Analyzing 49ers Salary Cap Situation Entering 2016

Feb 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke speaks at a press conference during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke speaks at a press conference during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers enter the 2016 offseason with a sizable amount of cap space and an opportunity to make a splash in free agency. Let’s break down how the 49ers cap situation will be before the first wave hits.

While the current focus in the 49ers organization is on finding a new head coach to replace Jim Tomsula, general manager Trent Baalke has another big challenge on his hands this offseason, to add to a roster in need of a big boost in talent if San Francisco is to compete in 2016.

And luckily for Baalke and the Niners, they will have plenty of cap space to work with to re-sign their best free agents and bring in new players off the market.

Indeed, San Francisco is scheduled to be a huge $50 million under the cap in 2016 and CEO Jed York confirmed Baalke has free reign to spend as much as he wants during his press conference following the firing of Tomsula. York stated:

"We’re willing to spend what it takes to get everything right to get back to a championship culture. You want to make sure that you’re spending money wisely. So, we will always continue to manage the cap. Trent and his staff know that if they need to spend the entire room, they can do it."

However, before Baalke can start to spend on bringing in players from other teams he has a number of issues to resolve involving the current members of the roster, namely re-signing the 49ers’ own free agents and determining what to do with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers have eight unrestricted free agents and three restricted free agents in 2016. Baalke has long insisted San Francisco’s priority is taking care of their own, and of those free agents there are four who are likely to command something close to significant money, wideout Anquan Boldin, guard Alex Boone, defensive tackle Ian Williams and kicker Phil Dawson.

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Boldin signed a two-year contract with the 49ers after a successful 2013 season following his trade from the Baltimore Ravens.

He received a base salary of $5.5 million in 2015 and, despite leading the Niners in receiving yards again, San Francisco is unlikely to deem a 35-year-old wideout worthy of that amount.

Boldin is already scheduled to receive a prorated roster bonus of $990,000. With lots of holes on the roster to address, do not expect the 49ers to offer more than the $3 million-per-year the Baltimore Ravens are paying the 36-year-old Steve Smith, resulting in a cap hit of around $4 million if he was to accept.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Boone is likely to ask for a considerable pay rise. The best reference point for what Boone will demand is former 49er Mike Iupati, who signed a five-year $40 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals last offseason with a $6 million signing bonus and a $4 million roster bonus.

Boone has not performed to the same level as Iupati — who is one of the best run-blocking guards in the game — but his consistently solid play should ensure he is one of the top offensive lineman on the market and, while the Niners will offer him something, it is tough to envision him counting against the San Francisco cap in 2016.

Dawson was the team’s MVP for 2015 and appears keen to return to the 49ers and his reliability is something San Francisco should value highly. Look for him to come back but for less than the $6.13 million he earned over the last two years.

Having been paid very well for a kicker in the last two years Dawson, who turns 41 later this month, remains worthy of a salary in the region of $2 million a year, which would be a good use of $4 million against the cap for the 49ers.

Perhaps Baalke’s biggest priority in free agency is re-signing Williams, who was excellent all season and ended the campaign as Pro Football Focus’ No. 9 ranked nose tackle in the league.

Nose tackles don’t command elite money but a good one is extremely valuable to a defense. The Oakland Raiders signed Dan Williams on a four-year $25 million contract last offseason.

Ian Williams’ play this past season was worthy of a similar deal and if the Niners can tie him down just over $6 million a year then they should not hesitate.

While new deals for Boldin, Dawson and Williams would use a decent chunk of the 49ers’ cap space, Baalke could make some moves to save cash. Taking into account dead money, cutting TE Vance McDonald, WR Jerome Simpson, OLB Corey Lemonier and WR Quinton Patton — all of whom have disappointed since joining San Francisco — would save the Niners approximately $2.7 million in cap space.

Of course any potential cuts and decisions the Niners’ free agents will have to wait until the new coach and Baalke sit down and assess the roster. However undoubtedly the biggest personnel call in 2016 surrounds Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick was benched for Blaine Gabbert prior to Week 9 and all the signs were that he and the Niners were heading for a divorce. However, his injury situation has complicated matters.

In addition to undergoing surgery on a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, Kaepernick — per the Sacramento Bee — recently had operations on his right thumb and left knee.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Kaepernick’s 2016 base salary of $11.9 million is only guaranteed for injury and becomes guaranteed on April 1. If  he has not recovered from those surgeries by that date, the Niners will be stuck with a salary they may not want to pay.

If he does recover in time, then it will be up to Baalke and the new coach to decide whether he is worth keeping on the team, and their decision is likely to be influenced by a high number of prospective contract extensions the team will have to consider offering.

A plethora of increasingly key players are free agents in 2017 and 2018 and safety Eric Reid, running back Carlos Hyde and linebacker Aaron Lynch are all in line for extensions in the near future.

Re-signing top free agents like Williams, Boldin and Dawson figure to cost the 49ers at least $10 million in cap space.

San Francisco will also look to tie down their lower-profile free agents and, with new contracts for an array of players to consider, if the 49ers believe Gabbert or a rookie quarterback can succeed then they would be wise to save the money owed to Kaepernick and cut or trade him to ensure there is the cap space to take care of their own in the years to come.

All salary cap and contract details courtesy of Over The Cap.