The 49ers have an NFL-high $53.58 million in salary-cap space. The organization’s big acquisition through nearly three weeks of free agency was guard Zane Beadles.
That strategy has apparently met the approval of coach Chip Kelly, who last week laid out his beliefs on forking out large sums of money to attract players.
Although Kelly emerged with power over the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster last year, he said he never negotiated a contract. Kelly said all the contracts – including the deals to sign cornerback Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray -- were the work of Eagles top personnel executive Howie Roseman.
This offseason, Roseman, who remains with the Eagles, dumped the contracts of Maxwell and Murray in separate trades to Miami and Tennessee.
“I wouldn’t have paid anybody,” Kelly said last week at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. “I’m really frugal. I think some of the money that all these guys are getting, that’s a huge leap of faith with anybody. It’s not any individual player. Some of those players, where you give that much guaranteed money to anybody, I don’t think anybody can predict that.”
Kelly questioned the practice of signing players early in free agency who immediately come onto a new roster as the team’s highest-paid player. There were 99 players signed on the first three days of free agency this year. Only three of those players made the Pro Bowl last season – not including those added later as substitutes.
The top five signings of free agency – quarterback Brock Osweiler, defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Malik Jackson, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and guard Kelechi Osemele -- signed deals ranging from $18 million to $11.2 million annually. Jenkins is the only player with Pro Bowl experience, and he was added as a substitute.
“That’s rich,” Kelly said. “You better be on. But that’s not my skillset, either. ‘He deserves this; he deserves that.’ I don’t study the salary cap or look at the salary cap and say, he fits this way, he fits that way.”
Shortly after the firing of coach Jim Tomsula after the 49ers’ 5-11 season, 49ers CEO Jed York cited the team’s cap space to build optimism for a chance for a quick turnaround.
“We have a lot of opportunity in front of us,” York said on Jan. 4. “I don’t know exactly where we stack in cap room, but I think we’re top-five in the league in cap room today. We’ve got the most draft picks.”
But he also warned the 49ers were not going to haphazardly spend their available cash.
“In terms of salary cap, just because you have room doesn’t mean that you have to spend the room,” York said. “You can transfer that room over to this year. We’ve got a lot of salary cap room. So you can’t just spend money to spend money. You want to make sure that you’re spending money wisely.”
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The 49ers own the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, and it’s possible one or both of the top quarterbacks available could be there when the team selects. That certainly was not the case a year ago for any team choosing after the top-two selections.
A year ago, the Eagles owned the No. 20 overall pick. Peter Schrager of Fox Sports recently reported Kelly offered Tennessee their first-round picks in 2015 and ’16, and a second-round pick in ’15, along with any quarterback and any defensive player on their roster in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick to select Mariota.
Kelly acknowledged last week that then-Eagles vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz reached out to then-Titans general manager Ruston Webster and Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht to see if a trade to acquire Mariota or Jameis Winston was possible.
But Kelly denied the report of what the Eagles offered, saying the conversation never got that far.
“Tennessee was never trading. Tampa Bay was never trading,” Kelly said. “I know Ed talked to both Ruston and Jason and they weren’t moving off their picks, so there was no offer made.”