Much was said about the ample cap space the San Francisco 49ers carried into this offseason and what could be done with it. For a struggling franchise with little prospects of turning things around sooner rather than later, the notion was always a strange one.
Why spend a whole bunch of money on a free agent in his prime only to watch it waste away and die? It was a sobering thought, but it made sense and whether Trent Baalke and the 49ers front office felt the same way or simply did not plan to spend big for other reasons, they didn’t spend big.
The 49ers signed quarterback Thad Lewis for whatever reason and signed Zane Beadles to replace Alex Boone. Beadles is not nearly as good as Boone, but I doubt the 49ers could have kept Boone if they tried. They certainly had the money to do it — they have over $49 million in cap room for next season, the highest in the league.
The Cleveland Browns would be in second on that list with just under $43 million.
Currently, there are no real prospects on the market or on the roster for the 49ers to dip significantly into their cap reserves for 2016. Anquan Boldin remains a free agent and I think it would be a smart idea to bring him back if the 49ers can manage it. Eugene Monroe wants to play left tackle and the 49ers won’t let him do that, so I don’t really see much else happening with the offensive line.
But with training camp approaching and the preseason not too distant a thought, did the 49ers handle their ample cap space correctly? Everybody warned that they would not spend big, but should they have, looking at the free agent landscape and the deals that were handed out?
We can ignore the big deals handed out to defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon — the 49ers have a lot of balls in the air when it comes to the defensive line already. But once you eliminate those positions, we get into big deals handed to cornerbacks, offensive linemen, wide receivers and tight ends.
The 49ers need a cornerback, there’s no doubt about that. Josh Norman got a massive deal, as did Janoris Jenkins and Sean Smith. But they weren’t unreasonable deals. Should the 49ers have been in on those guys? What about the next tier, like Jeremy Lane, Adam Jones and Casey Hayward?
At tight end, should they have tried to get Coby Fleener or Ladarius Green? The latter received $20 million over four years with just $4.75 million guaranteed. That doesn’t sound bad to me, especially when considering the massive question mark that is the 49ers’ tight end position. Brandon Brooks is a young, promising guard who got $40 million. What about him?
I’m not certain it would have served the 49ers to go on a spending spree, but with so much cap room and plenty of players available at positions of need, I’m a little disturbed they weren’t at least in these conversations. Or maybe they were and nobody wanted to come to San Francisco. Who knows?
Baalke says he wants to build through the draft and for a team with an uncertain immediate future like the 49ers, that’s the right way to go overall. But it sure feels like the 49ers are more than happy to admit that they don’t plan on winning any time in the near future.