Difficult decisions 49ers must make due to salary cap issues

Jimmie Ward #1 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Jimmie Ward #1 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /
1 of 4

The 49ers aren’t in salary cap hell, per se, but they are faced with some awfully tough choices when it comes to navigating the 2023 offseason.

One of the problems associated with being a good team is that there are plenty of good players on that team’s roster.

And good players usually want to be paid accordingly.

The San Francisco 49ers, who have been no worse than a final-four team in three of the last four seasons, have a lot of good players. Tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey are all Pro Bowl-caliber players who either have been or still are within the top five of their respective positions, in terms of contractual money.

Tack on what’ll likely be a massive extension for EDGE Nick Bosa, one that’ll likely make the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL, one can see how general manager John Lynch and Co. will have to take some time balancing the coffers and lining up the proper bank accounts heading into 2023.

According to Over the Cap, the Niners have only $8.06 million in available cap space heading toward the league new year. It’s not awful (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently $55 million over the cap), but it doesn’t make San Francisco a realistic competitor on the free-agent market.

Especially with teams typically reserving at least $6 million or $7 million to sign a rookie NFL Draft class.

While the 49ers will expect a hefty amount of dead money to come off the books in 2024 (OTC currently projects them at $52 million under the cap), Lynch and his staff are going to be faced with some awfully tough roster decisions this offseason.

Particularly these ones.

Note: All salary cap and contractual figures, courtesy of Over the Cap unless otherwise indicated.

49ers tough decision No. 1: Re-sign safety Jimmie Ward

Few players have been as vital to the Niners’ defensive resurgence the last few years as safety Jimmie Ward, the team’s longest-tenured player.

Ward, 32 years old, probably won’t take that much of a hometown discount at this stage of his career, especially if he’s lined up to earn what could be his final substantial payout a year after landing on the NFL Top 100 list.

Granted, his versatility makes for a unique commodity, and Ward adopted a key leadership role in the last two years.

That said, Ward might be looking at a contract that’d pay him close to $8 million a year, and it’s possible he’s already priced himself out of San Francisco’s comfort range.

Currently, though, the 49ers’ only safety under contract in 2023 with any legitimate starting experience is Talanoa Hufanga.