On-Air Now
On-Air Now
Listen Live from the Casino Matrix Studio

Breaking down how 49ers could handle top free agents



© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Decisions, decisions.

The San Francisco 49ers have quite a few choices to make this offseason. It all starts with retention. Who can they afford to bring back, and who’s worth retaining?

It isn’t exactly a grim outlook. The core of the team is locked up for the foreseeable future, and Nick Bosa will join that list this offseason.

But a host of key contributors will likely walk in free agency.

As it stands, per OverTheCap, the 49ers have $4.14 million in effective cap space. While there are 47 players signed with roughly $8 million in cap space, the cap counts against the top 51 players on the roster, which effective cap space accounts for. This number also takes into account the projected $8.5 million the 49ers will have to budget for their rookie draft class.

While the prospect of a Bosa extension sounds impossible if you look at those numbers, it’s actually a short-term cap benefit. When players sign extensions, at least in the 49ers’ case recently, they almost always lower their first-year cap hit.

Bosa is due $17.86 million next season, the cost of his fifth-year option. When he signs an extension, likely around $30 million per year, that number will drop substantially. Let’s say it drops $10 million. That gives the 49ers $18 million in cap space.

Christian McCaffrey is also due $12 million in each of the next three years. None of that is guaranteed. While he is clearly worth that amount, he may well take a yearly decrease in favor of guaranteed money. It’s likely that his cap figure decreases, too, unless the 49ers don’t want to guarantee him money in the future.

Let’s say the 49ers create $6 million in space with an extension/restructure for McCaffrey. That’s $24 million in cap space.

They could also create little bits of space, around $1 million each, by cutting Ambry Thomas or Charlie Woerner. There’s not much indication they’re going to do that.

There’s plenty of money that could be created with restructures. The following players could create substantial space (number in parenthesis the amount that could be saved next season):

  • Trent Williams ($13.75 million)
  • Arik Armstead ($11.12 million)
  • Charvarius Ward ($9.44 million)
  • Fred Warner ($8.96 million)
  • George Kittle ($8 million)

You can be sure the team will restructure some of the money in these contracts and exploit “void years” which essentially allow for teams to create free money in the short term that’s paid at the end of a contract.

Jimmie Ward will count for $6.4 million next season because of void years.

So here’s the situation for the 49ers. Right now there are only about 33 players signed for next season (out of 47) that contributed or were on the roster for most of last season.

Let’s say they create something in the neighborhood of $38 million in cap space, needing to use that money on another 20 roster-quality players, 18 of whom will count against the cap.

Assume that eight of their slated 10 draft picks make the roster (8/9 picks made the roster or were on an inactive list in ’22, 8/8 picks made the roster in ’21, 4/5 made the roster in ’20, with Jauan Jennings re-signed later, 8/8 picks made the roster or were on an inactive list in ’19).

That’s about 10-12 capable players the 49ers need to sign.

We can assume they re-sign some free agents who were back-end contributors and are unlikely to be major commodities given age, performance, and/or injury.

Let’s assume they bring back a few cheap-ish players like Colton McKivitz, Kevin Givens, Taybor Pepper, Kerry Hyder Jr., Maurice Hurst, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and T.Y. McGill for slightly above the minimum, all less than or around $2 million. Call that $12 million.

So, $38 or so million, minus $12 million for some known commodities at the back end. That leaves $26 million and needing roughly six key contributors.

More money, of course, can be created with restructures, but let’s take that $26 million figure for now. Keep in mind teams want to keep around $5 million or so heading into the season as a buffer for signing, mid-season activations and so on.

Here are the key names expiring for the 49ers and who will return:

Jimmie Ward:

  • Re-signs: No.
  • Expected contract:
    • From PFF: Two years, $13.5 million ($6.75M per year); $8 million total guaranteed
    • That number above seems reasonable, though the safety market is brutal for veterans and teams could use him playing nickel — a sign of his versatility — as a reason to question his safety value. Maybe more like two years, $12 million and $6 million guaranteed.
    • Ward lamented all season long that he was used at nickel and not safety, airing out some grievances on an IG Live and telling reporters all season long he preferred not to play there. San Francisco could have avoided his more than $6 million dead cap hit by extending him, but chose not to. It’s expected he leaves.

Jimmy Garoppolo

  • Re-signs: No.
  • Expected contract:
    • From PFF: One year, $15 million; $12 million total guaranteed
    • That number seems about right, but I’d bet it’s a two-year deal with the second year having very little guaranteed, or with playtime incentives needed to trigger guarantees. Quarterbacks have a hell of a lot of variance, and this could vary substantially, but it’s a reasonable figure.

