© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The last time we heard from Kyle Juszczyk, he was failing to hold back tears, wondering if his end-of-season presser would be his last as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Clearly, it was his preference to stay, but Juszczyk is in a market of his own as a one-of-a-kind fullback, and with major concerns about the NFL’s salary cap shrinking, there wasn’t any certainty that the 49ers would be able to retain him.
All those very rational worries for months that the 49ers might not be able to re-sign their key players were rendered moot this week. In just four moves, San Francisco created at least $25 million in additional cap space from an expected roughly $13 million.
- They were adjusted a total of $13 million (about $1.9 million from unused cap space in 2020 and the rest from likely incentives which weren’t earned last year)
- Weston Richburg had his deal restructured and will reportedly retire, saving nearly $7 million
- Mark Nzeocha was cut, clearly his $1.5 million cap hit
- Dee Ford’s deal, which was set to have a $20 million cap hit this season, was restructured to a two-year, $24 million deal
All that cap tightening was a very real worry for a guy who graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in economics, and who plays a position that less than half of NFL teams even have on their rosters.
While there were other suitors, including the New York Jets, Juszczyk said, with a *wink-wink* that he didn’t actually get to free agency, and therefore didn’t talk to other teams. It’s clear there were probably some of those *wink-wink* offers being discussed.
Juszczyk said he was “super aware” of the cap situation, and recognized just how dire it could get, recounting how he made phone calls to NFLPA representatives “every day,” asking when the cap number would be set.
“I knew as a free agent, that’s gonna affect me directly and how much cash these teams have and are able to spend in free agency and no less than myself, a guy that, not a lot of people are employing a fullback, so if they are going to, they better have the money to spend on it,” Juszczyk said. “Because some people look at it as a luxury. I’m happy that San Francisco doesn’t look at it that way, they look at it as more of a priority and that means a lot to me.”
Juszczyk said it’s been “crazy” to see how teams like the 49ers have worked the salary cap and manipulated contracts to open up cap space. That “cap magic,” as he termed it, was something he credited Paraag Marathe, the team’s executive vice president of football operations (and chief cap expert) for working with him on.
“Paraag has been phenomenal at doing what he’s been doing and he was great to work with on my end,” Juszczyk said. “I’m happy that we’ve been able to sign as many guys as we have already with what looks like a limited amount of funds.”
When Juszczyk got the deal done—or, all but done, with just a few details remaining—he received a handful of FaceTime calls from the 49ers’ brass, discernibly with varying levels of sobriety.
You might remember how the news broke, featuring just a sloppy night of slightly premature tweeting from John Lynch and Jed York, who were together at York’s birthday party.
Juszczyk joked that he had to leave a few details out when recounting those calls. He said the first call was from Kyle Shanahan and his wife, Mandy, followed by Lynch and York, something that he saw as representative of a unique culture.
“It’s so cool to be a part of that and get FaceTimes from your owner and your GM and your head coach and speak with their families and be comfortable,” Juszczyk said. “It’s like I’m speaking with my own family. It’s not one of those awkward conversations, like, ‘Yes sir, yes sir, we’re gonna do great sir,’ it’s just real conversations and real genuine joy.”
Kyle Juszczyk couldn't help smiling recalling the FaceTime calls he got during Jed York’s 40th b-day gathering:
“The phone got passed around, a lot of congratulations, a lot of cheers. But I guess I'll just kind've leave it at that." pic.twitter.com/VtcEx5oXve
— KNBR (@KNBR) March 17, 2021
The process of agreeing to terms with the 49ers came about relatively quickly, Juszczyk said. The factors in his decision were location (close to family on the East Coast), familiarity with system, being on a contender, and receiving a competitive offer. While he said the 49ers didn’t check the location box, they “checked every other box.”
Another box the 49ers checked was Mike McDaniel. McDaniel, also an Ivy League guy, has been the mastermind behind maximizing Juszczyk’s usage. He and Juszczyk are extremely tight, and Juszczyk said his relationship with McDaniel, who was at his wedding, “had a huge, huge influence on me coming back.”
What it came down to, he said, was wanting to return, and the 49ers’ meeting his price. When they did, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made.
“I had a number in mind, of, if San Francisco could reach that number, I would be happy and I would want to come back and not even delay the process,” Juszczyk said. “I was somewhat interested in seeing my number would be out there on the market, but at the end of the day I found a number that I was happy with, comfortable with. And honestly, there’s no better fit in the league for me than in San Francisco. Kyle puts together the perfect system for me to play in.”