In the past few weeks the San Francisco 49ers have extended the contracts of Vance McDonald and Ray-Ray Armstrong and given GM Trent Baalke’s recent comments to the Bay Area media the team could also be looking to extending others as well. This has raised the eyebrows of many given that by all accounts Trent Baalke will be fired at the end of the season and they will be in the market for a new General Manager. Conventional wisdom says that it should be the responsibility of that new GM to decide who should receive contract extensions. So it begs the question, are these contract extensions a problem for the 49ers going forward?
In one form or another the 49ers could have up to 29 free agents this upcoming offseason, that number would have been 31 had they not extended McDonald and Armstrong. As it stands the 49ers have only 44 players signed beyond this season, which includes Colin Kaepernick, who has the ability to opt out of his deal and become a free agent. That is less than half of the number of players that teams go into training camp with. Meaning that the next GM of this team will have to add 46 new players this offseason so that they can get up to the standard 90 man offseason roster threshold. A significant portion of those spots will be filled in the draft and free agency. As I have outlined in previous articles, the team will have up to 11 draft picks and anywhere from 80-100 million dollars in cap space. With that being said only so many of those positions can be filled through external means, the new GM will need to have a larger base of players to work with initially as they settle into their new role.
The next GM of this team will have to hit the ground in terms of running this team, in a short period of time they will likely have to assess Chip Kelly’s status with the team, build their staff, assess those under contract, attend the different scouting events through the country, have to begin to formalize the team’s draft board and free agency plans. That's a lot of work to be done in just a few months of time and only so many hands to help. That's not to mention what would need to happen if that new GM or the organization moved on from Chip Kelly and needed to begin the search for a new Head Coach & their staff. Now while much of the hard work will be left to the new GM and his staff it is up the organization right now to try to elevate some of these issues such as the amount of players currently under contract and the health of the team’s salary cap..
Seemingly the only individual not named John or Denise York that is assured of returning in the same position is the team’s resident capologist and contract negotiator Paarag Marathe. Although many believe that he has been striped of the power he once held in the organization, largely due to his own failings he is still in charge of the team’s salary cap. His responsibilities include assessing the value of a player and structuring the contracts of any player with the team. Under his control the 49ers have become one of the most progressive and forward thinking organizations in terms structuring contracts and mitigating risk for the team. Regardless of what people may think of his personal or professional antics no one can deny that Marathe has ensured that the 49ers organization will remain in a very healthy cap situation for the foreseeable future.
The reaction to the news of the Vance McDonald contract extension early on was very negative, many saw the initial figures of 5 years for 35 million with 16 million guaranteed as ludicrous and a further sign of the 49ers’ ineptitude. Those feelings subsided when the true figures of the contract came out and what was initially a 5 year, 35 million deal evolved to be 3 years for 19.65 million dollars with only 9.1 million guaranteed. The final 2 years of the deal are team option years at 5.5 million per year. The deal makes Vance McDonald the 16th highest paid TE in the NFL, a far stretch from what many believed to be one of the largest contracts ever given to a TE.
At the moment the contract figures for Ray-Ray Armstrong’s extension are not yet known but are expected to fall in line with his standing with the team and in the league. Before the extension was finalized NaVorro Bowman was set to be the only ILB on the roster was a deal beyond the 2016 season. It just would not have made any sense to be that barren at a position of significant importance to the organization going into an offseason. Given his performance during the offseason and the first 2 games of the season and how the rest of the ILBs have performed the majority of the year Armstrong made himself a valuable commodity to be the team. Someone that they needed to keep with the team in large part because of his versatility and skillset.
It is a pretty well known reality that in the NFL players rarely see the full length of their contract and unless a team has completely mismanaged the situation they are able to shed themselves of any contract they no longer deem necessary. The next GM of this team will definitely be aware of this reality and know that due to the contract management skills of Paraag Marathe and his team they can void virtually any contract without much financial strain to the organization. They also know that the true value of the extensions given to McDonald and Armstrong are only a small fraction of the cap space that they will have available to them.
For a team that has as many question marks as the 49ers currently have it paramount that the organization begin to address some of these issues before they hand the reigns of the team to a new GM this offseason. While that sounds counter intuitive the ability of this organization to structure “team friendly” contracts and having a larger base of players for a new GM to work with are not a problem but a benefit and an opportunity to address other issues with the team.