While Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have spearheaded the 49ers’ terrific turnaround, Paraag Marathe is the Niners’ real MVP.
There, I said it. Well, wrote it.
Paarag Marathe, the San Francisco 49ers‘ Executive Vice President of Football Operations and chief contracts negotiator, is the organization’s real MVP. Not Jimmy. Not Kittle. Not Bosa.
Sounds crazy, right? Except if you truly analyze the structure of salary caps, the complexity of contracts, and the relatively short shelf-life of NFL Super Bowl contenders nowadays.
If you don’t know who Marathe is by name, you probably know his body of work even if you don’t realize it.
He has been the man behind the scenes for the organization for the last 20 years, currently serving as both President of 49ers Enterprises and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. At certain points in time, he was seen as simply an “analytics” guy rather than a football guy. Some have previously pointed a finger at him for what many perceive as the team’s lack of signing big-name free agents. Yet it is his expertise in manipulating numbers that has kept the Niners from falling into the salary cap hell that teams often find themselves in, especially as they ascend and acquire talented players. He has been the chief architect of negotiated and reworked contracts for some of the biggest names of current and former players, including Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Garoppolo, Arik Armstead, and Jimmie Ward.
After Kaepernick led the 49ers to consecutive NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance, he signed a then-record deal of seven years for $126 million. On the surface, it seemed like a huge contract, but a hard look at the numbers revealed a signing bonus of $12.3 million and a base salary of $645,000. Each year after the first allowed the Niners to cut Kap and not owe him a cent. With declining production, prompting some restructuring, Kaepernick eventually opted out in 2017 when it was clear the team was going to cut him.
In the Garoppolo deal (seven years, $137.5 million) it again made news as a record deal, especially since Garoppolo had just five games as the 49ers’ starter at the end of the 2017 season. And although he led the team to a 5-0 record in that span, giving him that contract with $75 million guaranteed raised some eyebrows.
Again, however, a deeper dive shows the contract is structured as a three-year contract with two option years where the team can move on from Jimmy G relatively unscathed. And in light of the Kansas City Chiefs’ record deal with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $503 million), Garoppolo seems like a bargain.
For some fans, this may not move the needle, but for many diehard Niner fans, Marathe is the secret weapon the team unleashes to combat those salary cap restraints, negotiate and manipulate the numbers to give the team as much cap flexibility as possible. And with just over $12 million left in cap space, according to Overthecap.com, his skilled contract structuring will be even more invaluable.
In short, he is the man.
Although all 32 teams at one point or another face similar salary cap restraints, Marathe will be a crucial piece of the 49er championship puzzle for the foreseeable future.
Paraag Marathe’s future challenges with 49ers
He is most assuredly up to his eyeballs in a George Kittle extension now, while also wrestling with a pandemic-impacted salary cap for next year and presumably beyond. The team also has a slew of players set to hit free agency after the season, including cornerback Richard Sherman, fullback Kyle Jusczyk, and offensive tackle Trent Williams. Peaking ahead just a bit, he also faces a potential monster contract negotiation with EDGE Nick Bosa in a few seasons. That doesn’t even mention linebacker Fred Warner or wide receiver Deebo Samuel deals that will need to get done in the near future as well.
And while we have seen some big cap casualties this offseason (defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, to name a few), Marathe’s unique and creative way of structuring deals that are mutually beneficial for team and player will more than likely keep the core of this talented roster intact and allow the team’s Super Bowl window to remain open for the next few seasons.
Every team aspires to have the sustained success the New England Patriots have had, and the Niners are no different. In fact, before the Pats’ historic run, you can argue no team had more sustained success than the Niners did with 15 straight seasons of 10-plus wins and five Super Bowl victories from 1980 through 1995. The one huge difference between these two dynasties is the Patriots did it in the salary cap era.
And that is why Marathe is so invaluable to this organization.
With the uncertainty of the salary cap implications due to the pandemic, and the sheer nature of doing business in the NFL, 49er fans will likely witness other talented players leave in free agency or by trade, but there is one certainty you can hang your hat on, and that is Paraag Marathe did everything within his power to find unique and creative ways of keeping them.