How 49ers created over $14 million in salary cap space for 2024

The Niners have been wizards at engineering cap space each year, but will those efforts eventually come back to haunt them?

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The 49ers were projected to be significantly over the 2024 NFL salary cap but managed to free up more than $14 million by a series of moves.

In the final weeks counting down to the start of the 2024 NFL new year, general manager John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers were hovering just above the $255.4 million salary cap.

A substantial increase in cap space from 2023 certainly helped, but it didn't change the fact that the Niners boast plenty of top-dollar contracts for high-profile players; the result of boasting a veteran team with nothing short of Super Bowl aspirations.

Yet San Francisco has made a yearly habit of generating more cap space each offseason by way of extensions, restructures and even cap casualties. From a few million over the cap, then to just a few hundred thousand over, the 49ers currently sit at $14.7 million under the cap, according to the contracts-tracking website, Over the Cap.

Of note, only the top 51 contracts count at this time of the year, meaning plenty of bottom-level contracts won't factor into cap space.

How did the Niners get here?

What did the 49ers do to create more NFL salary cap space in 2024?

There are two key roster transactions that helped San Francisco create more cap space, releasing cornerback Isaiah Oliver, which generated $2.4 million in space the 49ers could use right away, and the surprise release of defensive tackle and team captain Arik Armstead.

In Armstead's case, a post-June 1 designation will free up $18 million more in space at that date. While the Niners can't use that money now, it will help Lynch and Co. sign the team's 2024 NFL Draft class, particularly the early picks.

But those two deals, paired with the many free-agent departures San Francisco lost, wasn't going to be enough to onboard the new free-agent class that recently onboarded. There were other moves the 49ers needed to engineer to free up space needed now.

A favorite strategy by the Niners is to restructure player contracts, and linebacker Fred Warner, tight end George Kittle and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave were among those whose deals were restructured:

"We always look at the cap for three years out,” Lynch said last season, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “Obviously, we have all that room this year. But really it’s to create room for future years because we roll everything over. It helps us in future years because it creates some room we’re going to need.”

While this is ideal now, are there potential issues that San Francisco is merely putting off until later?

What risks do 49ers have by restructuring contracts?

Moves like these reinforce the notion that the 49ers are in it to win a Super Bowl now, spreading out the cap hits into future seasons, often by creating void years on the back end of deals.

It'll also be a bigger challenge to address once quarterback Brock Purdy becomes eligible for what'll be a massive contract extension, and that will cut into the Niners' cap space in 2025 and beyond by a significant amount.

One thing San Francisco is banking on is the steady rise of the salary cap on a year-to-year basis, a trend that saw a rare anomaly in 2020 when the cap fell because of the pandemic. Those offset cap hits for restructured player deals won't be as substantial in two or three years if the cap continues to rise.

According to OTC's estimate, it'll be $260 million in 2025 and $284 million in 2026.

Delaying player payouts may not be anywhere near as substantial at that point in the future, allowing the 49ers to take advantage now.

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