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The NFL Salary Cap: My, How Far We've Come

I'm working on a writing project about some former 49ers, including Ricky Watters, and I've come across some interesting information that I thought was worth a brief share on this random Monday afternoon. Back in 1995, Watters was a free agent following the 49ers Super Bowl winning season. At the time when Watters left to play for the Eagles, I was pretty disappointed he chose to walk. I was 15 at the time and didn't really understand the implications of the salary cap considering the 49ers had just added a boatload of All Pro talent the season before. If they could do it in 1994, why not do it again in 1995?

In my research for this project, the 49ers had numerous financial obligations that year. They actually had the right to match any contract offer to Watters, but the Eagles and Watters worked out a front-loaded deal that the 49ers simply could not match. The "funniest" piece of information I saw was that the salary cap in 1995 was $36.4 million. Given that the teams are battling for a salary cap that could reach upwards of $140 million or $150 million, it's crazy to look back at what the numbers used to be.

As for why the Watters and the Eagles worked out this deal, it turns out Ricky grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and part of the reason he wanted to sign with Philadelphia was a chance to return close to home. It sounds like he also may have wanted some more carries from scrimmage, but it sounds like a return "home" was a big reason. It would have been fiscally irresponsible for the 49ers to match the contract offer to Watters, so they let him walk.

Part of the reason this is worth discussing now is because the 49ers face a variety of financial obligations once free agency actually begins. The most prominent 49ers free agent likely to walk is Aubrayo Franklin. Signs increasingly point to the Redskins having the money to spend and the desire to spend it. After the disaster that was Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins will be looking to solidify their 3-4 defensive line and Franklin would seem to be their best bet.

The offseason will create numerous issues for the 49ers as they move forward. While it might not be quite the same as when they were coming off a Super Bowl title, they will remain in a sticky situation. We won't know the specifics for a while because of the collective bargaining agreement, but it seems safe to say they'll need to make some tough decisions.

Back in 1995, the 49ers plan was to let Watters walk and work a trade for Eric Metcalf. They were actually prepared to deal a first round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Metcalf. The Falcons ended up getting a much higher first rounder from the Cleveland Browns and swung that deal, leaving the 49ers without either option. The 49ers went with Derek Loville as their number one running back and that could best be described as a bad idea. He finished 1995 with 723 yards on 218 carries. He did finish with 87 receptions for 662 yards, but the team lacked any sort of punch in the running game.

As we wait for 2011 to settle in, the 49ers have some options on the roster to replace Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle. If Franklin does in fact walk, let's hope Isaac Sopoaga and/or Ricky Jean-Francois turn out better than Derek Loville.