The 49ers made their first significant roster move of the offseason on Thursday when they opted out of the two years remaining on veteran defensive lineman Earl Mitchell’s contract. Originally signed in 2017, Mitchell was among the first players to sign with the 49ers under general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan. They will carry $1.5 million in dead money and clear $2.95 million with the decision.
Entering into Year 3, the pair will need to make similar decisions in the coming weeks regarding a trio of impact players, as Matt Barrows of the Athletic pointed out:
“Like Mitchell, Marsh and Watson have contract options looming on March 13,” Barrows wrote. “So does receiver Pierre Garçon, meaning the team must make decisions about them in coming weeks.”
Garçon, defensive end Cassius Marsh and linebacker Dekoda Watson all have offseason contract options for 2019 and beyond.
Garçon signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the 49ers in 2017. He suffered a season-ending neck fracture in Week 8 of 2017 and never seemed to return to full strength. Garçon battled shoulder and knee issues throughout 2018 and was only active for eight games, totaling just 24 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown. He was placed on injured reserve (knee) in December for the second consecutive season.
Garçon is due $8.2 million in 2019. The 49ers would be on the hook for $7.2 million in dead money if the team opted out of Garçon’s contract in March. A June 1st designation would bring that number down to $2.4 million for 2019, but the 49ers would still incur $4.8 million in dead money for 2020. We do not know yet if the June 1st designation is an option if they pass on the final three years of Garçon’s deal.
Marsh signed a two-year, $7.7 million contract with the 49ers in February. Marsh is due $4.2 million in 2018, none of which is guaranteed. Marsh played 16 games for the 49ers this season, totaling 38 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits and 5.5 sacks.
Watson signed a three-year, $4.8 million contract with the 49ers in 2017. Watson began 2018 on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and missed the first eight games. He only managed five total tackles, one tackle for loss, four quarterback hits and two sacks. Watson again landed on IR after injuring his calf against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13. Watson is due $1.8 million in 2019, with a dead money hit of $333,334 if released.
Complicating the situation for all three players is the NFL’s formula for compensatory draft picks. Opting out of the contracts allows the player’s release to contribute towards the 49ers’ chances of being awarded additional selections in the 2020 NFL Draft. The 49ers received a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft for the release of linebacker Aaron Lynch, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Chicago Bears in 2018.