The San Francisco 49ers have three restricted free agents this offseason. It would make sense to place a second-round tender on wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. That gives the team time to work out a new deal to keep Bourne around while ensuring they are compensated if a team truly wants Bourne. The teams’ second free agent is running back Matt Breida—whose time may be up with the Niners. If the 49ers decided to place a low tender on Breida, that would could over $2 million. Do you want to pay your third, and possible fourth-string running back that type of money? Probably not.
The final restricted free agent this year is linebacker Elijah Lee. When the 49ers signed Kwon Alexander last offseason, that all but ended Lee’s days as a starter. General manager John Lynch wanted to upgrade the team speed, so he also drafted linebacker Dre Greenlaw and signed undrafted free agent rookie linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. Both players were two of the more athletic linebackers in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Knowing Lee’s path to playing time will take a few injuries, you’re not going to overpay for your special teams’ linebacker. That’s a good position to save as much as you can and have UDFA’s like Al-Shaair in that spot. OverTheCap projects a low-level tender for Lee would cost $2.1 million. NBC Sport’s Matt Maiocco wrote about this very subject and didn’t expect the 49ers to make a qualifying offer. Here is Maiocco’s “final verdict” on Lee:
Lee is a restricted free agent. The projected low-level tender for a restricted free agent is $2.144 million, according to OverTheCap.com. That is too costly for Lee. The 49ers will not give him a qualifying offer, which would then make him free to sign with any team once free agency opens next week.
But the 49ers will not close the door on re-signing Lee at a minimum salary. If Lee does not get a better offer elsewhere, the 49ers would be willing to bring him back to compete for a spot on the 2020 roster.
Not matching a potential qualifying offer Lee receives shouldn’t come as a surprise. With how the 49ers play and what the defense asks of its linebackers, Lee is no longer an ideal fit. We’ll talk more about potential compensatory picks the 49ers could receive on Thursday, but Lee would count towards the formula since San Francisco wouldn’t void Lee’s contract.