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Free agency & draft impact of ten 49ers contract decisions this week

It was a busy Thursday!

The San Francisco 49ers announced eight contract decisions on Thursday, and there are reports on a couple more decisions in the works involving players currently on the roster. None of the moves are surprises, but each is worth a look as to how it impacts the roster and what it may or may not mean for the start of free agency next week and the 2019 NFL Draft next month. I’ve also included a couple reported moves.

One-year tender for RB Raheem Mostert

Mostert is a restricted free agent, and Matt Maiocco is reporting the team used the lowest tender ($2,025,000). This gives them the right of first refusal on any contract offer, but no compensation if he signs an offer sheet and they choose not to match it. Mostert has been one of the team’s best special teamers, and last season he emerged as a decent running back option in limited work. Unfortunately, he broke his arm before he could show us what he could do with more snaps.

The 49ers already have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida atop the running back depth chart, with Jeff Wilson competing for an opportunity. If Mostert departs, the team will need to upgrade on special teams, but either way, I don’t think it will impact the running back decisions a whole lot.

One-year tender for LB Elijah Lee

Lee is an exclusive rights free agent, so effectively this is a one-year deal for at or near the league minimum. If he makes the roster this fall and accrues a year of service time, Lee will be a restricted free agent next year.

He entered the season as a special teams player, but injuries resulted in six starts at weak-side linebacker. He will compete with Brock Coyle and Malcolm Smith to get some kind of opportunity, and the team still could add a C.J. Mosley or someone in the draft as a long-term option. Unless we see another sizable chunk of injuries, Lee is looking at primarily special-teams duties. That being said, his experience at LB this past year could help his bid for a roster spot.

One-year tender for CB Greg Mabin

Mabin is an exclusive rights free agent, so effectively this is a one-year deal for at or near the league minimum. If he makes the roster this fall and accrues a year of service time, Lee will be a restricted free agent next year.

He was primarily a special teams player, but ended up with double digit snaps at outside cornerback for six games. He will compete for a cornerback spot, but he is already behind Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Tarvarius Moore. The team is likely to add more competition in free agency or the draft, pushing Mabin further down the depth chart.

Exercised 2019 contract option for FB Kyle Juszczyk

The largest fullback contract ever has effectively been a year-to-year deal given when guarantees and options kick in. The 49ers will pay Juice $4.2 million this season, and he will have a cap hit of $5,95,000. They have an option to decide on next year, with his 2020 salary set at $5,050,000 and a cap hit of $6.8 million.

It is no surprise the 49ers picked up the option. He has been a standout as a fullback, and while the league is seeing a decline in the use of the position, Juice has provided the 49ers with versatility in their offensive attack. The inclusion of Juice and George Kittle in virtually any formation the 49ers want to run provides the team with a chance to disguise their plans with regularity.

Exercised 2019 contract option for DL Cassius Marsh

The 49ers signed Marsh to a two-year deal last offseason. He had a cap figure of $3.1 million last year, and his option year in 2019 includes a cap hit of $5.1 million — including a $3.8 million base salary.

Marsh is not the long-term answer to their pass rush, but the 49ers clearly view him as a guy who can compete with whatever they bring in for at least a rotational spot. He and Ronald Blair were tied for second on the team with 5.5 sacks. He’s been a solid pick-up since the 49ers claimed him off waivers, but I am still a little bit surprised the team exercised the option. They have the cap space, but it’s still a lot for a guy who is probably best suited in a rotational role.

Most believe the 49ers will spend the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Nick Bosa or Josh Allen, and even if they move back they would still consider a Montez Sweat or Brian Burns potentially. The big names in free agency have all been franchised, but the team could end up connected to Dante Fowler, Ezekiel Ansah, Justin Houston, or Trey Flowers, among others. I don’t think this move foreshadows what the team will do to add to the position.

Exercised 2019 contract option for LB Dekoda Watson

The 49ers signed Watson to a three-year contract back in 2017, and this option marks the final year of the deal. He gets a $400,000 raise, resulting in a base salary of $1,450,000 and a cap hit of $1,883,334.

Watson missed the first eight weeks last season with a hamstring injury, and then missed the final four weeks with a calf injury. When healthy, he was a core special teamer who served as an edge rusher. He had two sacks in his first two games after returning from injury, but slowed down after that and become a basic rotational guy. He’s a solid depth option who will compete for a special teams role and as a reserve edge rusher. He should have no impact on free agency or the draft.

Exercised 2019 contract option for CB K’Waun Williams

He was one of the first free agent signings of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era, and he was also one of the first contract extensions. One month into his first season, Williams signed a three-year contract extension, meaning this coming season is the last on his deal. He gets a $600,000 raise, providing a 2019 base salary of $2,150,000 and cap hit of $3.2 million.

Williams has served as the team’s primary nickel back the past two seasons. He got hurt late this past season, and was replaced in Weeks 14 and 15 by rookie D.J. Reed. The 49ers had used Reed primarily as a reserve free safety prior to that, but he stood out as a nickel back. Reed will likely compete at both positions, but how the team addresses free safety in free agency and/or the draft will give us a better handle on what this all means. If the 49ers sign Earl Thomas (or Eric Weddle, or whomever) or make a major draft investment in a free safety, Reed could put Williams on the hot seat in training camp.

Declined contract option for WR Pierre Garçon

This was reported earlier in the offseason, and was expected prior to that. The team carries $7.2 million in dead money this year with the decision to opt out of the deal, but nothing in future years.

A year removed from a neck injury that put him on IR for the second half of the 2017 season, Garçon suffered a knee injury that cost him the second half of the 2018 season. He was first listed on the injury report in Week 6, and missed Week 8 due to the injury. He tried to battle through it, but did not appear in a game after Week 9. Kendrick Bourne took over his work as the Z receiver, while Dante Pettis got more work in the X role.

Bourne will get a chance to compete for a starting role, but there is an expectation the 49ers will consider some options in free agency and the draft. Ole Miss wide receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf are two of the names that have been mentioned, but the 49ers have plenty to consider over the next two months.

Attempting to trade Earl Mitchell

The team informed Mitchell back in January they would be declining his option, but had not made the news official. It turns out they’re hoping to land any kind of compensation in a trade before formally declining the option, per NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo. The 49ers will carry $1.5 million in dead money once a trade or declined option is made official.

Mitchell has served as the team’s nose tackle the past two seasons, but D.J. Jones earned an opportunity to supplant him as 2018 wore one. Following 39 snaps in Week 13, Mitchell played a combined seven snaps the next two weeks and was inactive the rest of the way. He handled it like a pro, understanding the business and still willing to mentor Jones.

Malcolm Smith contract restructured

We discussed this earlier today, but Mike Garafolo reported the team has re-worked Smith’s contract and will not be releasing him. There are no terms yet on the restructured deal.

Smith got time at both the WILL and SAM linebacker positions last season. He will get a chance to compete at one or both, but the team is likely to be plenty active trying to find long-term options at both positions.