One of the first moves the 49ers made in free agency this off-season was placing the franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson. A wise move considering the teams other key free agents quarterback Alex Smith, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and cornerback Carlos Rogers play positions with much higher costs for franchise players. Goldson’s deal, currently unsigned, counts 1 yr/$6.212 million against the 49ers salary cap.
The 49ers have completed a flurry of moves over the last week. Most of the teams off season spending has went to retaining their own players like Smith, Rogers, Brooks, CJ Spillman, Tavares Gooden, Tramaine Brock, Will Tukuafu and Ted Ginn Jr. The biggest financial commitment to a player outside the organization went to WR Mario Manningham who’s deal maxes out at $10 million over 2 years. The teams other veteran signings like WR Randy Moss, CB/KR Perrish Cox, RB/ST Rock Cartwright, QB Josh Johnson and LS Brian Pontbriand all signed contracts with minimal cap impact.
As it stands now the 49ers have around $3.1M under the cap. That figure includes two players tendered who have yet to sign, ILB Larry Grant’s restricted FA (original round tender) currently counts $1.26 million against the cap. And as mentioned above, Goldson’s franchise deal currently counts $6.212 million.
$3.1M sounds like plenty for the 49ers to tie up one last loose end in FA like a veteran RG. However, per NFL rules teams must keep a minimum of $390K per pick to keep that selection, as the league mandates each team to have enough room to tender their draft picks a contract. That’s roughly $2.37M which cuts the Niners spending off. The 49ers have 64 players on payroll, leaving 16 roster spots open. Those spots will mostly be filled by the teams draft picks and six or seven undrafted free agent rookies to get the team to it’s training camp roster of 80 players.
To sum it up, in essence the 49ers are operating at the present time as if they have about 400-500K in cap space. But make no mistake, this team is not in cap trouble. Spending up to the limit in 2012 has been in the strategy for a couple of years now. Several players including ILB Patrick Willis ($17M 2012 cap figure) have huge salaries in 2012. The Niners have done a terrific job of structuring their contracts and spreading out bonuses in order to create future flexibility. The NFLs salary cap is going to go up a lot with the new TV deals coming over the next two years. The new collective bargaining agreement also stipulates that the NFL as a whole must spend 99% of the total leagues cap starting next year. And the 49ers will be in great shape with a roster full of young players on long term deals that have paid out a good portion of their signing bonuses and guaranteed money already.
What the 49ers must do this year if they want to gain more flexibility and improve on its current roster is deal with its two restricted players. Most notably Goldson, once a long term deal is struck his cap number will go way down. Goldson is a very good safety but will not command anything near the $6.2M figure he would get if he signed his 1 year franchise deal. The 49ers also can structure the deal anyway they want to and would likely escalate Goldson’s base salary in future years of the contract in order to free up room this year. The 49ers could conceivably cut $4+ million by agreeing to a long term deal with Goldson. The player wouldn’t have to take any financial loss by accepting a low base salary in 2012 either as long as the deal including a nice signing bonus which would spread across the remaining years of the deal on the cap.
Larry Grant is most likely going to leave the team after the draft. Teams haven’t jumped to offer him anything just yet. Some proven ILBs have changed teams and others in need of Grants position will likely wait until after the draft. Look for at least one or two teams to remain in need of Grants services and offer him a starting money which the Niners will not match. When that happens another $1.26 million will come off the books. Until these moves are made, the 49ers really can’t make any more moves in free agency.