There has been a lot of chatter about the contracts that the San Francisco 49ers have handed out in recent years. From giving quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a “record-breaking contract” at the time, to trading for edge rusher Dee Ford and signing him to an $87 million extension. Everyone knows that when the initial contract details are leaked that the numbers shouldn’t be taken at face value. That doesn’t stop us from overreacting.
Joel Corry of CBS Sports put together his list of the five best teams in the NFL at managing the salary cap and player contracts. Corry is a former sports agent that specializes in NFL contracts and the salary cap. So this is right up his alley. Here are some highlights from Corry’s take on the 49ers:
The 49ers’ biggest offseason signings have lower risk because of these contract principles. For example, Kwon Alexander signed a four-year deal averaging $13.5 million per year, which is near the top of the inside linebacker market. The 49ers are protected in case Alexander doesn’t bounce back from last season’s ACL tear. Unlike most contracts of this size, the first two years aren’t fully guaranteed at signing. The 49ers can get out of the deal next year with minor cap consequences because Alexander received only a $4 million signing bonus and his $11.25 million 2020 base salary, which is guaranteed for injury, doesn’t become fully guaranteed until that April 1. San Francisco would have only a $3 million cap charge in 2020 if a healthy Alexander were released next offseason before April 1.
That’s a perfect example. The 49ers are tremendous when it comes to protecting themselves and using team-friendly deals. Corry praised executive vice-president of football operations Paraag Maranthe and director of football administration & analytics Brian Hampton as the team has a reputation for protecting themselves with these veteran contracts.
Corry also cites how the 49ers have used incentives like game day active roster bonuses to their advantage. Here he is talking about Richard Sherman’s contract:
The 49ers convinced cornerback Richard Sherman, who was acting as his own agent, to sign a three-year deal in 2018 after being released by the Seahawks that was unusually team friendly even by San Francisco standards. Sherman has $4 million annually in difficult-to-achieve incentives. None were earned last season. The consensus industry opinion is the 49ers got a much better end of the bargain than would have been possible if Sherman had representation.
The consensus was correct. In 2019 the 49ers get a healthy Sherman with a cap number of $9.8 million. That’s another victory for the team.
Finally, Corry breaks down Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract:
The 49ers took a calculated risk with the five-year, $137.5 million contract given to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in February 2018. All it took was five impressive starts after a 2017 midseason trade from the Patriots for Garoppolo to briefly become the NFL’s highest-paid player at $27.5 million per year. The 49ers did something unique with Garoppolo’s contract because of an abundance of cap room. The deal was structured with an unusually large $37 million 2018 cap number (the first year), which is almost 35 percent more than Garoppolo’s average yearly salary. Garoppolo’s remaining cap numbers are more manageable than in the typical high-end contract. The 49ers should be able to better build a strong roster around Garoppolo thanks to this decision.
If Garoppolo turns out to be the franchise quarterback that the team believes he is, his contract will turn into a steal. Garoppolo is surrounded with plenty of weapons for this upcoming season. He has a chance to put up some impressive numbers. If that happens and the 49ers are can sneak into the playoffs with the 16th-highest-paid quarterback in 2019, Paraag and company deserve a trophy. Because of the way Garoppolo’s contract was structured, the team could afford to take a gamble on Ford, and Alexander.
There has been some fair criticism about some of the moves the team made this offseason. When it comes to managing contracts, the 49ers are a top-five team.