49ers must be sellers at 2021 NFL trade deadline
By Peter Panacy
While a 2-3 record doesn’t suggest the 2021 49ers are completely tanked, the context does suggest it would be better to be sellers at the NFL trade deadline.
It’s important to note the NFL is nothing like MLB or the NHL when it comes to the trade market, particularly those midseason moves leading up to the deadline. In other sports, the bad teams try selling off players via a trade in return for assets, such as draft picks or prospects.
Pro football doesn’t quite work that way, but there are some exceptions. Leading up to the NFL trade deadline, playoff-hopeful teams frequently ship off draft picks to acquire players to support areas of need. But only rarely do the blockbuster deals take place, and very few players are moved as “rentals” before a contract expires at the end of the season.
For the San Francisco 49ers, 2-3 after five weeks of action and in need of a Week 6 bye to regroup after falling to last place in the NFC West, a run to the playoffs is still very much in play.
Yet there are a few factors working against general manager John Lynch when it comes to seeking action on the market ahead of November’s NFL trade deadline.
If anything, the Niners should be sellers in 2021, not buyers.
49ers can clear cap space by moving assets
The ideal scenario of any trade is sending off something of excess in return for something of need.
According to Over the Cap, San Francisco is projected to have just under $14 million in available cap space in 2022. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who could easily be part of trade talks between now and November, is scheduled to command $27 million of the 49ers’ total salary next season. Right there, it’s not hard to do some basic math to see how the cap space can increase dramatically.
Right now, the 49ers have 25 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2022, seven of whom are starters, and there are four restricted free agents in the mix, too.
Some of those names are injured, and other teams rarely offer up trade packages for rental players with expiring contracts. But names like safety Jaquiski Tartt or defensive tackle D.J. Jones have value, and their potential departures open up the door for the Niners to exploit their depth at both positions.
Whatever money saved carries over into 2022, too.
49ers don’t have NFL Draft capital to be aggressive at NFL trade deadline anyway
San Francisco shipped off two future first-round picks, plus a 2022 third-rounder, to move up and grab Garoppolo’s heir apparent, quarterback Trey Lance, in this year’s NFL Draft. The 49ers are still projected to have seven total picks next year, but four of them are on day three and none are in Round 1.
While Garoppolo’s contract is the proverbial “elephant in the room,” the sheer number of unrestricted free agents Lynch and Co. will have to replace can’t entirely be addressed in free agency next year.
No, the Niners will need to stockpile some additional draft capital.
Recent years, 2021 included (see cornerback Deommodore Lenoir in Round 5 and running back Elijah Mitchell in Round 6), have produced quality day-three options via the draft, and even landing some back-end picks could do measures for San Francisco.
Instead of looking for players to add at the deadline, the 49ers could explore shipping off some assets in exchange for some of those late-round picks, even if such trades wouldn’t generate a ton of attention on the news wire, a would-be Garoppolo deal not included.
The 2021 NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET.