Earlier in the week, it was speculated that the San Francisco 49ers might look to restructure the contract of Stevie Johnson or even release the wide receiver in order to create more room under the salary cap. The final numbers for the salary cap have not been announce, but it is estimated that it would be set at about $143 million for each team, which much higher than the amount estimated back in December.
Earlier today, NBC anchor Dianna Marie Russini reported that, per sources, the 49ers plan to release wide receiver Stevie Johnson in a salary cap saving move. That roster move would create an extra $6.025 million with no dead money in extra cap room.
Then NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the team actually wants Johnson to take a pay cut. The threat of a release may simply be a notice to Johnson and his agent to take a pay cut or be gone. Reports state that the team had not yet approached either about a possible pay cut.
Johnson, who was acquired via a trade prior to the NFL Draft in 2014, could be released immediately since there is no impact whether he is let go now or post-June 1. The amount in savings would be the same. He is due to make $5.5 million in base salary plus another $525,000 in bonuses and the team had hoped to get that number down after trading for him in 2014.
While it would be nice to retain a player of Johnson's caliber and it sounds like the team is still hoping to do so, his release alone would clear up the required money to sign any rookies drafted at the end of April. The team needs to have at least $5.1 million in cap space to account for the projected draft pick compensation.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson was targeted 49 times in 2014. He had 35 receptions for 435 yards and three touchdowns. That's a 102.0 passer rating on throws in his direction.
Despite being in contact with his agent, the 49ers are likely to lose wide receiver Michael Crabtree to free agency. Brandon Lloyd is also a free agent. The loss of Crabtree, Johnson and Lloyd would create a very pressing need at receiver. One that will likely be addressed in the draft.
Another move that the 49ers could look to make would be reducing the cap impact of linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis is scheduled to make just over $7 million in base salary with a $8.3 million cap hit. Much of that could be converted to a signing bonus which would create a lot more cap room.
Willis missed much of last season after opting for season ending surgery on his toe.
It would not make sense to release linebacker Ahmad Brooks, which the team is expected to do, prior to June 1 because the team would save more by waiting until that date. They could release him before then and simply designate him as a June 1 cut, but his salary would still stay on the books until that date.
The team could also look to convert the majority of quarterback Colin Kaepernick's $10.4 million base salary into a signing bonus, saving even more money against the cap.
With these moves and possibly others, the 49ers could be in a very healthy position to make some acquisitions in free agency and solidify their financial needs for the NFL Draft.