Next off-season is shaping up to be one that will be pivotal in the long term scheme of the 49ers. Key contributors, including most members of the vaunted 2011 draft class, will become free agents after this season. Here's a list of the 2015 free agents:
- Colin Kaepernick
- Aldon Smith
- Michael Crabtree
- Mike Iupati
- Chris Culliver
- Glenn Dorsey
- Frank Gore
- Kendall Hunter
Kap will be paid. As the process is dragging on this off-season, it's looking as though that total will be north of the $18 million per year that Jay Cutler received from the Bears. The more I think about it, the more I think it might end up being a steal locking down Kaepernick this off-season before the salary cap rises due to increased television revenue and before the likes of Andrew Luck, RGIII, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton drive up the going rate for franchise quarterbacks.
The NFL is quickly becoming a passing league, so it's almost a no brainer to keep a versatile and physically gifted franchise quarterback. Similarily, the best way for a defense to harass and stop elite passing attacks is with a disruptive pass rush. Aldon Smith has rare length and athleticism, so he will also get paid. The 49ers have the option of the transition tag on Smith, which would equate to $9,754,000 for that season.
Despite Jim Harbaugh's wishes to re-sign everyone on the list, Trent Baalke's made it clear that you can't pay everyone. That's the blessing and the curse of hitting on a multitude of draft picks.
While some second tier guys might be squeezed under the rising cap, the big question for the 'Niners going forward will be between Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati. Both are former 1st round picks that are key parts of the 49er offense. Both gentleman will be looking to cash in on what could be their peak opportunity during their careers, and it's doubtful both contracts can fit into the long term plan for the team. Let's breakdown the case for both of these guys to remain in red and gold for the long haul.
The Case for Crabtree
- Crabtree has developed a chemistry with Kaepernick that looked downright easy for the two late in the 2012 season.
- That chemistry may not have even scratched the surface, as Kaepernick and Crabtree have yet to play a full season with one another.
- Crabtree has more value to Kaepernick's development. Iupati's at his best using his agility and strength in the run game. He is more of a liability in the passing game.
- Even coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, Crabtree rated out as Matt Miller of Bleacher Report as the seventh best wide out in the game last season.
- Positional value - Wide receivers simply have more value in today's NFL.
- Iupati's eventual replacement could very well be on the 49ers roster. The current talent evaluators thought enough of Joe Looney to move up in the 4th round to select him. He's been groomed the past two years to compete for Iupati's position if it comes open.
- Additionally, the 49ers have had success taking talented swing tackles and converting them to guards. Could Alex Boone's success be the recipe to revitalize Jonathan Martin's career?
The Case for Iupati
- Iupati fits the vision this team has had the past three seasons under Harbaugh - Ground and Pound.
- Though Iupati had a down year for his standards, he is capable of playing at an All-Pro level.
- Iupati has ideal size, strength, and athleticism to be an elite guard for the next decade. There's a reason why he was drafted in the 1st round of the draft, even though guards are typically undervalued in the draft.
- Iupati is more durable. Despite missing four regular season games this season with an injury and fracturing his ankle during the NFC Championship, he has proven to be much more durable than Crabtree. Dating back to his days leading up to the 2009 NFL draft, Crabtree has had a broken foot, multiple ankle injuries, and a torn Achilles tendon that has forced him to miss multiple games.
- Has anyone forgotten how difficult it was to sign Michael Crabtree to his first contract? As an unproven rookie, Crabtree held out for 71 days, but sources close to Crabtree, including Deion Sanders, claimed that Crabtree was prepared to sit out the entire 2009-2010 season to re-enter the draft. He eventually signed on October 7th, 2009 for $8 million more than the 49ers had originally offered with an additional year on the length of the deal. Needless to say, Crabtree has the potential for making his next deal into a major headache for Paraag Marathe and Trent Baalke.
While signing Iupati may be less expensive and an easier contract to negotiate, Crabtree has more value to the 49ers going forward. As Tim Kawakami recently reported, the 49ers could be planning to open up their offense in order to knock off the defending champion Seahawks.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 28, 2014
In order to attack the Seahawks secondary, ala the Colts in the regular season, the 49ers need the continuity with Kaepernick and Crabtree to continue developing. Brandin Cooks in red and gold to challenge Earl Thomas deep would be beneficial as well :)
I envision a scenario similar to how the cornerback contracts with Terrell Brown and Tramaine Brock worked out. The 49ers presumably offered a contract to Brown that was their assigned value for Brown. He declined, so the 49ers set their sites on extended the ascending Tramaine Brock. Similarly, I feel the 49ers would be best off setting their value for Crabtree and offering him the contract and trying to negotiate. If the two sides are too far apart, the team would move on to locking down Iupati.
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