The San Francisco 49ers have overall done pretty well with the selection of guard Mike Iupati back in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He's a dominant run blocker who is also pretty solid against the pass, and has put together multiple strong seasons in San Francisco.
As it happens, the worst of those seasons was probably 2014-15, which leaves a lot of people here with a soured opinion on him. Recently, Fooch ran a predictions post on Iupati, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Fooch doesn't think there's much of a chance of Iupati returning next season, and with over 70 percent of the users voted in the poll agreeing with him, it's pretty definitive.
There's many reasons for this, of course, and I don't think any of them have to do with his struggles this past season. First and foremost, he's going to cost a lot of money. Some team is going to give Iupati a multi-year deal for a whole lot of money. He'll likely be made one of the top-paid guards in the NFL, and with a lot of money devoted to other spots on the line, the 49ers just can't match it.
But there's also the salary tag, a thing that the 49ers almost assuredly won't use due to how large it is. The salary tag numbers for 2015 have not yet been released, but most expect offensive linemen to come in above $12 million for the one season. That's just about double the highest base salary of the highest-paid guard in the league, Jahri Evans, for 2015.
Obviously, it's not going to happen. In fact, guards are rarely given the tag due to the fact that the NFL lumps together all of the offensive line positions into one tag. Given that tackles and centers can often receive much larger contracts, the franchise tag number is always skewed. I think this is kind of stupid, given that a player can simply be designated based on where he lined up the most, which is easier to do for offensive linemen than it is for, say, the difference between some tight ends and receivers, and some defensive ends and outside linebackers.
It's made me wonder whether or not Iupati would be a more attractive franchise tag option if it was split up by position on the offensive line. With tackles and centers, there are guys making $10 million or more to really skew the numbers, while a top-10 guard usually doesn't exceed $6.5 million and can be as low as $5 million some years.
The league has altered the formula for franchise tag numbers with the latest collective bargaining agreement, making the calculations difficult and numerous (I'm no good at the maths, you see) but if I know anything about which number is bigger than the other, Iupati would cost significantly less to keep for one year.
And the one year is what's important here. The 49ers have some guys who may be potential replacements, but second-year guard Brandon Thomas may be the primary option to replace Iupati. Thomas was drafted early and spent the season on injured reserve, which the 49ers expected.
His ceiling is exceptionally high and I like what he brings to the table, but a year of him being healthy and getting in some work as an extra blocker might be a good idea, no? If not him, there's guys like Joe Looney, Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin all somewhere between the left guard and center position. San Francisco has its options, but Iupati is most definitely the better option of all of them.
This is, of course, nothing but a hypothetical, but I thought it might be interesting for discussion. If Iupati was going to cost roughly half of the $12 million the salary tag would pay him in 2015, would folks here want the 49ers to use it on him? It would only be a slight pay raise from his 2014, when he had a cap hit of just over $4.5 million.