The next three months will be busy with rumors about the San Francisco 49ers and free agency, and Bill Barnwell just tossed a sizable log on the fire.
The ESPN analyst put together a thorough review of Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in what is a great read. It hits on a lot of what we’ve discussed plenty already, including how the trade happened, what it means for the 49ers quarterback position, and what causes for concern still exist.
Barnwell closed the article by discussing how Garoppolo has accelerated the 49ers competitive timeline. He discussed the 49ers recent investments on defense, and suggested they can focus their cap surplus on offense. He mentioned tight end as an area of need, but his discussion of the running back position is where it gets particularly interesting.
The 49ers haven't committed to Carlos Hyde, who was inherited from the old regime and has been strictly competent for most of the year. Shanahan loves pass-catching backs with the patience to run a zone scheme, and there's one very significant option out there. The 49ers are one of the few teams with both the need at running back and the cap space to target Le'Veon Bell. If he doesn't come to terms with the Steelers, the Niners could very viably target Bell at a $15 million-per-year salary without squeezing their cap situation at all.
The 49ers have plenty of holes to fill, and plenty of cap space and draft picks with which to fill said holes. Would they really dive in big like this and sign someone like Le’Veon Bell? The first question is whether or not he’ll be available. The Steelers are running low on cap space next season, even with $5.4 million to roll over from this year.
Bell would be owed approximately $14.5 million if the Steelers use the franchise tag a second straight season. That is fully guaranteed, so the Steelers would already need to release some players and restructure some contracts. They could take a lower cap hit in year one with a long-term deal, but even still, they would need to do a lot of house-cleaning.
If they are unable to make that happen, Bell would hit the open market. Running back contracts are tough to figure out, but even if he can’t get his $15 million a year, he’d get somewhere near that. The 49ers have the space, and it’s not even close. They could sign him and extend Jimmy Garoppolo and still have a ton of cap space. The question is whether they make this kind of high profile add at a position where Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner have success with under the radar players.