When news broke on Tuesday afternoon that the San Francisco 49ers had come to terms on a long-term contract extension with All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman (per Pro Football Talk), it may have surprised a great deal of people.
After all, there were some that had come to the conclusion that the 49ers just wouldn't be able to afford both Bowman and Patrick Willis long-term. The breakdown of the contract is yet to be released, but it is said to be worth upwards of $45 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed. The extension will not take effect until following the 2013 season when Bowman is set to earn a minuscule $575,000 next year.
This is just a continuation of what has been a stellar front office performance since Trent Baalke took over as the full-time general manager in January of 2011. The 2011 NFL draft brought San Francisco an elite group of young talent.
Aldon Smith is currently on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record and has a legit shot at winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Prior to his season-ending injury last week against the New Orleans Saints, Kendall Hunter was having a breakout campaign. Chris Culliver is a future Pro Bowl cornerback, while Bruce Miller may get an invite to Hawaii this season as one of the best fullbacks in the league.
Of course, this doesn't even take into account the fact that San Francisco traded up in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft to nab current "starting" quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Interestingly enough, this all goes full circle.
San Francisco traded down in the third round of the 2010 draft with the San Diego Chargers, who selected Donald Butler, in order to draft Bowman.
San Francisco then used that selection as a package of picks in order to trade up in the '11 draft for Kaepernick.
The results of those two trades ended up with San Francisco acquiring Bowman and Kaepernick while giving up the likes of Donald Butler, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter and D.J. Williams (TE, Denver Broncos).
That is pure genius if you ask me.
Now that we have covered the draft for a second, let's take a look at San Francisco's salary cap situation as it relates to next season. You will be even more shocked by what I am about to delve into. It shows that Trent Baalke and company don't just have a plan, they are putting it to use in a way that will define them as one of the best front offices in the NFL, if not all of the professional sports world.
Alex Boone, pictured above, is just one of many players that San Francisco locked up before they could demand large sums of money on the open market. Entering the league as an undrafted free agent from Ohio State in 2010, there was little questioning Boone's ability to start in the NFL. He did, however, have major character concerns, which led to him not getting selected. Entering the 2010 collegiate season, Boone was considered a second- or third-round prospect.
San Francisco's front office had Boone pegged as a starter from the onset. After becoming its rotational guard/tackle backup in 2011, Boone took over full time this season and has been one of the most surprising players in the entire National Football League. Though he will get looked over, Boone is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, which makes the following ridiculous...
The 49ers and Boone agreed to a four-year contract extension worth under $7 million in December of 2011, before he became their full-time starter at guard. He is set to earn under $1 million in each of the next two seasons before getting solid raises in 2015 and 2016.
Much like Boone, San Francisco inked Joe Staley to a new contract before his breakout campaign. Going off of what was inconsistent play, but a high level of talent, the 49ers signed Staley to a six-year, $28 million extension back in 2009. After struggling with injuries in 2010, Staley returned to first-round form by earning his first Pro Bowl selection last season.
While the veteran tackle had his ups and downs earlier this year, he is playing at that Pro Bowl level once again right now. It is important to know that Staley is earning just $1.3 million this season and is set to make a few hundred thousand more in 2013.
San Francisco's five starters along the offensive line are making under $6 million combined this season. That is insane considering that the 49ers boast one of the most talented and up-and-coming units in the entire National Football League. In fact, some national experts have stated that this offensive line is quickly turning into one of the best in the entire league.
For the sake of comparison, Adam Snyder is set to make nearly half the amount by himself with the Arizona Cardinals next season. Yeah, I know what you are thinking because the same thing has popped into my head. Some were clamoring for the 49ers to re-sign Snyder in the offseason because they had no "proven" backup at the guard position. Well, I think Mr. Boone has proven himself quite the replacement through 12 weeks.
The NFL plans only a small increase in the salary cap over the course of the next few seasons due to changes in the structure following the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. This indicates that the '13 cap will be at or near $121 million.
Taking into account every single player currently under roster, some of which will not be with San Francisco in 2013, it currently stands about $3 million under the cap.
Of course San Francisco will have to worry about a rookie pool (more on that in a bit), but it seems to be in a pretty damn good salary cap situation.
Depending on what happens with the starting quarterback situation for the remainder of the season, Alex Smith may find himself wanting out. San Francisco could avoid a $7.5 million hit if it decides to release Smith prior to April. A more likely scenario would be Smith being traded to a team currently in need of a starting quarterback. In any event, short of Smith retaining his starting job and leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl, he will most likely create a large salary void under the 2013 cap.
Parys Haralson, who was placed on injured reserve to start the season, and David Akers are set to count $5 million against the '13 cap. San Francisco has depth at outside linebacker with Darius Fleming returning next season. It also might be in the market for a younger, cheaper kicker after Akers' struggles this season.
Pure conjecture, but the 49ers could easily find themselves nearly about $16 million under the cap when the new league year begins in April. For a roster as talented as the 49ers roster is, that is simply amazing.
This doesn't, however, take into account a myriad of key players set to hit free agency. Both Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois will be hitting the open market from the defensive tackle position. Dashon Goldson, who was thrown the franchise tag this year, will also command a nice chunk of change in free agency.
This isn't to say that San Francisco doesn't have internal options here. Ian Williams was slated to be a mid-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, but injury concerns saw him fall out of the draft completely. The Notre Dame product fits the mold that San Francisco looks for in terms of an interior defensive lineman. While he might not be starter quality, the 49ers could easily go with a Jean-Francois/Williams rotation, letting Soap go in free agency.
Then you have the crown jewel of every NFL front office and organization: a surplus of draft picks. Through trading down, getting rid of unwanted players and a whole host of other maneuvers, San Francisco boasts the most selections in the '13 draft of any team in the NFL.
It has acquired additional third-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round selections in previous trades. Various reports also indicate that the 49ers are set to earn two compensatory selections after "losing" Adam Snyder and Josh Morgan in free agency.
This will give San Francisco a minimum of 13 draft picks in next April's annual event at Radio City Music Hall. Of course this doesn't even take into account possible deals (see Alex Smith) San Francisco could make following the season.
As a roster filled with talent, the 49ers are not going to need all these picks. Pure conjecture indicates they will be in a great position to trade up for a certain player they are targeting throughout the draft. Much like what we saw with Kaepernick in 2011.
In all, Baalke has done a masterful job building a Super Bowl contender for the short term with an eye on the future. With the emergence of Kaepernick along with a whole host of youngsters, the 49ers are in prime position to be in contention for a while.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh boasts a 21-5-1 record through nearly two regular seasons and will also be around for the long haul. Owner Jed York has done an amazing job building a stronger front office behind the scenes by bringing in young talent outside of the personnel department. He has also given this franchise a new stadium set to open in Santa Clara in 2014. Meanwhile, Santa Clara is in prime position to host Super Bowl L.
At 8-2-1 and with the second best record in the NFC, San Francisco's ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl this season. It has, however, put the NFL on notice that this team isn't going away anytime soon. This Bowman extension is just another example that the 49ers front office knows exactly what they are doing.
After all, their starting linebacker group, the best in the NFL, is now locked up for the relatively distant future. They have one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL, an offensive line core that promises to be among the best in the league moving forward, a great salary cap situation, a new stadium on the horizon and a whole host of upcoming draft picks.
Yes, it is a good time to be covering this team as I am sure you fans also believe it is a good time to be rooting it on.
All salary information provided by Spotrac.
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