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John Lynch hints at what extra Dee Ford money could be used for, why Ronald Blair remained on PUP

Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ahh, cap machinations. There’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning as you wait for roster cuts to come in and see a tweet from ESPN’s Field Yates that the 49ers restructured Dee Ford’s contract, creating $9.5 million in current cap space, and in effect, $6.34 million next year—assuming that money goes untouched and rolls over.

Money, money, money

With that new money, speculation necessarily ensues: a late move for Jadeveon Clowney? A trade for a wide receiver? An immediate Trent Williams extension?

General manager John Lynch employed a high-pressure hose to scrub away most of those possibilities.

“Housekeeping,” he said.

That is a grossly understated way of Lynch implying the 49ers have some contract extensions coming up.

By the conclusion of the 2020 season, the following players will hit the market: Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Kyle Juszczyk, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Solomon Thomas, Tevin Coleman, Kendrick Bourne, Jerick McKinnon, D.J. Jones, Trent Taylor, Jordan Reed, Jason Verrett, Ronald Blair III, Kerry Hyder, Tom Compton, C.J. Beathard, Emmanuel Moseley (restricted), Nick Mullens (restricted), Daniel Brunskill (restricted), Ross Dwelley (restricted), Marcell Harris (restricted).

Suffice it to say, there is a necessity to spend some cash this offseason. Within that list are at least seven starters and key backups from nearly every position on the field, including the entire of the secondary aside from Jimmie Ward and Tarvarius Moore. It comprises more than 43 percent of the active roster.

It’s not speculative to say extensions will be required in both short order and in large quantity. Though Lynch termed the Ford move as housekeeping (the team also dropped Tom Compton’s salary by about $1 million last week), that definition is more expansive than just as a way to tighten up loose ends. The 49ers are clearly preparing to extend some contracts, and Lynch did not seem to imply they were nebulous, nor distant propositions.

Lynch confirmed there will be more of these restructured contracts. Jimmy Garoppolo, due just $2.8 million in guaranteed money over the next two years, is the most obvious candidate for a restructure and extension. It’s an almost too-obvious avenue to open up more than $11 million in cap space next season.

There are other avenues for creating money, like cutting the roughly $5 million in unguaranteed money due to Robbie Gould next year, and parting ways with one or both of Kwon Alexander and Weston Richburg, which might be necessary if there is a precipitous, COVID-19-related drop in the salary cap next year. The cap floor was set at $175 million for next season, which would represent a $23.2 million drop in the cap, and more realistically, like a $33.2 million drop, given the nearly $10 million the cap increases by each season.

Money needs to be saved now to prepare for a potentially brutal offseason next year.

“I’m kind of indicating there will be a couple more of these conversions that, whatever we save, that may go away and may be almost a wash,” Lynch said. “So, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but there’s things kind of coming down the pipeline.”

Extensions. They are coming.

Why Ronald Blair remained on PUP

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hoping Ronald Blair III would return for the 49ers by Week 1. But, nine months removed from an ACL tear, he also acknowledged it might be more prudent to let Blair ease his way back.

“Expect to have him back definitely this year and that hasn’t changed. I’m hoping for Week 1,” Shanahan said August 28. He highlighted the team’s depth, which, as Lynch admitted Sunday, currently features just three out-and-out edge rushers. “It allows us to be somewhat patient with him until he’s fully healed, though.”

Blair was kept on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he, along with Weston Richburg and Jullian Taylor, are ineligible to be activated until the end of Week 6 of the regular season.

Lynch said the genesis of that decision was in large part due to the open nature of discussions he and the medical staff had with Blair, who was likely in line for a more substantial contract had he not torn his ACL. The 49ers signed him to a veteran deal which pays him more than it counts for (pays him $2.16 million, counts for $1.05 million on the cap, per OverTheCap), but realize he’s looking to hit the market this offseason healthier and with a pay-me-my-money-type season.

It was a unique moment from Lynch, ever revealing how his past as a physical player affect his decision-making as a general manager. His earnestness in wanting to support Blair’s health in order to protect him from himself and protect him from losing money next offseason, was refreshing.

“I told Ronnie this when I told him of our decision that we were going to keep him on PUP, he entrusted us with his contract year,” Lynch said. “He came back to us, and we were grateful for that because he’s a big part of what we’re doing. He’s nine months this week away from ACL surgery and that’s a very demanding position. You’re pushing against 300-pound men and you better be 100%. And even when I talked to Ronnie, I told him that it was in our medical staff’s judgment that he’s close but he’s not quite ready and he agreed with that assessment.

I also shared with him, I know this is his contract year and I know that’s important. Again, Ronnie’s a competitor, he wants to compete. But if I’m looking at a guy in his contract year, I’d prefer to see 10 hellacious games than a guy who’s working himself back in and possibly compromising himself because he’s not ready and Ronnie completely agreed. So, that’s all that went into that decision.”

But without Blair, the 49ers are left with nine defensive linemen, and just the four out-and-out edge players. They opted for 10 linemen last year and tend to prefer as much depth as possible there. With the team stressing how their players are positionally flexible, but simultaneously wanting to keep Solomon Thomas strictly on the interior, that leaves two real play-in-a-pinch candidates to jump out to the edge: Kentavius Street and Kevin Givens.

The former is a more natural fit than the latter, with Street having played end at NC State and looking almost as capable as a five-technique as the three-technique spot where he slides most frequently, and is most domineering. Givens also showed flashes of edge capability, even brandishing a new spin move out there on a couple of occasions.

Other notes: Deebo Samuel’s status, Cyprien’s change of heart and praise for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

  • The 49ers are hoping that Deebo Samuel returns for Week 1 (and still hoping the same for Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk and Ben Garland), with a meeting of the minds coming this week. Samuel “does have a shot” to play, according to Lynch, though it didn’t seem like an overly optimistic assessment for the opener:

“He does have a shot. Tuesday morning, we’re kind of having a summit with Dr. Anderson who did the surgery, Dr. McAdams and our training staff to kind of take the latest look at the scans to see exactly where he’s at. I can tell you that Deebo has done a fantastic job… We’re hopeful, but I don’t have an answer because we don’t know it yet.”

  • Johnathan Cyprien said he wouldn’t be willing to join the practice squad. Now he’s on the practice squad as one of the team’s five veterans. Lynch said he appreciated his mentality:

“It speaks to the person he is,” Lynch said. “That was a tough pill to swallow for him, but in the end, he saw an opportunity here.”

  • One of the quietly impressive performers in camp was Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, an athletic linebacker who converted there from safety, where he played at the University of Arizona, having been scouted by vice president of player personnel Evan Peters and former offensive quality control Miles Austin. He spent last year on the practice squad, discernibly learning the linebacker position, and Lynch showered him with praise after recounting the story of Peters and Austin finding the linebacker-safety hybrid he wanted.

“Aside from being a real talented athlete who’s done a nice job at making a transition from the safety position to the linebacker, he is a top rate person and human being and the way he works is as good as it gets,” Lynch said. “So we’re real proud of him. We think he’s going to be able to contribute in a big way on special teams and will always keep improving because he’s relentless.”


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