When you build a roster that’s been to back-to-back NFC Championship games, eventually, the constraints of the salary cap will get the best of you. Difficult decisions must be made. The 49ers have been there multiple times under Kyle Shanahan, with the biggest decision being DeForest Buckner.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer was asked whether he saw any upcoming cap casualties for 2024 as the Niners have choices looming at a couple of notable positions:
As of right now, nine players—Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, George Kittle, Charvarius Ward, Javon Hargrave, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk—are accounting for nearly $190 million on the 2024 salary cap. Trey Lance is on there for another $10.851 million (and that money is fully guaranteed), and Dre Greenlaw’s number is north of $9 million. And that’s without Nick Bosa under contract for next season yet.
So even if the cap jumps from $224.8 million to, say, $250 million, some things are going to have to be moved around here.
Aiyuk’s extension would likely lower his cap number for next year, so that’s one place where they’ll find room. Others could be restructured. But accounting for Bosa’s next contract, there’ll almost certainly need to be some more cap stretching needed, and much of where those gymnastics are performed will ride on how the season goes for the above list of players.
A Lance trade, if he has a strong preseason, could create some breathing room. Having both Warner and Greenlaw as off-ball linebackers could be seen as a luxury, so maybe Greenlaw is another guy that could be offloaded. And if McCaffrey shows his age, or gets hurt again, it’s possible he’d be on the chopping block.
Of course, this would qualify as a good problem to have. But, yes, it’s a problem nonetheless.
What Breer ignores is how the 49ers write their contracts. Bosa’s contract is unlikely to impact the Niners cap for the first two seasons. So, they should have a little leeway in that aspect.
Even if you’re completely off the Lance train, there isn’t much sense involved when you think about what the team can recoup in assets if they traded Trey. You’d also be pushing all of your chips in the middle on Brock Purdy.
We’ve seen Purdy do more than win. We’ve seen him take the offense to heights its never been before. Still, he’s still green, plus he’s coming off a major elbow injury. If Purdy goes down again, you’re turning the keys over to Sam Darnold.
It’s difficult to imagine a world where the 49ers trade McCaffrey after he was the focal point of the offense overnight. Especially when you factor in the number of picks the team gave up for CMC, and his value to the Niners in general. Greenlaw applies as well, albeit to a lesser degree.