Samson Ebukam:

  • Re-signs: No.
  • Expected contract
    • From PFF: Three years, $30.75 million ($10.25M per year); $20 million total guaranteed
    • I mean, no. I have a lot of trouble seeing someone paying Ebukam $10 million a year, with two thirds of that guaranteed for consistent average production. That might sound harsh, but he’s never had a season with more than five sacks before this one, and Kris Kocurek might be the best defensive end coach in the NFL.
    • His run defense is solid, and he’s generally well-rounded. But $10 million a year for someone who has replacement-level numbers just doesn’t seem logical. He got a two-year, $12 million deal from the 49ers last time. Money goes up, but a two-year, $16-18 million deal seems like a more reasonable figure for a player who can go every down, but isn’t exactly an imperious force.
    • If you’re the 49ers, is he worth the deal? Maybe. But they tend to go for mid-level upside swings at defensive end. His previous deal, and the prove-it contract to Arden Key are good examples of that. Someone like Anthony Nelson from Tampa Bay, a freak athlete who’s a 26-year-old unrestricted free agent, could fit that mold.
    • They could also just spend that money on a more historically productive, veteran pass rusher and add to that position through the draft, along with some other players on this list. That said, this could go either way.

Emmanuel Moseley

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: One year, $5 million
  • Maybe someone values Moseley more than the 49ers. But no one will know where he’s at in his rehab more than San Francisco. He looked like he was going to be half of a perfect outside corner tandem with Charvarius Ward before tearing his ACL. This would give him a chance to prove that.

Mike McGlinchey:

  • Re-signs: No
  • Expected contract: (PFF projection) Four years, $62 million ($15.5M per year); $37.25 million total guaranteed
  • That’s a fairly logical figure, though maybe a bit high. Teams, however, are desperate for decent to quality offensive line play and McGlinchey has been an elite run blocker since he entered the league in 2018. His pass blocking, though suspect, has improved. Someone’s going to pay him and it’s hard to see the 49ers matching the offer.

Azeez Al-Shaair: 

  • Re-signs: No.
    Expected contract: (PFF projection) Two years, $8 million ($4M per year); $4.25 million total guaranteed
  • This seems a little low for Al-Shaair. He’s just 25 and though he lost out on snaps last season, that also ensured he enters this offseason healthy. Something like a two-year, $10-12 million deal for a speedy, rangy linebacker, especially with DeMeco Ryans’ cap-glutted Houston Texans, seems more appropriate. Al-Shaair indicated to KNBR after the season he expects to be gone, and that was all but sealed when Dre Greenlaw signed a two-year, $16.4 million extension.

Robbie Gould

  • Re-signs: Yes.
    Expected contract: Two years, $10 million. It’s a bit much for a 41-year-old who’s got a fairly limited range. But he’s never missed a kick in the playoffs and is still pretty reliable. If he wants to keep playing and the 49ers want him back, he probably will be.

Tashaun Gipson Sr.

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: One year, $2.5 million. He’s 33 and is in a system he’ll probably continue to thrive in, coming off a resurgent year that he re-established himself as a starter.

Jake Brendel

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: This is a tough one. Two years, $6-8 million, maybe? He’s basically a 30-year-old rookie who had an impressive first season as the starter but wasn’t elite. San Francisco will want him back.

Daniel Brunskill

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: One year, $2 million. He’s steady and familiar. Maybe a former Shanahan protege wants him more and scoops him up. We shall see.

Charles Omenihu:

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: (PFF prediction) Two years, $17.5 million ($8.75M per year); $11.5 million total guaranteed.
  • That seems like an awful lot for a player with a pending legal case regarding alleged domestic violence. That will be the determinant of how Omenihu’s situation plays out. And it shouldn’t be shrugged off just because he played in the NFC Championship.
  • But if the 49ers trust him, knowing what they know about the situation, they’ll want him back. They also won’t want to lose both Omenihu and Ebukam.
  • If you just look at his play, Omenihu is a very enticing player. He’s quietly been elite in his limited chances as a pass rusher, and he creates pressure consistently. He does so both from the edge and the interior. He’s multifaceted, and had his signature game in the playoffs. At age 26, coming off a 4.5-sack season, but with a legal case in flux, two years and $16 million might be more apt. There’s a chance he and Ebukam are both gone. It’s a tough position for the 49ers to find cheap value.

Jordan Willis

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: Two years, $5 million. He was quietly very solid for the 49ers. They’ll want him back if he comes in at a reasonable figure.

Hassan Ridgeway

  • Re-signs: Yes.
  • Expected contract: One year, $2 million. He was crucial to what the 49ers did, especially against the run, last season. San Francisco probably laments ruling him out instead of keeping Jimmy Garoppolo’s window open.

For top-51 purposes, it’s important to remember that a $2 million deal doesn’t really come in at $2 million. It’s the difference between that deal and the cheapest contract on the roster above the 51-player threshold. So if that contract costs $750,000, a $2 million contract bumps that off and nets a $1.25 million cap increase.