The San Francisco 49ers face some difficult decisions in NFL free agency in 2020, but deciding on futures for restricted free agents Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne will be challenging.
Top names among the list of pending San Francisco 49ers free agents in 2020 include defensive end Arik Armstead, defensive back Jimmie Ward and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who are set to hit the open market when the league new year begins on March 18.
Granted, Bourne and Breida are unlike the aforementioned names, as the latter two are restricted free agents, thereby capable of receiving qualifying offers from San Francisco and can only be signed away from the team if the Niners refuse to match an outside offer, which would command NFL Draft compensation, depending on the level, in the process.
You can read more on restricted NFL free agency here, yet the nature of dishing out draft capital is a prime reason why RFAs rarely move between teams.
Both Bourne and Breida were undrafted free-agent signees back in 2017. And despite the low investment San Francisco made for the two, each has managed to carve out a significant role within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Breida accumulated over 800 rush yards in 2018 and finished with an average of 5.3 yards per carry that season, which was good for fourth best among qualifiers.
Yet Breida appeared to fall out of favor in Shanahan’s running back rotation late in 2019, seeing just 14 rush attempts over the team’s final four regular-season games, all the while watching fellow runners Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman shoulder the bulk of the load on the ground.
NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco broke down what could happen regarding the 49ers and Breida’s future:
"The low tender is $2.144 million for one year. If another team signs him to an offer sheet and the 49ers decline to match, they would receive no compensation. The only way the 49ers would receive compensation is if they extend a qualifying offer of $3.278 million (second-round pick) or $4.667 million (first-round pick)."
Maiocco concluded the $2.144 million on the low-level tender would be far too much for the cap-stressed Niners to handle, particularly considering Breida wasn’t a major part of Shanahan’s offense down the stretch and through the playoffs.
Bourne, meanwhile, figures to be much higher on San Francisco’s offseason priority list.
Shanahan employed a trio of wide receivers late in the season: Bourne, Sanders and the rookie, Deebo Samuel, essentially leaving out the remaining names on the depth chart. With Sanders poised to hit free agency, re-signing Bourne becomes a bigger concern. After all, Bourne has emerged as a legitimate 49ers red-zone weapon the last two years.
Maiocco also offered up his thoughts on this particular situation:
"The 49ers could extend the low tender of $2.144 million. But if another team signs Bourne to an offer sheet and the 49ers decline to match, the 49ers would receive no compensation. With a tender of $3.278 million, the 49ers would protect themselves with second-round compensation.There is no legitimate reason to let him get away. The only scenario would be if the 49ers take the gamble of giving him the low tender and another team swoops in to offer him a multi-year contract the 49ers are not willing to match."
Based off the above analysis, it seems likely the 49ers let Breida hit the open market this offseason, instead choosing to retain Bourne and hoping the same efficiency can be generated out of the remaining on-roster running backs.
Wide receiver, however, is far more pressing a shortage and would seem to command much more attention, surely far beyond merely re-signing Bourne.
Either way, the Niners face some tough decisions with these two, and there’s a good chance one of them will be playing elsewhere in 2020.