The 49ers don’t have a ton of salary cap space entering the 2023 NFL Draft, but they might not need that much because of this obscure rule.
One of the challenges of being a good team with a lot of good players is those players typically wind up being more expensive than bad players.
And the more good players a team has, there isn’t going to be as much salary cap space.
That already is forcing a team like the San Franciso 49ers into some tough decisions this offseason. Already in free agency, the Niners bade farewell to players poised to cash in on bigger contracts, such as right tackle Mike McGlinchey, and they’ll face some awfully tough decisions in upcoming years, too.
For now, general manager John Lynch is worried more about the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft and which players San Francisco will select.
Typically, teams reserve approximately $8 million to $9 million in cap space to sign a rookie draft class. However, minus picks in the first two rounds, the 49ers can reserve less than that since they aren’t picking until the very end of Round 3.
So, how much money in cap space do the Niners have free?
49ers cap space before 2023 NFL Draft
According to the folks over at Over the Cap, San Francisco currently has just $2.94 million in available cap space.
That’s eighth least in the league heading into the draft this week, and it’s clearly not enough to sign the rookie draft class without going over the $224.8 million max salary cap.
However, there’s a small caveat that many fans don’t know about that will actually give the 49ers some cap relief.
Top 51 contracts count against 49ers salary cap
During the offseason, a specific league rule says that only the 51 biggest contracts actually count toward the salary cap.
Considering teams’ offseason rosters can carry 90 players, this is very much a good thing.
The Niners have 11 picks in this year’s draft, and four of them are actually in Round 7. Barring a crazy shake-up of the roster, which isn’t likely to happen, none of those seventh-round selections will make it into the top-51 cut. Therefore, those last picks won’t actually count as part of San Francisco’s offseason cap number.
Additionally, as a point of reference, quarterback Brock Purdy is set to earn $889,253 this season, but that’s not within the top 51 either.
You can see the list of the top 51 contracts here.
And that list will likely change a bit after the 2023 NFL Draft wraps up over the weekend.