Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers Roster Entering 2014 Offseason

Bryan Knowles@BryknoContributor IIIJanuary 24, 2014

Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers Roster Entering 2014 Offseason

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    With the 2013 season over, the long process of constructing the 2014 San Francisco 49ers has already begun.  There are some tough decisions to be made.

    Which free agents should the 49ers re-sign?  Which players are potential salary-cap casualties?  Which players have earned long-term extensions, and where will the money come from?  How will they fit 13 new draft picks onto the roster?

    The big issue pressing GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh is the sheer number of contracts expiring in the near future.  Twenty different players have contracts expiring at the end of the 2014 season, including key contributors like Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree

    Deciding which of them to sign to hefty new contracts and which to let walk once their contracts have expired is a difficult process and will require tough decisions—it’s not unthinkable that longtime contributors might find themselves on the streets sooner rather than later.

    Still, the team sits in a good position for 2014 before any roster decisions have been made.  There are some holes to be filled and some weaknesses to patch up, but the roster is fairly intact from top to bottom.  There is every reason to expect the 49ers to be right back where they were at the end of this season, vying for a sixth Super Bowl title.

    The following slides will go through the current San Francisco roster position by position, highlighting pending free agents, pointing out possible contract extensions and salary-cap casualties and postulating potential draft choices or free-agent signings.  All cap numbers come from, an invaluable resource for 49ers fans looking to weed their way through salary-cap minutia.

    With no further ado, here are your 2014 San Francisco 49ers.


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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Colin KaepernickQB$1,630,4572014
    McLeod Bethel-ThompsonQB$570,0002015
    Colt McCoyQBFree Agent

    First things first—the 49ers won’t enter the 2014 season with only two quarterbacks on their roster.  Colt McCoy’s a free agent, so a priority will be finding a backup quarterback to sit behind Colin Kaepernick.  We’re not talking a developmental project here either—what they want is a veteran who could come off the bench and keep things moving if Kaepernick is forced to miss a game or two due to injury.

    Complicating that search will be the fact that it’s time to sign Kaepernick to a long-term extension, as his contract expires at the end of this season. 

    San Francisco has been able to take advantage of Kaepernick’s cheap rookie contract to pay players in other positions, but that’s likely coming to an end now.  The loss in the NFC Championship Game likely ends up saving the 49ers from having to sign a Joe Flacco-esque deal, but Kaepernick is still going to cost the team a pretty penny.

    Spotrac attempted to forecast Kaepernick’s potential extension, looking at comparisons with quarterbacks like Flacco, Aaron RodgersMatt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.  It came up with a number of six years and nearly $120 million, or about $19.7 million a season on average. 

    That’s quite the raise from his current salary; it’s actually more than Peyton Manning makes at the moment, which seems a bit optimistic.  The contract that seems more fitting to me personally is more in the Matthew Stafford range, at an average somewhere around $17 million a year.  

    Assuming Kaepernick keeps developing at the pace he has been, that would end up being a steal by the time the contract expired and would still give him the chance to sign yet another huge contract for the backside of his career.

    The added money headed toward Kaepernick means San Francisco will likely look to get cheaper at its backup slot, as McCoy counted for nearly $1.5 million against the cap this season.  Perhaps a name like Tarvaris Jackson could come into play here—someone with some decent experience as a starter who isn’t going to break the bank.

Running Backs

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Frank GoreRB$6,450,0002014
    LaMichael JamesRB$905,1542015
    Kendall HunterRB$754,8052014
    Marcus LattimoreRB$570,1462016
    Jewel HamptonRB$495,0002015
    Anthony DixonRBFree Agent
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Bruce MillerFB$1,404,6142014
    Alex DebniakFB$421,6662015
    Will TukuafuFBRestricted Free Agent

    How do you deal with an aging legend?  Frank Gore was the eighth highest-paid running back in football last season, despite being on the wrong side of 30 years old at a position where most players decline heavily starting at age 28.

    Gore certainly wasn’t bad at all this year, rushing for over 1,100 yards and at times carrying San Francisco’s offense.  He did slow down as the season progressed, however, to the point where he only averaged 3.42 yards per carry in the postseason.  With young players like Marcus Lattimore waiting behind him, Gore’s time as a featured back is limited.

    The $6.5 million dollars Gore’s going to cost the cap is a large number, which is why some rumblings about the 49ers asking Gore to take a reduction in pay have begun to emerge.  He’s simply making too much money for a back of his age—and with so many players coming up on the end of their contracts, that’s cap room the 49ers could definitely use.

    He’s not a candidate to be cut, though, even though his entire contract would come off the books.  The team simply can’t be sure about any of the backs behind Gore.  I’d expect his total number of carries to drop in 2014 to somewhere in the 190-200 range as Lattimore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are worked more into the rotation, but that still leaves plenty of room for Gore. 

    He’s also the most polished pass protector of the bunch so far.  I even see him sticking with the team past 2014 if he has a decent season next year, albeit at a much reduced number.


