The franchise tag and transition tag window opens on Tuesday, and teams will have until March 1 to decide whether or not to designate a player as a franchise player or transition player. A player can continue to seek out a contract elsewhere after that (except any player who gets the exclusive franchise tag), but odds are high they will remain with the team that tagged them.
The 49ers have six unrestricted free agents this year. That group includes WR Anquan Boldin, OG Alex Boone, RB Reggie Bush, TE Garrett Celek, K Phil Dawson, and DT Ian Williams. The 49ers cannot franchise Boone as part of the deal he restructured following his 2014 holdout. Williams is a strong defensive tackle, but the estimated DT franchise tag is $13.4 million. Boldin is still a very capable wide receiver, but not worth the estimated $14.5 million tag.
That leaves Phil Dawson. The kicker/punter tender amount is $4.5 million. Considering his salary cap figure was $4,134,000 in 2015, that's not a huge increase. However, an interesting twist on the rules means the 49ers will not be franchising Dawson this year.
Prior to joining the 49ers, Dawson was a member of the Cleveland Browns for 14 seasons. In his last two seasons with the team, he played under the franchise tag. A player can be tagged a third time, but to do so requires the player be paid at the highest possible franchise tender. The quarterback tender holds that distinction, with a base salary of $19.8 million.
Now, I think most of us are fans of Phil Dawson's work. Bradley Pinion took over the kickoff duties this year, but as a field goal kicker, Dawson was great for the 49ers this year. There were not nearly enough opportunities, but for what work he did get, he did a fantastic job. However, not a "$19.8 million for the 2016 season" job.
The 49ers could actually afford that with their extensive cap space, and it really would be one of the funnier things I've witnessed to see them actually do it. But, I think we can safely say, the 49ers will not be franchising Phil Dawson.