The San Francisco 49ers achieved a notable milestone Thursday afternoon when they got Marcus Martin signed to his rookie contract. That transaction locked up the last member of the 2014 NFL Draft class, only three days into OTAs. The rookie wage scale makes this whole process a lot easier, and also cuts down tremendously on the salary cap impact of those rookies.
Now that the deal is done, the 49ers face another big offseason marker this weekend. On Monday, June 2, the team will realize the $6.6 million in cap savings from their release of Carlos Rogers. The 49ers released Rogers on March 11, but deemed him a post-June 1 release. In making that move, the 49ers can spread his cap hit over two seasons, thus opening up a little extra space this year. Given the team's need to get Colin Kaepernick extended sooner rather than later, it makes some sense to clear out a little extra space now.
When the 49ers have been announcing their rookie signings, there have been some questions about cap space. The 49ers do not have a ton of room, but the difference of the offseason salary cap vs. the in-season salary cap provides cover for that. In the offseason, only the top 51 salaried players count towards the upcoming season's salary cap. Players not making a Top 51 salary impact the salary cap as well, but it is due to everything BUT their base salary. For players outside the top 51, that means prorated signing bonus, roster bonuses, workout bonsues and any incentives to be earned count against the top-51 rule.
As an example of that, Lawrence Okoye is scheduled to earn $420,000 in base salary. If he were to make the 53-man roster, his regular season cap figure would be $421,000 because of the base salary plus his prorated signing bonus money. During the offseason however, he only counts for $1,000 against the salary cap.
Under the top-51 rule, I have the 49ers at roughly $1.975 million under the cap. This figure factors in their draft class, the trade for Stevie Johnson, and the restructuring of NaVorro Bowman. The team has released Luke Marquardt, but given his league minimum salary, his modest signing bonus mony (pro-rated in 2014 at $1,666) is all that matters right now.
If the 49ers sign any players moving forward before the regualr season, the only way they impact the top 51 salaries is if: 1) they exceed the $570,000 limit, which is the lowest amount a player on the top-51 is making for the 49ers, or 2) receive a bonus that would count against the cap, but not the entire salary he is scheduled to make.
Once we get to June 2, the 49ers will gain approximately $6.1 million in cap room. Carlos Rogers clears $6.6 million, but because of the top 51 rule, a player a making $570,000 fills his spot on the cap. The $6.1 million represents the difference between Rogers and that $570,000 player.
Once the 2014 regular season begins, the 49ers must have enough cap room to afford every salary they are paying. This includes the 53-man roster, the practice squad, and any injury lists, including Injured Reserve, and the PUP and NFI lists. The 49ers have cap space, but we could see some roster decisions that free up some cap space. The 49ers have a lot of young talent, and if they can squeeze a younger, cheaper option, we could see some cap casualties by the end of training camp.
Last year, we went through a series of players who could have been potential cap casulaties. The list included David Akers, Parys Haralson, Carlos Rogers, Jonathan Goodwin, Mario Manningham and Donte Whitner. The 49ers ended up releasing Akers and trading Haralson. Rogers declined a pay cut and stuck around thanks in part to Chris Culliver's ACL injury. Goodwin and Whitner were the top options at their respective positions, but both have singe departed in free agency. And Mario Manningham stuck around but was unable to get healthy.
If the 49ers decide they need some cap space for the 2014 season, here are some candidates to potentially be cut.
Adam Snyder, OL: He was the 49ers primary utility offensive lineman last year, and when not replacing an injured player, was used as the 6th or 7th offensive lineman in the teams jumbo sets. This offseason the team acquired offensive tackle Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins, and drafted center Marcus Martin, who is likely to get some opportunities at guard. If the 49ers decided the Martins and potentially Joe Looney were enough for their line depth, the 49ers could save $1,050,000 in cap space.
Dan Skuta, OLB: Skuta was previously an inside linebacker, but focused on the outside in his first season with the 49ers. Skuta remains a special teams ace, and given the uncertain 2014 future for Aldon Smith, he is likely still looked at as truly one of the best 53 players. The 49ers added Aaron Lynch, and will expect more from Corey Lemonier, so if the team did decide to release Skuta, they would save $1,500,000 in cap space.
Craig Dahl, FS: The 49ers signed him in free agency after losing Dashon Goldson, but his role ended up being special teams ace, and backup for Eric Reid at free safety. Dahl took a pay cut earlier this year, reducing his salary by $525,000. In getting the reduction, the team agreed to guarantee $365,000 of his 2014 salary. If the team elected to release Dahl, they would save only $635,000 due to the guaranteed money
C.J. Spillman, SS: Spillman gets more time at safety than Dahl, but he is still primarily around for special teams work. If the team released him, they would save $1.225 million.
As you can see, the main players I have listed are special team players. The players arguably in the most danger would seem to be Adam Snyder and Craig Dahl. Skuta and Spillman have both proven to be superb special team standouts, and solid defensive players at their respective positions. And in Skuta's case, Aldon Smith's situation provides him with a bit more job security.
I hope this helps clear any confusion between the top-51 rule, and in-season rules when it comes to the salary cap. And please don't hesitate to ask below any questions. You can follow me on twitter @Jay_AB81 , and follow all my salary cap postings at http://www.ninercaphell.com/