The San Francisco 49ers still have quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on their roster, and, at least for now, it does not seem like they have any urgency to trade or release him anytime soon. While there are some obvious salary cap reasons for the 49ers to move on from their longtime starting quarterback expediently, the franchise’s brain trust seems content waiting things out.
The Niners have already likely made their splash acquisition of the offseason, signing cornerback Charvarius Ward to solidify their secondary. With some creative contract structuring for Ward and their other acquisitions, alongside several restructures of players already on the roster, San Francisco has found the salary cap space to make things work.
However, there are still several notable free agents that currently remain available on the open market. Even if the Niners are not planning to make additional major moves, they could still shore up several spots on their roster. If they insist on holding onto Garoppolo, they might not be able to do that without finding other ways to create cap space.
Here are a few players that could help the 49ers create more cap space:
It was a bit surprising to see the 49ers restructure George Kittle’s contract before doing something with Jimmie Ward’s. Ward is currently slated to be a free agent after next season, when three voidable years will create a $6.395 million dead cap hit on the Niners’ 2023 cap.
However, San Francisco could save close to $6 million this season by pushing more money onto next year’s books. This would not necessarily be advisable since that would increase Ward’s dead money to more than $12 million when he became a free agent, but it is an option.
The Niners do have another possible course of action, though—one that would seemingly appeal to the front office: an extension. Ward has been the backbone of the 49ers secondary for much of his career. The 49ers could try and ink the 30-year old safety to a multi-year extension that lowers his cap hit in 2022 and keeps him in San Francisco for the foreseeable future.
The 49ers backloaded Samson Ebukam’s two-year deal when they added the former Rams edge rusher last offseason. The team should have some options depending on how Ebukam is valued.
Trading or releasing Ebukam would immediately create $6.5 million in salary-cap space for the 49ers. He is their clear second edge rusher behind Nick Bosa at the moment. Of course, that could change if the Niners land one of the top remaining edge free-agents (e.g., Jadeveon Clowney, Derek Barnett, Melvin Ingram, Dante Fowler Jr., etc.).
Like Ward, the 49ers could also try to extend Ebukam, who will become a free agent after the 2022 season. The Niners could convert most of Ebukam’s $5.9 million base salary into a signing bonus that spreads over any additional years they added to his contract. Assuming Ebukam has enjoyed his time in San Francisco, some added long-term guarantees could entice him to agree to a new deal that could easily create $2 million in space.
It’s hard to imagine the 49ers needing to do anything beyond Ward and Ebukam this offseason. In fact, the Niners would probably try to extend/restructure Garoppolo’s contract before going in this direction. However, given Mike McGlinchey’s season-ending injury in 2021, it’s plausible (even if unlikely) that both sides might be able to negotiate an extension.
While McGlinchey is expected to be ready for Week 1 of the season after tearing his right quad, the former first-round pick might be nervous about playing off such a severe injury in a contract year. At the same time, the 49ers might want to push some of McGlinchey’s $10.88 million fully guaranteed 2022 base salary to future seasons.
The Niners could easily add a year to McGlinchey’s contract, convert a significant portion of his 2022 base salary into a signing bonus, and add a heavily guaranteed base salary for 2023 to incentivize him to agree to a deal.
San Francisco could easily cut McGlinchey’s 2022 cap hit by at least $2 million and lock up their starting right tackle for another season. For McGlinchey, he could lock up some future guarantees in case his injury rehab slows down or prevents him from performing up to his previous levels.
Would the 49ers be willing to guarantee that much money to a player dealing with a severe injury? Would McGlinchey be willing to give up a chance at scoring a big deal in free agency next offseason? The answer to both is probably no. But if the 49ers are eyeing another expensive acquisition, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Other minor savings restructure/extension candidates: Azeez Al-Shaair, Daniel Brunskill, Alex Mack.