ESPN's Todd McShay released his latest 2014 NFL mock draft Thursday afternoon, and it brought up an interesting point in my mind. McShay went through the first round, and he had the 49ers drafting UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Here is his accompanying analysis on the pick:
If I could make a trade, I would strongly consider packaging some of the Niners' many picks to move up to grab one of the first-round-caliber cornerbacks or wide receivers. But since trades aren't an option here, I like the idea of adding Barr. He doesn't fill a need, but the 49ers can afford to make a luxury pick with three picks in the top 61 and six in the top 100. Barr would also have time to develop his game while playing to his strengths as a situational speed-rusher. I've dropped him on my board over the past few months, but he has good upside and is a solid value at this point in the draft. Barr would also provide insurance in the event that Aldon Smith is not with the team after the 2014 season.
Considering there are no trades in most mocks, I'd argue this is a fairly well-reasoned pick. There will be trades in the draft, so this is all a hypothetical mental exercise that holds only so much value. But, even still, it does raise a topic worth discussing.
The 49ers have their questions about Aldon Smith's off-the-field behavior, but they also face some questions about Ahmad Brooks from a contract perspective. Brooks signed an extension in 2012 that locked him up through 2017. He had a $2,850,000 cap hit in 2012, and a $5,050,000 cap hit in 2013. His 2014 hit will be $6.6 million, and then it climbs to $8.35 million and $8.85 million in 2015 and 2016, before dropping back to $7.8 million in 2017.
I don't see the 49ers cutting or trading Ahmad Brooks this year because there is $4.5 million in dead money they would have to account for. He is still highly productive, even as his cap hit increases. However, he turns 31 next offseason, and it remains to be seen how long he'll be able to keep going. Maybe the 49ers look to part ways after this coming season to avoid those back-to-back $8+ million cap hits?
In the current CBA, the NFL Draft provides big opportunities for teams to get cheaper fairly quickly with potentially top-level talent. If the 49ers think a guy like Barr could replace Brooks sooner rather than later, why not bring him in? You likely need some insurance in case Aldon misses extended time with a suspension, and/or does something else to get in trouble. Why not add in a guy who can work in a situational pass rush role and potentially develop into a replacement at outside linebacker? It's a tough part of the business, but it is still part of the business.