Earlier this morning, word got out that San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman had agreed to restructure his current contract. Bowman is signed through 2018 and with the restructuring, he cleared $2.616 million in 2014 cap space. It is worth noting the remaining four years of his deal include an additional $654,000 each year. This comes from turning base salary into a signing bonus, as the bonus is prorated over the remainder of the deal (maximum five years.
As the 49ers move toward training camp, they'll have other contracts to figure out. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Chris Culliver are all going to be free agents after the coming season. If the 49ers want to extend them, they will need to create some space. They don't need huge dollars in 2014 because it's mostly signing bonus money for those guys in year 1, but they will need to make some room.
The timing of all this could work out fairly well because the 49ers are approaching a bit of a transition period. As certain members of the team get older, the team is slowly developing options to replace them.
Last year, the 49ers were the second oldest roster in the NFL according to snap-weighted age. For those who have not seen that, snap-weighted age was first discussed a little over a year ago by occasional NN contributor Danny Tuccitto. In 2012, the 49ers ranked 11th in snap-weighted age.
As the 49ers move forward, they will get younger in some areas now, and could very well get even younger in 2015. The addition of Antoine Bethea gets them older at safety, but if Jimmie Ward becomes the starting nickel back, he gets them a good deal younger. Aside from Bethea, the secondary as a whole gets younger with the departures of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. They actually need to handle their business for this to matter, but we'll see that noticeable decline.
On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers will get younger at center, with Daniel Kilgore and/or Marcus Martin replacing Jonathan Goodwin as the starting center. They get a little bit older at wide receiver with the addition of Stevie Johnson over guys like Kyle Williams and Jon Baldwin, but I think we'll all make that trade every day. And they have brought in some young options with Quinton Patton last year, and Bruce Ellington this year.
Jason Hurley will be putting together some thoughts on potential cap casualties in this year's roster cuts, but we can already start to spot a few potential veterans on the bubble. Adam Snyder was a stable backup option, but if the 49ers can get what they want from guys like Jonathan Martin, Joe Looney and/or even Marcus Martin (if he does not get the center job right away), I could see them parting ways with Snyder.
Tank Carradine is a guy that will be interesting to track from a cap perspective. If he shows his knee is back to 100 percent, and he can handle the role, at what point do the 49ers part ways with Ray McDonald? I would be a little surprised to see it happen this year, but he hits for $5.3 million this year and $5.9 million next year. His final year only counts for $1.74 million, but will he make it through that 2015 hit? Right now his dead money hit after next season would be just under $2.5 million. They could potentially split that over two years if they decided to designate him a post-June 1, so that is something to keep in mind if McDonald remains on the roster through the 2014 season.
If Corey Lemonier is able to continue progressing, he could replace Ahmad Brooks at some point. Again, I don't see it happening this year, but with Brooks signed through 2017, it seems likely to happen at some point. That kind of thing lowers the average age of the team, but more importantly, it provides opportunities to clear some cap space and keep the house in order.
And these are just a couple examples. You could go through the entire roster and find guys that very well could get replaced sooner rather than later.
After news of the Bowman restructure, there was some media chatter about the 49ers kicking the can down the road. Technically they are doing that in restructuring any contract, but thus far they've done a fairly good job not getting too crazy with it. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are examples of teams that have done this too their detriment. The 49ers have generally maintained discipline when it comes to mortgaging the future. At this point, I don't see this becoming a regular thing, and the numerous potential cap casualties mentioned above are reasons why.
The 49ers ability to load up on young talent in the draft, be it red shirt or otherwise, is the reason they will be able to avoid cap hell. Obviously that talent actually needs to pan out. More or less striking out on the 2012 draft is not something that can become a regular occurrence. If they want to remain in the upper echelon of the NFL, they need to hit on big names every year.
The 49ers nailed Eric Reid last year, and Corey Lemonier is looking pretty solid thus far. Now we have to see if they'll hit on one or more of Tank Carradine, Vance McDonald, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Patton, Quinton Dial, and/or Carter Bykowski. They don't need to nail all of them, although I would not complain about that! But they need to nail some of them. It creates some pressure each year to hit on more and more players, but as they say, no pressure, no diamonds.
If the 49ers can continue to convert more talent, they have the front office personnel in place to keep the team in decent enough cap shape. Paraag Marathe and his staff have proven to be fairly solid with salary cap maneuvering, but part of that comes down to the talent in place. They need to continue re-tooling and re-stocking. The front office be pushing the salary cap limit most years, but with constantly developing talent, they should be able to keep cap hell at bay.