49ers news: How $175 million salary cap in 2021 affects Niners

A helmet of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
A helmet of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The 49ers aren’t in the worst situation possible, but they’ll face challenges with the 2021 NFL salary cap reportedly being $175 million.

One of the San Francisco 49ers‘ better strengths in recent years has been managing its salary cap space and contract negotiations, thanks largely to the team’s resident cap/contracts expert, Paraag Marathe.

Marathe and Co. face yet another challenge, though, in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic which is expected to greatly cut into the league’s revenue in 2020 and potentially beyond. Currently, the NFL salary cap is at $198.2 million and has generally risen on a steady basis for a number of years now.

With COVID-19 on the table, it’s expected to decrease to $175 million, according to a Friday report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo.

This is going to have a notable impact on the Niners in the very near future and in a number of different ways. Currently, according to Over the Cap, San Francisco is projected to have $173,257,234 in liabilities for players in 2021. That number does not include contracts for some of the key pending free agents who could potentially walk after this upcoming season: cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Jaquiski Tartt, offensive tackle Trent Williams, cornerback K’Waun Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle, to name a few.

One caveat to note, though, is the 49ers have just over $170 million committed in 2021 to their top-51 contracts, which will be the ones that count once the league’s new year begins next March. That could account for some flexibility, but it doesn’t put the Niners completely out of the woods.

Fortunately, San Francisco isn’t in as precarious a cap situation as other teams like the Philadelphia Eagles ($275,468,370 in liabilities for 2021), New Orleans Saints ($250,615,778), Atlanta Falcons ($223,388,741) or Kansas City Chiefs ($204,176,950).

How 49ers can navigate challenging NFL salary cap for 2021

There’s no way around it, but the Niners are facing some awfully tough decisions this upcoming offseason with regards to player personnel.

Sure, some pending free agents, both currently on the team or elsewhere, could elect to sign team-friendly deals. The most noteworthy would be Kittle, who’s outstanding contract extension has probably been delayed until the team figures out what the 2021 cap would be.

Knowing that now, even a $10 million annual extension would put San Francisco well above the $175 million cap hit, and it would rule out Marathe and general manager John Lynch being able to re-sign essentially any of the other notable free agents.

Still, the 49ers could potentially restructure quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s contract, which would save nearly $12 million in 2021. Making linebacker Kwon Alexander ($6.1 million) and EDGE Dee Ford ($12.8 million) cap casualties could free up a sizable amount, too, and those numbers would be even higher with a post-June 1 cut designation.

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Yet those moves don’t change the fact Marathe and Lynch will be facing some serious challenges this offseason, especially difficult for a team already loaded with a Super Bowl-caliber roster getting into the expensive variety.