Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan explain the reason behind so many one-year contracts

Mar 30, 2021 at 6:44 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers have signed or re-signed 22 players to one-year deals so far this offseason. They entered the offseason with nearly 40 scheduled free agents and brought back many of the team's priorities, including long-term deals for offensive tackle Trent Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Others, like defensive backs Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, and Jaquiski Tartt, returned on one-year contracts.

That means, as of right now, the 49ers have 25 players scheduled to become free agents next year, with 29 more scheduled to become restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents. Like the defensive backs mentioned above, many of them are hoping for a bigger payday in 2022.

It was a unique free agency market this year. The drop in the salary cap left many veteran players sitting and waiting while younger players were snatched up early. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman still awaits a new NFL home.

The initial thought was that there might be significantly more long-term deals, as teams created contracts that would have lower cap hits for the upcoming season but make up for that in later years. It's what we saw with the multi-year deals for Williams and Juszczyk. For many, that didn't happen.

"With the salary cap changing like it did with COVID, we had a four-year, five-year plan," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters during his Monday press conference with general manager John Lynch. "You're going through all that, and when it got adjusted that drastically, there was a lot of guys that we felt were a part of this family that we weren't able to show them that love because we didn't know how the salary cap was going to work out. I think that was the hardest thing for us because we wanted to keep those guys. You always want to keep your homegrown guys, that's what I say."

One of those lost homegrown players was wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, whom the 49ers had hoped to re-sign. The salary-cap situation and the higher-than-expected price tag on younger players like Bourne prevented that, and the receiver signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots.

"Losing guys like Bourne was tough, but happy for him," Shanahan added. "I mean, he got paid, so it was great for him, but when it all came back, and we were able to keep some of our own guys, it was unfortunate. I felt bad for a lot of those guys, just because of how this all panned out this year with the salary cap hurting a lot of people."

Some of those who didn't see the demand they had hoped for in free agency opted to return to a familiar environment, hoping to prove their worth once again and enter what should be an improved market next year. It could be a win-win for players and the team.

"There were a lot of great surprises, to be honest with. A guy like D.J. Jones, we never thought we'd have an opportunity to bring him back. Those decisions that you make are gut-wrenching in terms of prioritizing because we like them all, you know, but you have to say, 'OK, we're going to try to get these guys done. These guys might out-price themselves for what we can do.'

"Unfortunately for those guys, this was a weird year where the cap came down drastically, and there were a lot of players left out there. And the hard thing is when players have performed, and then that market's not there. What we try to do is say, 'Hey, look, if it's a one-year deal, we know you, you know us. This is a great place for you to go show your value so that next year you can go do this again, and maybe at that point we can be a part of it.'"

That strategy probably sounded appealing to the free agents who are looking to use the upcoming season to cash in next year. And maybe the salary-cap situation will be better in a year, and San Francisco will be better equipped to reward its homegrown players.

"We're very fortunate that a lot of those guys, K'Waun, D.J., Tartt, even like Dontae Johnson, I mean, those guys came back to us," Lynch added. "Jason Verrett, Jason's situation was different (due to his injury history), but all those guys are important to us."

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