San Francisco 49ers: An Early Look at Locks for the 2016 Roster
The Veteran Exemptions
Sometimes, players have off seasons. Maybe that’s the first sign of decline, maybe its players being exposed, or maybe they weren’t really all that good to begin with. Other times, however, bad years happen—players get hurt, players get put out of position and players sometimes just have off years.
Here are two players who will want to forget 2015, but should still be on the roster in 2016.
There’s no denying that QB Colin Kaepernick is overpaid based on his performance from the last two seasons. He’s set to count $15.9 million against the cap next year, substantially more than the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Nick Foles or Johnny Manziel. It’s not saying much when those are the sorts of quarterbacks you can be compared too, either.
If the 49ers were in any sort of salary cap trouble, then Kaepernick would be a goner. If they even had less than $40 million free, Kaepernick’s salary hit could be better used to sign a free agent on the offensive line or at receiver.
However, the 49ers are in an interesting situation. They have the third-most cap space in the league, so they don’t particularly need to free up any room. They’re bringing in a new offensive system that, at first blush, is more in line with Kaepernick’s talents than that of either Greg Roman or Geep Chryst.
Kaepernick was also injured for much of last season. He played for at least a month with a torn ligament in his left thumb, a torn labrum in his left shoulder and an undisclosed knee injury, all of which required surgery after Kaepernick’s season was over. That’s a lot to play through, especially behind a porous offensive line.
Remember, Kaepernick was a star as recently as 2013, and his 2014 campaign really wasn’t all that bad in retrospect. He still has a winning record as a quarterback, a very solid 88.4 career quarterback rating, and the added threat he brings with his legs.
That’s not to say he should be handed the starting quarterback position on a silver platter—he needs to show dramatically improved short-range accuracy to succeed in Chip Kelly’s system, and should rightfully be challenged by Gabbert or whoever else is on the roster, as they seek to determine who should start in 2016. It also shouldn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of drafting a quarterback high in the 2016 draft; if Kelly and Baalke think that a Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch can anchor the franchise for years to come, they should take that opportunity.
It’s enough, though, for the 49ers to give him another chance. There’s enough talent there that Kelly might be able to tap into and revitalize what once looked like a very promising career. With the salary cap situation being what it is, the 49ers could do worse than keeping him on the roster for a year.
The other name is less controversial: SS Antoine Bethea. With the emergence of Jaquiski Tartt and Eric Reid, you could argue that Bethea is superfluous. He also was injured seven games into the 2015 season and, at age 32 when the 2016 season begins, the 49ers could move on from him.
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I wouldn’t get rid of him quite yet, though. He was a Pro Bowler in 2014 and won the team’s Bill Walsh Award, which recognizes the team’s MVP. He’s a team leader and veteran presence in what is a very young secondary, and is one of the more talented pieces the 49ers have.
His contract is getting a little out of touch with his age—his cap hit this season will be over $6 million, making him the 15th-highest paid safety in football. Again, though, the 49ers are in no real salary cap trouble, and can afford to keep a leader like that around for another year as the team rebuilds.
Next: Final Summary