SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Typically, the 49ers are not a team to break the bank in free agency.
But, for obvious reasons, 2015 has a far different feel than previous years. The retirement of Patrick Willis means San Francisco can save about $7.5 million in salary cap space, according to Overthecap.com. Justin Smith remains undecided about his future, and would save the team an additional $4.25 million if he hangs up his spikes.
In that lens, general manager Trent Baalke has more freedom than he typically does this time of year. But that doesn't mean he will break his habits and spend big in free agency. Cap space rolls over year to year, meaning money saved this season will also be available in 2016.
And if Baalke can get similar production out of a rookie on a far cheaper pay scale, he would prefer to go that route over spending significantly more on a free agent.
Let's go through the team's first day of free agency.
RB Frank Gore
Gore signed a new deal with the Indianapolis Colts, teaming up with Andrew Luck to compete for a championship under familiar face in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The 49ers saved themselves the reported $4 million they offered Gore next season. He received $8.5 million in guarantees from the Colts, according to an ESPN report.
LG Mike Iupati
The 49ers will have a new starting left guard next season after Iupati inked a lucrative new deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The three-time Pro-Bowler will get a reported five-year deal worth $40 million, with $22.5 million in guarantees. It's no surprise the 49ers weren't willing to make Iupati one of the league's highest-paid guards. Now they have Brandon Thomas, Marcus Martin, Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney competing for the center and left guard positions with Alex Boone entrenched in the right guard spot. The 49ers could address left guard in the with their first pick draft, where Iowa's Brandon Scherff is an option to compete for a starting job right away.
OLB Dan Skuta
The valuable outside linebacker of the previous two seasons will reportedly sign a five-year, $20.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch slated for starting jobs, San Francisco was unlikely to offer Skuta anything close to what he received with the Jaguars. Skuta's loss puts the focus on Ahmad Brooks, who's slated to earn $7.055 million this season. The 49ers could cut Brooks with a post-June 1 designation and save $4.7 million in cap space. Corey Lemonier will have to prove himself entering his third season, and won't prevent the 49ers from adding a pass rusher in the coming draft.
There's been very little news about Crabtree, other than the fact Torrey Smith's acquisition makes it a virtual certainty Crabtree will be elsewhere in 2015. Crabtree is likely looking for the type of money Smith received, which means he could be on the market for a while.
CB Perrish Cox
The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting Cox is unlikely to return to San Francisco after his solid 2014, when he was forced into a prominent role while Tramaine Brock missed most of the season with a toe injury. The 49ers have a need at corner, but are signaling an expanded role for second-year player Dontae Johnson, who had a good showing as a rookie.
Dockett's new deal with San Francisco will pay him $7.5 million over two seasons. He's slated to compete for a prominent role on the defensive line as key member of the group replacing Ray McDonald and, potentially, Justin Smith.
WR Jerome Simpson
WR Torrey Smith
The 49ers have a new deep threat, who is likely the marquee free agent signing of 2015. Smith, 26, is not only in his prime, but he allows the 49ers to look at other positions in the first round of the coming draft. But they are still likely to add to the position this spring with Anquan Boldin, 34, entering the final year of his contract.
CB Chris Culliver
Culliver is another player with very little buzz. The Vikings have reportedly inquired, but beyond that, things have been very quiet. Culliver isn't likely to last long with the top free agent corners off the market. Darrelle Revis will sign with the Jets, and Byron Maxwell will join the Eagles, according to multiple reports. If the 49ers lose Culliver and Cox, then Johnson and Brock would be the top candidates to start. If that were the case, cornerback would become a top need in the draft, where LSU's Jalen Collins and Michigan State's Trae Waynes make sense with the 15th pick.