Although much has been made of the $64 million that the 49ers have in cap space during this upcoming offseason, that total should fluctuate wildly over the coming months. Despite the lackluster crop of 49ers free agents, there are still some decisions looming on the horizon, regarding both former and current 49ers.
Candidates to be resigned
I meant it earlier when I described the 49ers’ free agent group as lackluster. The headliner of the group is kicker Robbie Gould, who should be the priority resigning. Outside of him, however, there’s really nobody worth holding on to. Sure, Bradley Pinion is an upcoming free agent, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the team were to move on. Statistically, Pinion was in the bottom ten of the league this year in both gross and net averages, and it’s no aberration - those numbers work out to roughly career average for him.
Recently-cut NT Earl Mitchell could conceivably find his way back to the team on a vet minimum contract should he fail to earn a contract in free agency, although it’s largely assumed that DJ Jones has earned the starting position. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the idea, personally. Lastly, the mercurial Swiss Army DB Jimmie “Injury” Ward will be entering free agency, and I find it hard to believe he’ll be returning. I’ve long been a Jimmie Ward fan, but between his inconsistent play and lengthy injury history, I have a feeling his best bet is a one-year “last chance” minimum deal elsewhere.
Candidates for release
Let’s get this out of the way - no, I do not foresee, nor do I endorse, Solomon Thomas being released. Once they’re drafted and on the team, the only useful reason to bring up their draft spot is in regards to their rookie contract numbers. Anything else is just bellyaching, and an excuse to wield the “bust” label as a cudgel. Although the reasoning behind drafting him can be questioned at length, he’s still a capable, if unspectacular, defender with room to grow.
There’s really no surprises in this section, to be fair. Former Superbowl MVP and heinously overpaid linebacker Malcolm Smith has started five games in two years. He is due $13 million in cash over the next three years, not including $4.2 in prorated signing bonus, making him a prime candidate to be sent packing. A pre-June 1st cut (accelerating the entire signing bonus dead money to 2019) would cost $1.2 million less than what we’d pay him in 2019, plus we’d be off the hook for another $10 million in future salary and bonuses.
The other glaring option for a cut is Pierre Garcon, who has fought admirably to get on the field, but simply hasn’t been able to. He’s started all of 16 games over two years, charging our cap nearly $16 million for a little under 800 yards and a single TD. Cutting him would incur a steep dead money penalty of $7.2 million, but would save the team close to $1.1 million this season, and another $18.5 in future salary and bonuses.
Should the team look to continue overhauling the offensive line, there are a few options. Garry Gilliam will be the twelfth highest paid 49er in the 2019 season, but would incur all of $0 in dead money should he be cut before April 1st. By that time, the team will have had an opportunity to scour the free agent market, or ponder promoting 2018 acquisition Shon Coleman to swing tackle. Upon April 1st, $1.5 million of his $5.05 million deal becomes guaranteed.
Then, there’s the issue of Joshua Garnett, but we’ll get to that after the jump.
Candidates for extensions OR fifth year options
Alright, so it wasn’t that far of a leap to come back to Garnett. Sue me. It might not feel like he’s been on the team for three years, but he really has been. Perhaps the fact that he’s started all of seven games in that time span has something to do with it? The team has until May 3rd to decide whether or not to pick up the fifth year option on Garnett, which would lock him into a salary of nearly $10 million for the 2020 season. Otherwise, his cap hit for 2019 is nearly $3 million, only $1.8 million of which is new money - he could be kept cheaply, or released for a modest savings. In retrospect, this blurb may have worked better in the previous section. It’s pretty unlikely that they’ll exercise his fifth year option.
This offseason marks the first time 2016 draftees can negotiate an extension. Well, if you’re tired of reading, you’re in luck. Will Redmond is gone. So is Rashard Robinson. John Theus, Fahn Cooper, Jeff Driskel? Sent packing. Kelvin Taylor, Aaron Burbridge, Prince Charles Iworah? All gone. Seriously. All that remains (past the first round) is breakout-in-the-making defensive lineman Ronald Blair. He’s been an integral depth player, and I’d be wary of letting him test the open market after the 2020 season - pending lock-out notwithstanding. I couldn’t give you the foggiest idea of how much he’ll command, but I’d love to see him extended sooner rather than later.
Following the 2019 season, a few other important players will conclude their contracts with the 49ers, although their situations are all slightly different. Joe Staley will have played out his contract, but smart money would assume he slips quietly into the warm embrace of retirement. I can’t foresee any changes to his contract this offseason, although tacking a year on the back end wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. Arik Armstead will have played out his fully-guaranteed fifth year option when the 2019 season concludes, making this offseason high time Cymbaline to work out an extension, or run the risk of him being exposed to the open market next year. Despite not filling out the stat sheet, Armstead has quietly grown into an important piece of the defense, and I believe the 49ers would find great benefit in inking him to an extension before his price tag climbs too high.
This brings us to other fan favorite, Matt Breida, who will have completed the third and final year of his contract as the 2019 season comes to an end. However, as an undrafted free agent, he is already eligible to negotiate an extension. Should that not occur this offseason, he will enter restricted free agency in the 2020 offseason, where the 49ers will have more control over his immediate future. Despite being injured seemingly every series, he put together an impressive season in relief of presumptive starter Jerick McKinnon, who went down in preseason with an ACL tear. I wouldn’t expect Breida to command an abnormally large contract, but if the price is right, I would really like to see what he can do in a legitimate tandem.
It’s gonna be yuge
Finally, DeForest Buckner. The big one. Like Garnett, he is now eligible to have his fifth year option exercised, as well as negotiate an extension. Should the team pick up the option (same May 3rd deadline), he would likely have roughly $12 million in guaranteed salary for the 2020 season, which some might consider a bargain for a player of his quality. If I had to guess, the team will pick up the option, and incorporate it into whatever monster deal is in the works. I don’t claim to have any idea how large or how long this deal will end up, but it’s going to be startling for sure. Pay the man.
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