Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Some Key Players Could Be Playing Final Season With 49ers In 2020

Levin T. Black
Aug 14, 2020 at 9:53 AM


The San Francisco 49ers have shelled out some big money extensions in recent months. While the team has secured many of its most valuable players, some who play vital roles will have to find another team to play for following the season.

News broke on Thursday that the 49ers had agreed to a five-year extension with All-Pro tight end George Kittle. The deal, which has an average annual value (AAV) of $15 million, is the third large contract given to a veteran player on the team in 2020. Safety Jimmy Ward was re-signed earlier this year to a three-year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million and defensive lineman Arik Armstead was signed to a five-year deal with an AAV of $17 million.

The team simply can't afford everyone, especially with the salary cap likely dropping next year. The details have not emerged for Kittle's contract as of the writing of this article but the contract should take the 49ers' cap number for 2021 above $180 million. Currently, the salary cap is set to be $175 million but could increase if more than expected revenue is brought in by the NFL in 2020.

Whatever the exact salary cap ends up being next season, the front office and coaching staff will have to make some tough decisions next offseason. Below is a look at the players who could be deemed too expensive to stay with the team.

K Robbie Gould


Robbie Gould has the second highest AAV ($4.75 million) contract in the NFL for a kicker. The 49ers seemingly value kicking highly considering they used the franchise tag on Gould prior to him signing his current contract. Games can be won or lost on a single kick. However, when up against the pinch of the cap, special teams is often the first spot looked at.

The 49ers likely saw the pinch coming when they negotiated Gould's contract. The 2021 and 2022 seasons are option years that the 49ers have until the final week of this season to pick up. They could save $5.25 million in 2021 by not exercising the option.

Only 18 NFL kickers have an AAV over $1 million. While Gould remains one of the top kickers in the NFL, the 49ers could save substantial money by exploring other options. Even veteran options would save the 49ers money. Dan Bailey made 27 of 29 field goals last season and has an AAV of just $3.33 million, for example.

Or, to the delight of fans, the 49ers could spend a mid-round draft pick on a kicker similar to what they did in the 2019 draft when they took punter Mitch Wishnowsky in the fourth round.

DE Dee Ford and LB Kwon Alexander


Two veterans have been mentioned by many as potential cap casualties following the 2020 season. The reason is obvious. Dee Ford has the second highest AAV on the team at $17 million but played fewer than 22 percent of the defense snaps (226 total) for the 49ers in 2019.

Meanwhile, Kwon Alexander has an AAV of $13.5 million, fourth highest on the team, and played in just eight games last season due injury. While hurt, rookie Dre Greenlaw filled in admirably. Greenlaw will be entering is third season in 2021 and will likely be ready for a starting role.

One or both could be traded or cut and save the team substantial cap money despite both players being Pro Bowl caliber when healthy.

The Cornerbacks


The 49ers top four cornerbacks are all set for free agency after the season. Emmanuel Moseley is all but guaranteed to return as a restricted free agent but Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Akhello Witherspoon could all be too expensive.

Chances are at least one is resigned but which one? Sherman made another Pro Bowl in 2019 and while he's not as fast as he used to be, his technique and ability to recognize routes allow him to remain one of the best players at his position. Due to age, he likely won't get as big of a deal as last time but he won't be cheap either.

Witherspoon is set to not start in 2020 and could be kept on the cheap to have a veteran around to compete against the new guys brought in next year.

Williams is the toughest to predict. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him the seventh best CB in the NFL last year and he is without a doubt one of the best slot CBs in the NFL. How much will a team pay for a slot CB though? It's a role that has become much more valuable in recent seasons but is still considered the third CB spot on a team. If another team offers him starter money, the 49ers could look for a cheaper option.

FB Kyle Juszczyk


Surprised? Don't be. As good as Kyle Juszczyk (Juice) is and as valuable as he is for the 49ers, he remains a fullback. Paying your FB substantially more than any other player at that position is something you do when you are a losing team, with cap space to spare and need some free agents to start winning. It's not something any team has done when up against the cap like the 49ers will be in 2021.

Juice no doubt gives 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan options in the passing game that no other FB does. He is easily the best receiver at the position. Having that seems more a luxury than a necessity, though.

There is a reason for optimism, however. As stated above, other teams don't pay big money to FBs and nearly every team will be looking to save cap space in 2021 if the salary cap indeed ends up lower. Juice probably won't be offered a higher AAV than the current second highest FB contract ($3.25 million, Derek Watt).

Juice may also value giving the team a discount because he'll actually be utilized in the passing game.

SS Jaquiski Tartt


Last month, the 49ers were reportedly pursuing strong safety Jamal Adams in a trade. It wasn't necessarily because the team doesn't think current SS Jaquiski Tartt is a quality player.

Adams is an All-Pro level talent who ultimately agreed to remain on his rookie contract following a trade to the Seattle Seahawks while Tartt is a slightly above average starter due for free agency.

Tartt, the 49th rated safety in 2019 by PFF, is likely to get offers in the $6-10 million AAV range depending on if he can return to his 2017 level of play when PFF rated him the 16th best safety.

The 49ers could replace Tartt in a number of ways. They could use an early round draft pick, Tarvarius Moore could develop enough to be trusted as a starter at free safety while Ward plays SS, Sherman could be re-signed and moved to safety or a free agent who is cheaper and/or better brought in.

Tartt will be 29 years old when he hits free agency and will likely look to maximize any contract as it will, in all likelihood, be the last opportunity for him to get a big, multi-year contract.

DT D.J. Jones


Defensive tackle has become a position teams are willing to spend money on. Being able to get pressure up the middle is imperative in today's pass happy NFL.

D.J. Jones had a breakout season in 2019. He was rated 52nd best DT by PFF and showed off the ability to blow up plays with the speed needed to chase down opposing quarterbacks and running backs.

Assuming Jones has another season during which he plays at starter level, the 49ers won't be able to pay him with Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead already on the team. At this point, it seems very likely another team will offer Jones starter money. Of all the players listed in this article, Jones is the clear choice for most likely to be on another team come 2021.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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