The San Francisco 49ers made multiple moves ahead of their season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon.
Obviously, the focal point has been Nick Bosa’s record-breaking contract extension. He’s now the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL after inking a five-year, $175 million deal.
However, the 49ers also restructured multiple contracts to create a ton of cap room. They now head into the first Sunday of the NFL regular season with north of $44 million in cap room, via Spotrac.com.
San Francisco restructured the contracts of offensive tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and defensive lineman Arik Armstead. The three moves saved a combined $35 million against the 2023 NFL salary cap.
Teams generally like to go into the regular season with between $6-7 million to have some flexibility. That’s the case with more than half of the NFL. But outside of the Cleveland Browns ($36.78 million) no other team has more than $15.5 million in cap room.
In short, something could very well be on the horizon as it relates to the 49ers. I’ll look at what’s next with all of this cap room below.
49ers Cap Room Could Roll Over To 2024
As of right now, San Francisco is projected to have less than $5 million in cap room for the 2024 offseason.
The 49ers could push back proverbial salary cap hell by doing more restructures at that point. Doing this again with Williams, Armstead, Kittle, Warner, Samuel and Hargrave would save an estimated $69 million. But pushing larger cap hits to later years is not a recipe for long-term success. That’s true even with the NFL’s record revenue and television contracts leading to larger salary cap totals moving forward. Rolling this $44 million into next offseason is a legitimate option.
How Nick Bosa’s Contract Plays A Role
Over the Cap has details of Bosa’s contract and year-by-year cap hits. His cap hits are $11.01 million, $14.67 million and $20.52 million over the next three seasons, respectively.
San Francisco stayed true to its MO of backloading large cap hits when signing players to contract extensions. Bosa’s cap hits in the final three years of his contract comes in at $137 million. Let that sink in for a second.
By opting not to frontload Bosa’s contract while creating a ton of cap room, something seems to be up behind the scenes in Santa Clara.
Brandon Aiyuk Contract Extension
The former first-round pick and 1,000-yard receiver is already set to count a whopping $14.1 million against the cap next season, the final year of his rookie contract.
By making Aiyuk one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers early in the 2023 season, the 49ers could even lower his 2024 cap figure. The belief is that Aiyuk will earn a new deal averaging out to the 10 highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. In this scenario, he’s looking at roughly $20 million annually. San Francisco could backload the extension to later years as a way to even out its financial planning down the road.
San Francisco 49ers Pull Off Blockbuster Trade
This is the least likely scenario. The 49ers seemingly are not in position to take on yet another huge long-term contract. Some fans have been clamoring for Carolina Panthers star edge rusher Brian Burns. In a vacuum, it makes sense. But he’s said to be demanding between $26-28 million annually.
It’s clear that the 49ers are not in position to hand a player of Burns’ ilk that type of deal given their roster construction. Even if they were, there are no signs that Carolina has Burns on the trade block.
If the 49ers do pull off an in-season deal, it will likely come closer to the Oct. 31 NFL trade deadline. It would be similar to when they acquired Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers last October.
Unlike the McCaffrey acquisition, the target would likely be a player on a short-term deal. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans comes to mind. He is set to play out his final season with Tampa Bay. The record-breaking wide receiver did not come to terms on an extension ahead of Week 1 and has made it clear he’ll be playing for another team next season.
We’ll see other names pop up in NFL trade rumors in the coming weeks as teams realize they are not playoff contenders. With their excess of cap room, the 49ers could very well be big-time players.
It also doesn’t hurt that San Francisco is projected to have 12 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft after the trade of Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys. That includes multiple picks in the third round (three), fourth round (two), fifth round (two) and sixth round (two). In short, the 49ers have an ability to add to their Super Bowl-contending roster without exhausting early round selections should the opportunity present itself.
Either way, the 49ers’ decision to clear a ton of cap room ahead of their regular-season opener was done with something in mind. What that might be remains to be seen.