The "Spring of Restructure" might not be as catchy as the "Summer of Love," but it could be what the San Francisco 49ers are looking at following next season.
It's very early still, but after signing Colin Kaepernick to a new contract extension and electing to pick up Aldon Smith's fifth-year option for 2015, the 49ers will have a number of difficult financial decisions to make in the spring of 2015.
According to overthecap.com, San Francisco has over $141 million committed to 2015's salary cap. And that's without new deals for players like Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Chris Culliver, whose contracts are all up following the coming season.
The salary cap jumped from roughly $123 million in 2013 to $133 million for 2014. With revenues and TV money continuing to increase, another $10-million jump (or more) for 2015 seems likely. But as it stands, the 49ers would potentially be right up against that number with another draft class to sign.
Friend of the site Matt Maiocco recently obtained official documents detailing Kaepernick's new contract, which essentially reads like a collection of six one-year deals. Each season the 49ers can fully guarantee Kaepernick's salary for the next league year each April 1. Otherwise his salaries are only guaranteed for injury.
With Kaepernick's signing bonus just a modest $12.328 million pro rated over the next five seasons, it has minimal impact on his cap numbers going forward.
Here's what Kaepernick will make in each year of his deal against the cap according to Maiocco's documents:
It's my understanding that because there was such a small signing bonus, the 49ers should have flexibility going forward with the deal, allowing them to renegotiate and push cap figures back by converting some of those base salaries to signing bonuses, which can get prorated in future years of the contract to make room for other players.
In simpler terms, it looks like San Francisco could manipulate the deal to make his cap hit smaller in the short term while pushing monies further back into the contract. Or they could do the same thing by extending his deal beyond 2020 and find new ways to spread the money thinner over the duration of the extension.
All that is speculation at this point and a conversation for a later date. But for now Kaepernick's deal is an example of the myriad of financial decisions San Francisco has on its plate next spring. Because his deal is the most lucrative on the team, he'll be the leading candidate for any potential renegotiation each spring, much like Tom Brady has been with the New England Patriots in recent seasons.
If the 49ers want to bring back Crabtree, Iupati and/or Culliver beyond the coming league year, they are going to have to do some serious maneuvering, renegotiating and/or cutting. They have 12 players slated to make more than $5 million against the salary cap in 2015, meaning some key veterans will either have to renegotiate (like NaVorro Bowman did this offseason to help the team sign its 12 draft picks) or find a new team.
This is why the team elected to use 12 draft picks this year at positions where there might not have been much need initially.
San Francisco addressed the positions of all those pending free agents this offseason. The 49ers added veteran wideout Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Bills - who is signed through 2016 - and Bruce Ellington in the fourth round of the draft. They drafted interior linemen Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas, while also bringing in Jonathan Martin, who could potentially play guard after coming into the league as a tackle with the Dolphins. All could be candidates to replace Iupati (and/or Boone eventually) if he hits the open market next spring and gets a similar deal to guard Carl Nicks' five-year $47.5 million deal he signed with Tampa Bay in 2012.
San Francisco brought in four new corners this offseason that could potentially replace Culliver: free agent Chris Cook, draftees Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker. They also have the 2015 draft to work with.
Again, it's June, which means it's far too early to make any concrete assumptions about the team's salary structure for 2015. But with so much money already allocated and a number of key players becoming free agents, the team's financial future will be an interesting backdrop to the coming season.
However, one thing is concrete: the 49ers are all in for 2014.
LINK: Overthecap.com's 2015 salary cap projection.
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