Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: $53.5 million
Expected 2016 Cap Space: $67.6 million
Estimated Rookie Cap: $9.515 million
Players Under Contract: 62
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 7(3 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 7
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Ian Williams peaked at the perfect time as he heads off to unrestricted free agency. Though he will likely not attract the same attention as Damon Harrison and Jaye Howard he will certainly be looked at as one of the better players available. I would expect the team to lock him up on a 3 year deal prior to the start of free agency…Phil Dawson remains a steady kicker and probably will be back…Both Garrett Celek and Shaun Draughn contributed and neither should be that expensive to keep nor signed for any more than two years.
Free Agents to Let Walk
The 49ers have probably gotten the best they can out of guard Alex Boone and he’ll probably cost too much relative to his expected future performance…I could see making a case to keep Anquan Boldin for a season, but he’ll be 36 years old and showed signs of declining last season. He’s had a terrific career but it may be best for both sides if he ends it elsewhere…Reggie Bush was an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle and it didn’t work. No need to bring him back again.
Contracts to Modify
Safety Eric Reid will only have a $2.7 million cap charge this year and the 49er should look to increase that number by extending him. His price will only go up and I could see the benefit of trying to work out a deal before free agency even begins and the market potentially increases. The earlier out you can re-sign a young player the better off you will be and this was a key to the 49ers successful period a few years back…Similarly I could see the 49ers extending Tank Carradine to a two year extension if they feel he will play more this season. I the past they have looked at locking up some of the lower playtime but higher upside players for very affordable two year contracts. Those deals are hard for a player to pass up because if their playtime doesn’t increase they generally enter free agency with little chance of getting anything more than a close to minimum contract with no guarantees…Antoine Bethea is scheduled to count for $6 million on the cap at a salary of $5 million. He is only one year removed from a Pro Bowl, but at 32 years of age that seems like a prime candidate to be asked to take less money to keep a spot.
Players to Consider Releasing
I think it should be clear that Ahmad Brooks’ time has to be at an end with the 49ers. I’m a bit surprised he has stayed as long as he has. They will free up around $6 million with his release…Bethea, mentioned in the prior section, would save about $3.5 million if cut.
The 49ers salary cap situation demonstrates the effect that even a single punted season can produce. While the departure of veteran players such as Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Anthony Davis and Vernon Davis contributed to a decline in wins, the absence of their contracts – combined with a relative lack of spending to compensate – leaves the team in a very flexible salary cap situation in terms of both True Cap Space in 2016 and Commitment Index in 2017 and beyond. The team-favorable structure of Colin Kaepernick’s contract also plays a large role in this flexibility. Salary cap flexibility does not equate to winning, but as this team drafts more talent it will have the capacity to retain such players while spending aggressively in free agency when the time is appropriate. One more season of relative austerity very well may leave the 49ers with most True Cap Space and lowed Commitment Index score in the league a year from now.
Expected Contract Termination Outcomes – Expected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions. The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016. A pay cut is treated as a termination. We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options. Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.
|Player||Position||Expected Outcome||Expected Savings|
|Expected Change in Cap Room||+14,110,664|
True Cap Space – Realizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms. Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.
|True Cap Space (2016)|
|Adjusted Salary Cap||$162,644,186|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||($26,870,036)|
|Realizable Cap Space||$135,774,150|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||($4,124,408)|
|Minimum Salary Cap Holds||($22,050,000)|
|True Cap Space||$109,599,742|
Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams. A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments.
|Commitment Index (2017+)|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||$30,838,371|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||$3,106,960|
|Current Cap Space||($48,289,518)|
|Commitment Index Score||-83%|
|League Rank (1st = Most Committed)||28th|
The 49ers have the cap space and low payroll necessary to be ultra aggressive in free agency, but I don’t see that happening. While the 49ers have not been averse to free agency the way some other teams are, I think the 49ers are also strong in their belief that free agency supplements a youthful roster that is gaining experience and not of the mindset that you can buy a contender. The 49ers are not really in that position where free agency is going to bring you the desired return. There are some areas where they will find some help, but buying an entire roster is not going to help I the long term.
There are a few spots where I could see the 49ers looking in free agency if the right players are out there. One would be along the defensive line. Following the retirement of Justin Smith their end play took a massive hit. While the position can be expensive (Muhammad Wilkerson should fetch over $14 million) there may be more affordable options in Cedric Thornton of the Eagles or various lower cost veterans. Malik Jackson has tremendous upside but may be over $10 million.
The 49ers need to upgrade at cornerback and this years group of free agents are probably better than next years group. The decision to look at corner in free agency may come down to how deep they feel the draft is at the position but I don’t think they should be completely out of this position where there may be a number of quality players available I the $4 to 6 million range.
Running backs are cheap and bringing someone in to pair with Carlos Hyde, who only lasted 7 games last season, is probably worth doing. Im not sure if they would look for a Lamar Miller who would seem to be a signing more for a team without a back, but maybe a notch below for a more specialist type like a James Starks or Bilal Powell. Maintaining some type of punch in the backfield can help what has been a pretty stagnant offense if their other pieces don’t improve.
Beyond these spots I see the draft being used to fill huge needs at wide receiver and outside linebacker. There just isn’t the quality available in free agency and the prices may get up too high. Maybe they can find a third receiver (one of the Bengals players) but they are most likely not going to find the kind of player needed to improve the unit that way.
The same goes for the offensive line, where they will hope that Anthony Davis comes back to play right tackle and give them an immediate boost. That would allow them to use the draft to rebuild the interior of their offensive line which is going to lose their starters to free agency over the course of the last two years.
Until they know if their quarterback of the future is on the roster it is pointless to get stuck with too many contracts when you have to turn back to the draft to grab a QB. While I think the talk surrounding trading/releasing Colin Kaepernick has died down now following the hiring of Chip Kelly, nobody can definitively say Kaepernick is going to be the guy for the team. He played poorly last season and has not improved since his first two years where he took the league by surprise. I guess it is possible they could still trade him anyway if someone offers up enough draft capital. Either way I don’t think free agency should be the big expectation for this year.
Right now we project that the 49ers will have 12 draft picks in which to rebuild the team. Those are 12 young players that will most likely buy into whatever the coach is selling much more effectively than veterans who have been in the NFL for some time. The 49ers have drafted poorly for too many years so they have to change that this year. If they hit this year and some of the picks from last season continue to develop the team will have it future roster base in place. Then all the cap room they carry over to 2017 can be used to do something to really help the team in a meaningful way.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.