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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Michael CrabtreeWR$4,770,4432014
    Jon BaldwinWR$1,377,7652014
    David ReedWR$730,0002014
    Quinton PattonWR$592,8752016
    DeMarco SampsonWR$495,0002015
    Devon WylieWR$495,0002015
    Brandon CarswellWR$420,0002014
    Chuck JacobsWR$420,0002015
    Anquan BoldinWRFree Agent
    Mario ManninghamWRFree Agent
    Kassim OsgoodWRFree Agent
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Vernon DavisTE$7,367,9162015
    Vance McDonaldTE$817,9952016
    Garrett CelekTE$572,0002014
    Derek CarrierTE$495,0002015

    I like Quinton Patton a lot.  I think he has a bright future in this league, and I think he’ll develop into a starting receiver before long.  That being said, the 49ers can’t go into next season with Michael Crabtree and Patton as their starters—re-signing Anquan Boldin should be a top priority.

    Boldin may have been 33 this season, but he still managed to produce what has to be considered the finest year of his NFL career, considering he was the entire receiving corps for most of it. 

    I don’t know if the 49ers could have made the playoffs without him, and he only got better when Crabtree was healthy and starting across from him.  He even hinted that he wanted to stay in San Francisco next season in a tweet:

    Thank you @49ers fans for embracing my family and I during our first year in San Francisco. Your support this year was amazing.

    — Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) January 20, 2014

    Boldin’s likely looking at a one-year contract at his age, albeit an expensive one—he did earn $6 million this year.   It would be very tough to squeeze him in under the salary cap at that price, considering all the extensions that need to happen—as it stands now, that would take up nearly all of San Francisco’s remaining cap room.  It’s a situation to watch closely as free agency approaches.

    If they can’t re-sign Boldin, they should look to bring in another veteran on a short-term deal.  Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers is a free agent, as is Kenny Britt of the Titans

    Neither had a very good season in 2013, but both would come cheaper than Boldin and have shown flashes of talent in the past.  Better players, such as Eric Decker or Hakeem Nicks, would probably ask for even more money than Boldin, pricing them out of San Francisco's range.

    Some of the receiver money needs to go toward extending Crabtree as well.  Spotrac analyzed that contract situation and projected a five-year, $44.8 million deal, which feels just about right. 

    It’d keep him just out of the top-10 in terms of contract size, which is fair considering his injury history. It’s also not that much of a jump on the salary cap for this season, making it much simpler to work out than Kaepernick’s extension.

Offensive Line

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Anthony DavisRT$7,532,2662019
    Mike IupatiLG$4,425,8632014
    Joe StaleyLT$3,400,0002017
    Alex BooneRG$2,590,0002015
    Adam SnyderOL$1,300,0002014
    Daniel KilgoreC$685,0752014
    Joe LooneyOL$676,3012015
    Luke MarquardtOT$496,6662015
    Ryan SeymourOG$420,0002015
    Al NetterOG$420,0002015
    Carter BykowskiLT$420,0002015
    Jonathan GoodwinCFree Agent

    This might be the end of the line for Jonathan Goodwin.  The starting center will be turning 36 this season and isn’t under contract, meaning this is a position at which the 49ers might be tempted to go younger and cheaper. 

    Goodwin has left the door open to returning in 2014 but would be hard-pressed to get close to the $3.2 million he counted against the salary cap last season.  He was solid enough, certainly, for another go-round, but it would only be on a one-year deal if that. 

    Losing him wouldn’t hurt as much as losing, say, Joe Staley or Anthony Davis, so perhaps we’ll see Daniel Kilgore play a larger role on the team next season.  

    Alternatively, a prospect could be picked up later in the draft.  CBS projects Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and Florida State’s Bryan Stork to go somewhere in the third or fourth rounds; that’s about the area San Francisco would probably be looking in.  Neither would project to slide in and start right away but could learn for a year or two on the bench.

    The big contract situation at this position is Mike Iupati’s deal, but that got a lot harder to work with when he fractured his fibula against Seattle.  Iupati might have to play out the last year on his contract, putting him in position for a big free-agency deal after 2014—it’s difficult to see how the 49ers can get everyone extended this offseason. 

    Iupati might find himself at the back of the list of priorities, delaying any decision on him for another year.

Defensive Line

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
    Justin SmithDE$6,936,6662015
    Ray McDonaldDE$5,346,9852015
    Glenn DorseyDL$3,792,5002014
    Ian WilliamsNT$1,283,3332015
    Tank CarradineDE$1,124,4732016
    Quinton DialDL$540,4132016
    Tony Jerod-EddieDE$495,0002014
    Christian TupouDT$495,0002015
    Lawrence OkoyeDE$421,0002015
    Mike PurcellNT$420,0002015
    Demarcus DobbsDERestricted Free Agent

    San Francisco is mostly set at defensive line for the 2014 season.  Justin Smith, at age 34, won’t last forever but is still at the top of his game.  When Smith and Ray McDonald do eventually leave, be it due to age or salary reasons, last year’s second-round draft choice Tank Carradine looks poised to slide in. 

    Perhaps San Francisco could pick up another prospect in the draft in case Carradine doesn’t pan out, but I wouldn’t expect too many roster moves to happen here this offseason.

