5 Cap-Friendly Moves San Francisco 49ers Should Make This Offseason
Over the next couple of weeks, general manager Trent Baalke will have some tough decisions to make regarding the San Francisco 49ers' 2014 roster.
Prior to re-signing Anquan Boldin, the Niners were about $15 million under the $133 million 2014 salary cap, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. With their cap space, the Niners will have to sign their 2014 draft class and consider extending Colin Kaepernick and upgrading their secondary via free agency.
To save money, San Francisco can cut and trade players, restructure contracts and let its free agents walk.
The following five players are either paid too much to keep or too expensive to re-sign for the 2014-15 season.
Cut Carlos Rogers (Reportedly Will Happen)
ESPN.com's Josina Anderson was the first to report that the 49ers will cut Carlos Rogers.
If Anderson's report proves true, it will hardly be a surprise.
According to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, Rogers was set to have the biggest cap number of all the 49ers players in 2014. A source told Maiocco that the Niners were not going to pay the 32-year-old cornerback his 2014 salary, which implied that he needed to take a pay cut to stay in San Francisco.
Maiocco outlined how much money they'll save by cutting Rogers:
The 49ers would save $6.6 million on the salary cap but he would count about $1.5 million in dead money on the 2015 cap. If the 49ers took the entire cap hit this year, the immediate cap savings would be $5.1 million and he would be completely off their books in future years.
Rogers simply hasn't been the difference-maker he was in 2011 over the last two seasons. And it didn't help that he allowed Jermaine Kearse to get behind him on the Seattle Seahawks' go-ahead touchdown pass on 4th-and-7 in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
Of all the moves on this list, cutting Rogers is the biggest no-brainer.
Let Donte Whitner Walk
If you're reading this after free agency officially begins on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, then read the headline as "Not Re-Signing Donte Whitner"—because at that point, he will almost assuredly be on his way to signing a lucrative contract elsewhere.
To be sure, Whitner had a very good 2013 season. Statistically, I can't prove to you that letting him go is a good decision, financially or otherwise.
This really comes down to a belief that Vic Fangio and the rest of San Francisco's defensive staff will be able to quickly groom a new strong safety into San Francisco's defense in 2014. I think they'll do just that.
In the process, they'll likely get a younger player with more range. With all due respect to Whitner, he's getting up their in age (29 in July) and losing speed with each passing year.
My hunch is that fans will realize sooner rather than later that Whitner isn't worth the multiyear, $30 million-plus contract he's going to get this offseason.
Trade LaMichael James
It's not that LaMichael James is making so much money that he must be traded now. And I do realize trading him now would be a sell-low move.
But sometimes that's what a GM has to do before a player loses all the value he has left.
Right now, James is a talented-yet-underutilized former second-rounder who has made a few impressive contributions in the open field on kickoff and punt returns. His value as a running back is virtually unknown because he hasn't had a chance to play.
By the time the 49ers finish their draft, I suspect they'll have a more dynamic return man than James, who muffed a punt against the Seahawks in the NFC title game that the 49ers were fortunate to recover. And if they do take a better returner, then his avenue to get on the field will be at running back, fighting for snaps against Frank Gore, Marcus Lattimore and Kendall Hunter. In other words, he'll be useless.
Anything the Niners can get for him now is the right move. With about $2 million over two years left on James' deal, San Francisco can use that money saved to focus on signing a veteran cornerback or re-signing Colin Kaepernick.
Let Tarell Brown Walk
With the amount of money the 49ers are devoting to their front seven, offensive tackles and skill positions, they're bound to have to make some cost-efficient sacrifices elsewhere.
Tarell Brown will likely be a victim of this philosophy.
Coming off a great 2012 campaign, Brown wasn't quite as effective in 2013. Most notably, he missed three games. Without him, the 49ers defense was just as good, if not better, than it was with him.
Sure, it's a small sample size. And the 49ers could use another veteran to go along with Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver for the 2014 season. But once Sam Shields and Brent Grimes signed four-year contracts for over $30 million, Brown's eyes must have turned green.
Simply put, the 49ers can't afford to sign Brown to anything near that amount.
They'll have to consider cheaper avenues for another starting-caliber cornerback.
Restructure Ray McDonald's Contract
That being said, Davis, at 24 years old, could be about to reach his prime. Baalke would be wise not to mess with the young tackle's confidence by asking him to take a pay cut.
McDonald, meanwhile, is a prime candidate to take a pay cut. When the 2014 season starts, he'll be 30. His drop in play in 2013 looks like a more glaring sign of things to come.
McDonald fell from 10th in 2012 to 22nd in 2013 in PFF's 3-4 defensive end rankings. Defensive end Tank Carradine, one of San Francisco's second-round picks in 2013, is healthy and eager to play, according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
He'll likely bite into McDonald's time, as will Tony Jerod-Eddie, Demarcus Dobbs and possibly interior defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams.
McDonald, who missed two games with a high ankle sprain last season, has two years and about $11 million left on his deal. For a player who might play far less in 2014, he's due to take a pay cut.
Why Gore, Dawson Were Not Included
According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Baalke said that the 49ers don't have to restructure the last year of Gore's contract (worth $6.45 million). He then praised the nine-year veteran:
And he brings so much more to the team. I think we all know that. Frank's an extremely passionate guy, loves the game of football, he loves the organization. He's everything we're looking for from a DNA standpoint, and he's an awfully good football player and he's a great teammate.
Gore rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns during the 2013 regular season. He's spent his entire career in San Francisco. He's earned the right to play out his contract.
It's not good business to demand a pay cut to a productive player who hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. Though I expect the Niners to feature Gore less so Marcus Lattimore gets opportunities, there's no guarantee the former South Carolina star will stay healthy. Gore is still the bell cow, and his salary fairly reflects that.
If the 49ers are trying to save money, then why not draft a kicker and avoid paying millions to Phil Dawson?
I'm sure that's a question Baalke has pondered seriously. But Dawson was so valuable in 2013 that it may not be worth the risk.
Dawson made 32 of 36 field-goal attempts in 2013. More impressively, he's made 18 of 21 attempts from 50 yards or more in the last three seasons.
In February, Bleacher Report's Dylan DeSimone argued why the 49ers need a top-tier kicker like Dawson:
Once they get beyond this and figure out a way to optimize their abundance of talent in constricted areas, there will be less emphasis on the need for a kicker.
Then it won't be as crucial.
But until that moment, the 49ers cannot field a team without Phil Dawson.
If the Niners were better in the red zone, they'd be more inclined to take a chance on a cheaper kicker. Until then, Dawson is their man.