The Super Bowl and 2014 season are in our rear view mirror, and we are now a month away from the start of free agency. Things have quieted down enough that we have time to start better assessing where the San Francisco 49ers stand from a salary cap standpoint. The 49ers are currently just under $3 million under the 2015 salary cap when you factor in credits and roll-over space.
Last week, we took a look at guaranteed money. Today, I'm going to begin a series of articles on potential salary cap casualties. We'll do separate posts on five players, looking at their recent performance and what a release would mean from a cap and roster perspective.
We're going to go in descending order of 2015 cap figure. With that in mind, we start with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. The 49ers outside linebacker remains a very talented player, but 2014 was not a good year for him in certain respects. He finished the season tied with Aaron Lynch for the team lead with six sacks. While he was tied for the team lead, his production was still less than stellar. Pro Football Focus developed a stat called pass rush productivity, which measures pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks. Among 29 pass rushers qualifying with at least 50 percent of such snaps, Lynch was tied for tenth, and Brooks was 28th. If we expand to at least 25 percent of snaps (47 players), Lynch was tied for 17th, Brooks was 42nd, and Aldon Smith was ninth.
Beyond just productivity, Brooks had a couple problems that will be factors in him potentially being released. He was benched fairly early in the 49ers Week 11 win over the New York Giants for yelling at Jim Tomsula. He was later active but benched for the entirety of Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders for missing a team meeting. And of course, he did hit teammate Lamar Divens in the head with a beer bottle. The team has proven they will give talented players multiple chances when they are involved in off-field incidents, but the list of problems only increased this offseason. Talent can trump off-field issues, but it will not always trump salary cap considerations.
Brooks is scheduled to have a salary cap number of $7.055 million. This number was only recently adjusted due to a significant de-escalator. Due to not reaching performance requirements, Brooks's 2015 base salary was reduced from $6 million to $3.5 million. His contract includes a $450,000 reporting bonus, which to my knowledge is for reporting to training camp in July. He also has a $750,000 roster bonus, but it was reduced to $656,250 because of his being inactive for two games. Finally, he has a $100,000 workout bonus.
If the 49ers chose to release or trade Brooks before June 1, they would save $1,508,750, while taking on a dead money hit worth $5,546,250 in 2015. If they choose to designate him as a June 1 release, they would see savings of $4,706,250, while having dead money hits of $2,348,750 in 2015, and $3,197,500 in 2016.
The 49ers outside linebacker depth chart currently includes Brooks, Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch and Corey Lemonier, with Dan Skuta due to hit free agency in March. Lynch's emergence in 2014 makes it all the more likely that Brooks could be on the way out the door. If Brooks is released or traded, the 49ers will add another pass rusher to join Smith and Lynch. They might go for the bargain basement bin in free agency, or they might add someone in the draft. But they are dealing from a position of strength at outside linebacker.