Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers


What a new contract for 49ers LB Fred Warner might look like

Jul 6, 2021 at 12:45 PM--


With training camp just weeks away, the next task at hand for the 49ers is a potential Fred Warner extension

Warner, a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been the heart of the 49ers defense since his rookie season, during which he started all 16 games.

Being a one-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro selection, Warner is certainly primed for a potential record-setting extension, and it would be smart for the 49ers to lock up their star linebacker sooner than later.

During his media availability, head coach Kyle Shanahan himself expressed the sentiment to get a deal done soon.

"I want to get it done, personally," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said earlier this offseason. "I kind of feel like I'd say the same about him as I did about Kittle when we were talking about it. I just see that kind of as a matter of time. I know he's not going into his free agent year or anything like that, so that's why it's not always on my mind. But, Fred's a guy that I plan on being here forever and who has earned that. I'd be surprised if that doesn't start sooner than later."

For fans eager to hear about an extension, don't worry. At least not yet.

Warner would certainly like to reach a deal prior to training camp as well, and the 49ers should try to do the same.

First, let's look at the current market value for the top-rated players at the position.

Looking at other linebackers, Bobby Wagner currently holds the highest annual average pay for a linebacker at $18 million, as part of his three-year, $54 million extension in 2019.

However, C.J. Mosley currently holds the highest guaranteed money for a linebacker as he got $43 million guaranteed as part of his huge five-year, $85 million deal with the Jets in the 2019 offseason.

With Warner being as talented as he is, both of these numbers will be benchmarks in his negotiations for a new contract.

Not only are the numbers important, but Warner has some competition this offseason in Darius Leonard.

Leonard, a second-round pick in Warner's class, is also looking to get paid this offseason, and it seems like whoever's deal gets done second will get more money.

With Warner's willingness to get a deal done, let's look at the potential numbers of a Warner extension.

At the moment, the 49ers only have around $4.5 million in cap space, per David Lombardi, which is certainly not enough to shoulder Warner's cap hit with a looming extension this offseason.


The Corresponding Moves


With that said, at least one corresponding roster move, likely a restructure or a separate extension, before a Warner extension can happen.

The two likeliest candidates are Arik Armstead or Laken Tomlinson. Armstead is in the midst of his five-year, $85 million deal, and while he may be overpaid for the production he put up last year, he is a piece likely to stay for the foreseeable future.

Restructuring Armstead by converting part of his base salary into a signing bonus and spreading the cap hit over multiple years should clear up the necessary cap space to extend Warner.

However, that move will increase the burden over the following years, which could hinder the contract extension of Nick Bosa next offseason. Still, with the impending TV deal in a few years that should increase the salary cap, the 49ers can risk backloading money.

Another option could be to extend guard Laken Tomlinson, who has been a stable piece on the offensive line.

Tomlinson, who turned 29 in February, is still fairly young and could receive a shorter relative deal to stay in San Francisco longer.

However, with rookie Jaylon Moore and guard Daniel Brunskill along with young pieces in Shon Coleman and Colton McKivitz, the 49ers may prefer to ride with their younger pieces to fill in gaps along the offensive line rather than tie up more money to the position.

The unlikeliest option would be to restructure Jimmy Garoppolo to clear up some of his $27 million cap hit, but that would significantly hinder the team's financial flexibility next offseason, especially after restructuring the contract of oft-injured defensive end Dee Ford.

The Contract


Once the 49ers decide on a move to increase their cap space, the focus will go towards Fred Warner's contract.

Warner will likely look to top the market in annual average value and even potentially with the amount of guaranteed money.

Keeping the earlier benchmarks in mind, a potential contract could look like a four-year deal worth $76 million with around $42 million guaranteed, topping Wagner's $18 million average per year and nearing Mosley's $43 million guaranteed, despite holding one less year on the extension.

If the two sides prefer a five-year deal, a potential deal could look like a five-year deal worth $92–95 million, with $50–52 guaranteed, topping Wagner's $18 million average per year and Mosley's $43 million guaranteed.

Looking at the particulars, Warner's signing bonus should be high to keep his cap hit around $7–8 million this year, so that the team can keep some cap space for potential midseason additions and to sign their rookie class.

Warner currently has a cap hit of $3.6 million, so creating around $7.5-10 million in cap space would allow for Warner's cap hit to increase with the extension, and have the additional space.

Look for a signing bonus around $25-30 million, which would be exorbitantly high for a linebacker, but helps the 49ers with their cap space issues. That way, with a backloaded contract, Warner's later years could be absorbed by the increase in salary cap.

While I personally am not a fan of backloaded contracts, it is the best way for the 49ers to remain competitive with one of their key pieces on the roster.

In a Warner deal, the cap hit for both 2021 and 2022 should be primarily low, in part because of the Bosa extension next year, and would likely rise by a modest margin in the years after.

With a projection of a $25-30 million signing bonus, the 2021 and 2022 cap hits can be lowered while most of the cost would come during the final years of the deal.

49ers Executive Vice President of Football Operations Paraag Marathe has negotiated and structured a good number of deals this offseason, most notably Trent Williams' deal, and should be able to maneuver the cap hits with his creative mind.

I believe a five-year deal is the likeliest scenario to spread the cap hit over an extra season and give the 49ers some salary cap flexibility.

However, in order to get the most out of a Warner deal and to save a few million dollars, the 49ers should sign him before the Colts get to Darius Leonard, which would require San Francisco to move with some urgency.

With both sides remaining optimistic about a deal sooner than later, be on the lookout for a Fred Warner extension sometime in the near future.





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