Have 49ers Made Smart Use of Their Money in Free Agency?

Phil G@FuturePhilGCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2014

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is tackled by Indianapolis Colts free safety Antoine Bethea during the third quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

As expected, with such limited cap space, the San Francisco 49ers made little noise on the free-agent front. However, they did acquire two young prospects in quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.

That counts for something, right?

Look, the 49ers aren't in the business of making front-page headlines. Though, they sure tested that theory with all the drama surrounding Jim Harbaugh and the head honchos in the front office. 

No, free agency for the 49ers was slow and deliberate. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke wouldn't have it any other way. It just isn't their style. 

With teams like the Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throwing money to the wayside, it's easy to get caught up in the free-agency frenzy. Filling major holes through free agency is not the answer, or at least it hasn't proven to be as of yet. 

The 49ers are one of the few teams who need not look at free agency as its saving light. Of course, the free agency period has yet to conclude.

Heck, the trade market still hasn't dried up. If we're to believe reports, the 49ers could be interested in a certain Philadelphia Eagles receiver.

In the meantime, let's take a closer look at both the 49ers current cap situation and whether this money was put to good use.

49ers Current Cap Situation

As of yesterday, the 49ers are currently $3.726 million under the salary cap. The 49ers came into the offseason with such limited cap space, so the figure above isn't a surprise. 

Now, some good news is on the horizon. When cornerback Carlos Rogers was cut by the San Francisco 49ers, some people questioned why his $8 million-plus cap figure was not erased from the books. 

Well, Rogers is considered a post June 1 designation release. This means that that 49ers won't see those cap savings until June 2 of this year. 

The move allows Rogers to test the free-agent market earlier, though the 49ers won't get to use that money until a later date. This is a common practice among high-priced veterans at the tail end of their contracts. 

After June 1, the 49ers will gain $6.6 million in salary-cap space from having released Rogers. If the 49ers stay pat with their current figure ($3.726 million), they should have a little over $10 million in cap space heading into the 2014 season. 

In all likelihood, the 49ers will use their cap savings towards extending core players like quarterback Colin Kaepernick and upcoming rookie contracts. 

49ers Free-Agent Signings: Wise or Unwise?

Let's take a closer look at the 49ers free-agent haul and its impact on their cap space going forward. 

Antoine Bethea, Safety (four years, $21 million, $9.25 million guaranteed)

With Donte Whitner heading to his hometown Cleveland Browns, the 49ers quickly found a replacement in safety Antoine Bethea. Many media reports stated Bethea received a $26 million deal, but the final numbers indicated a dollar figure approaching $22 million.

Bethea will team up with Pro Bowl rookie safety Eric Reid to form rock solid duo on the back end, but I wonder for how long? Reid is here for the long term, but Bethea could be replaced as soon as next year, especially if his performance in 2014 isn't up to par. 

Realistically speaking, the 49ers should keep Bethea on the roster for at least the next two seasons. His base salary this year is a reasonable ($1.2 million) and 2015 isn't bad either ($3 million). 

The 49ers will take a cap hit $3 million cap hit this year and a $4.75 million hit in 2015. All in all, the 49ers got great value for the first two years of this deal. 

The issue lies in 2016 and 2017. If the contract holds up, the 49ers would be taking a steep cap hit in 2016 and 2017 ($6.25 and $7 million, respectively). The 49ers most likely will release Bethea before 2016. 

Again, this is how most contract situations work in the NFL. Rarely do NFL players ever reach the backend of their deals. Bethea will be no different. 

Verdict: Wise 

Eric Wright-CB (one year, $900,000) and Chris Cook-CB (one year, $730,000)

The 49ers added some depth at the cornerback position by re-signing of Eric Wright and adding newcomer Chris Cook, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers lost out on Tarell Brown, who signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders

With Wright, the 49ers should have some consistency in the secondary. He signed a similar one-year deal last season after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

December 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive back Eric Wright (30) celebrates after intercepting the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandato
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Wright didn't play much last season, but during the times he did see the field, I thought his play was pretty solid. We could see Wright fighting for a nickel role next season. 

Cook signed a one-year deal for the league minimum, but the 49ers gave him no guaranteed money. This is a low-risk gamble by Trent Baalke that could end up paying dividends down the line. At 6'2'', Cook is a physical specimen at the corner position. He has the athleticism and length that Baalke covets from his corners, but inconsistency has always plagued him in his short career thus far.

In 2013, Cook had his worst season as a professional by far. Opposing receivers absolutely destroyed him on the outside, especially in the red zone. 

The 49ers hope they can work their magic with Cook. In past years, Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job with such NFL reclamation projects.

Look no further than Glenn Dorsey and Carlos Rogers. Both were considered first-round busts prior to their arrival in San Francisco. 

If it doesn't work out, the 49ers can simply cut Cook without worrying about any financial ramifications. 

Verdict: Wise 


This is a short list indeed; however, free agency has yet to end. Also, the 49ers were able to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson to two-year deals prior to start of free agency. Both players were considered crucial targets by the 49ers front office. 

Despite their limited cap space, the 49ers still might land another free agent when it's all said and done. Don't hold your breath for a big move, but you just never really know.

For now, the 49ers deserve a passing grade for free agency.  

All contract figures are courtesy of Spotrac.com, unless otherwise noted. 


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