    One thing the 49ers could do to try to free up some salary room is to extend McDonald.  He’s currently signed through the end of the 2016 season—the 49ers could get creative with some accounting if they, say, signed McDonald for another couple seasons and converted some base salary into a signing bonus, distributed over the length of the deal. 

    It’s something he’s shown willingness to do in the past, having done so at the end of 2012 to help squeeze NaVorro Bowman’s contract extension under the cap.


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    David Seelig/Associated Press
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    NaVorro BowmanILB$7,050,0002018
    Patrick WillisILB$6,863,0002016
    Ahmad BrooksOLB$6,600,0002017
    Aldon SmithOLB$4,576,7272014
    Dan SkutaLB$1,650,0002014
    Corey LemonierOLB$640,8802016
    Darius FlemingLB$536,2002015
    Nick MoodyILB$521,9182016
    Michael WilhoiteILBExclusive Rights

    There is not a better linebacking corps in football than San Francisco’s fearsome foursome.  The only question is how long they can be kept together without breaking the bank entirely.  Three Pro Bowlers, plus a player as talented as Aldon Smith, are a tough group to keep under contract for an extended period of time.

    Based purely on his performance on the field, Smith deserves a major contract extension—however, his situation is more complicated than that.  His most notable off-field issue this season was his DUI arrest and subsequent rehab stint, but he also faces felony gun charges

    The 49ers have taken every step to get Smith help, which indicates a long-term future with the team, but they may want to wait to sign him to a long-term extension until they can be more confident he’s getting his personal issues under control. 

    Combine that uncertainty with the sheer number of players they’re looking to find room to extend this offseason, and I’d imagine Smith would play out the last year of his rookie deal.

    Eventually, one or more of these linebackers is going to have to leave the team; the 49ers simply cannot afford to keep all of them forever.  If I had to pick one today, I’d say it would be Brooks, not Smith, who would eventually find himself a free agent. 

    There are players like Corey Lemonier, currently on the roster, who could eventually be promoted to the starting lineup.  That’s an issue for at least a year down the line, however—the entire squad will be back next season.

    The 49ers will have to keep a close eye on NaVorro Bowman’s rehab from the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in the NFC Championship Game.  Michael Wilhoite filled in this season when Patrick Willis went down, and Dan Skuta also showed great work in relief, so one of them could end up starting the season while Bowman works back to full health.

Defensive Backs

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Carlos RogersCB$8,094,5312015
    Craig DahlS$2,233,3332015
    Tramaine BrockCB$2,000,0002017
    Eric ReidFS$1,927,4442016
    C.J. SpillmanS$1,558,3342014
    Chris CulliverCB$1,538,7192014
    Raymond VentroneS$855,0002014
    DJ CampbellSS$570,0002014
    Darryl MorrisCB$495,0002015
    Dax SwansonCB$420,0002015
    Tarell BrownCBFree Agent
    Perrish CoxCBFree Agent
    Eric WrightCBFree Agent
    Donte WhitnerSSFree Agent

    San Francisco does have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason, but Carlos Rogers’ contract situation isn’t one of them.  He’s slated to bring in the highest cap number of any 49er next season, and that simply won’t happen. 

    Cutting him would save the team about $5.1 million, so expect him to either be asked to take a very large pay cut or to find himself on the street.  That’s as close as it gets to a simple decision in the NFL. 

    The free agents are a more difficult decision.  The 49ers would love to have both Donte Whitner and Tarell Brown back on the team in 2014, but that might be difficult to do, just due to salary concerns.  

    The 49ers did recently give Brown a $300,000 bonus—that may indicate a desire to keep him around for next year.  Whitner, on the other hand, might go the way of Dashon Goldson and essentially price himself out of town.

    I think they’ll end up keeping Brown if they get rid of Rogers—losing two of their top-three cornerbacks in one offseason would be hard to recover from. 

    I do believe they’ll let Whitner go, however, which could prompt them into taking someone like HaHa Clinton-Dix out of Alabama in the first round of the draft.  Clinton-Dix and Eric Reid would make a very interesting duo in the backfield—young and inexperienced, for sure, but talented.

    Remember, the 1981 49ers squad featured three rookies and a second-year player in its defensive backfield, and it ended up winning the Super Bowl.  Admittedly, it helps that one of those rookies was Ronnie Lott, and the advice “go out and draft the next Ronnie Lott” is less than useful.  Still, it’s not the worst strategy the 49ers could go with, considering their financial situation.

Special Teams

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
    PlayerPosition2014 Cap NumberSigned Through
    Andy LeeP$2,400,0002018
    Kevin McDermottLS$496,6662015
    Colton SchmidtP$420,0002015
    Phil DawsonKFree Agent

    Bold prediction time—San Francisco will not start the 2014 season without a kicker on the roster.  Phil Dawson will likely be re-signed, though the 49ers could also decide to go with a cheaper option if they’re struggling to get everyone in under the salary cap. 

    Dawson was a huge upgrade over Joe Nedney, but almost anyone would have been an upgrade over the way Nedney performed in 2012.  You can pencil Dawson in for another one-year contract.