While some other NFL organizations routinely go outside to acquire a high-priced player who immediately becomes a top-paid player on the team, the 49ers have a different approach.
General manager Trent Baalke and president Paraag Marathe believe in rewarding players who have proven themselves with the 49ers.
Baalke takes a lot of factors into consideration, including how a player would fit into their team’s offensive or defensive system, as well as how a player’s personality would fit into the locker room.
And as the 49ers’ chief negotiator and salary-cap guru, Marathe is entrusted with the duty of making the pieces fit financially. It’s his job to figure out how a player’s contract into the organization’s salary-cap structure -- both short term and long term.
The 49ers will likely look for veteran help at cornerback and wide receiver. And their history suggests it's highly unlikely they will be aggressive when free agency begins on March 11 and raise any offer to compete for any player on the free-agent market.
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The top cornerbacks available are Miami’s Brent Grimes and Indianapolis’ Vontae Davis (Vernon’s brother). There’s talk that Miami could place the franchise tag on Grimes. And if he’s in that conversation, that would appear to price him out of the 49ers’ market. Davis had a good season, and he’s only 26 years old. He should cash in with a big deal, too.
Ultimately, the 49ers could look for a player who slips through the cracks a little bit. That player could be their own free agent, Tarell Brown. The 49ers handed Brown $300,000 late in the season as a good-will gesture after he unknowingly forfeited a $2 million escalator by not participating in the team’s offseason program. In any event, the 49ers can be expected to invest in a cornerback in the draft, too.
At wide receiver, their 49ers’ first priority will be to bring back Anquan Boldin at a price that works for both sides. If the 49ers re-sign Boldin, then they certainly will not pay big money to add a veteran wide receiver who will have no chance to unseat Boldin or Michael Crabtree for a starting job. The 49ers can bring in a speed receiver at a reasonable price in free agency. And they could add another receiver in the draft to compete with Quinton Patton.
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If the 49ers are able to upgrade at wide receiver, it could lead to a subtle shift in the offensive philosophy to incorporate more three-receiver personnel groups in 2014.
The 49ers have enough cap room to make roster moves. Certainly, some players -- such as cornerback Carlos Rogers -- are not expected to return at their scheduled salaries. The 49ers will try to avoid restructuring contracts to create additional cap space because of the impact that could have on future seasons.
So when you think about the 49ers adding a player in free agency, it’s wise to keep the 49ers’ current pay structure in mind. Here’s a look at the 49ers players who are scheduled to earn $1 million or more in 2014:
2014 cash value (2014 cap number)
CB Carlos Rogers $6.6 million ($8.09 million)
RB Frank Gore $6.45 million ($6.45 million)
LB Patrick Willis $6.353 million ($6.86 million)
TE Vernon Davis $5.3 million ($7.34 million)
LB Ahmad Brooks $5.1 million ($6.6 million)
LB NaVorro Bowman $4.75 million ($7.05 million)
DT Justin Smith $4.75 million ($6.94 million)
RT Anthony Davis $4.165 million ($7.5 million)
WR Michael Crabtree $4 million ($4.77 million)
DL Ray McDonald $3.6 million ($5.35 million)
T Joe Staley $3.4 million ($3.4 million)
G Mike Iupati $3.1 million ($4.425 million)
NT Glenn Dorsey $2.65 million ($3.8 million)
LB Aldon Smith $2.35 million ($4.58 million)
P Andy Lee $1.9 million ($2.4 million)
S Craig Dahl $1.65 million ($1.88 million)
LB Dan Skuta $1.5 million ($1.65 million)
WR Jon Baldwin $1.4 million ($1.4 million)
CB Chris Culliver $1.39 million ($1.54 million)
FB Bruce Miller $1.39 million ($1.4 million)
CB Tramaine Brock $1.25 million ($2 million)
S C.J. Spillman $1.25 million ($1.58 million)
QB Colin Kaepernick $1.07 million ($1.63 million)
OL Adam Snyder $1.05 million ($1.3 million)