn't value the safety position as highly, and there is a lot more uncertainty/need at WR and CB, so my guess would be that they attempt to build through the draft here and let Whitner go.
11. Who will be the starting center?
There is some youth on the roster. Kilgore has gotten some snaps (2011 5th Round pick), and Joe Looney 4th Round pick two years ago. That they're still on the roster as interior linemen says something about the how the team views them, but I'm not a scout so I won't comment too much on whether they could start next year.
Again, this is a place where how the Niners draft will likely say a lot about how they see Kilgore and Looney going forward.