The 49ers open organized team activities on Tuesday, which represents the beginning of the final phase of Chip Kelly's first offseason program with the organization.
So it’s a good time for another 49ers Mailbag with questions from our friends on Facebook. Here we go. . .
What are they going to do with all this cap money still left? (Shelvin Murphy)
The 49ers have often said they are not going to spend money just to spend money. But the 49ers’ cap space – probably north of $45 million after all the draft picks are taken into account – is a curse and a curse. It's no blessing for the football product.
The 49ers were one of the worst teams in the league last season. Most expect them to struggle mightily this season, too.
So are the 49ers near the bottom of the league because they’re near the top of the league in unspent cap money? Or are the 49ers near the top of the league in unspent cap money because they’re near the bottom of the league?
It cuts both ways.
General manager Trent Baalke told CSNBayArea.com at the NFL owners meetings that the 49ers are a “draft-and-develop team.”
The organization’s plan is to lock up their young players, who’ve proven themselves early in their careers, to multi-year extensions. But if the 49ers do not draft well and none of their picks are worth lucrative extensions, then the cap space goes mostly unused.
There are only four 49ers draft picks on the roster who have been awarded sizable contract extensions: Joe Staley, NaVorro Bowman, Colin Kaepernick and Quinton Dial. That is not good enough. Not only has the team suffered because of the lack of young, rising players on their second contracts, but their unused salary cap space has ballooned.
The 49ers spent more than 89 percent of their salary cap allotment over the past four years to avoid penalties. Beginning in 2017, another four-year cycle begins in which teams are required to spend 89 percent or more of the combined salary cap during that period.
Teams are allowed to carry over cap space from one year to the next. The 49ers have until mid-February to decide how much of their salary-cap surplus from this year to carry over to 2017.
The 49ers need a few of their third- and fourth-year players to show they’re worthy of second contracts to begin to make a dent in their cap surplus.
The 49ers have carried over their entire unused cap space each season since the new CBA was agreed upon in 2011. That streak might end next year if there are not enough home-grown players worthy of big-money extensions.
After all, the 49ers do not spend money just to spend money. But if they do not carry over that cap space, the organization would be just pocketing the money set aside for player compensation. And that's not a good look.
How the organization decides to proceed in regard to their unused cap space is worth watching.
Q: Why draft so many cornerbacks when we already have so many young ones to begin with? (Michael Ferris)
Baalke foreshadowed his movement toward stockpiling cornerbacks in an interview before the 2015 offseason.
“I think you’re seeing that trend league-wide,” Baalke said. “There’s a premium put on those players. It’s going to be extremely important moving forward to create as much depth and competition at that position as you can.”
That’s why the 49ers stacked a three-cornerback draft class of Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah over a three-cornerback draft class from 2014 that featured Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker.
Q: Why aren't they signing Boldin? (Ellen Walton)
The 49ers want to see if some of their young receivers – such as Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, Eric Rogers, Aaron Burbridge, DeAndrew White and others – can become productive NFL players.
Baalke was not speaking specifically about the team’s situation at wide receiver at the NFL owners meetings, but his view on adding veteran free agents is applicable to what he might be thinking as it pertains to Anquan Boldin’s future with the club.
“That’s why you don’t keep putting veteran players over the top of the other players,” Baalke said. “You draft for a reason. Young players have to develop. That’s how you develop the next group of core players for your team.”
The 49ers, of course, would never rule out re-signing Anquan Boldin. So that option remains open. It appears as if there is not much demand for his services, so the 49ers still have time to act if they have no confidence in the young players developing.
Let’s face it, though, if Anquan Boldin were re-signed his production would probably drop off. Yet, he’d probably still be their best receiver despite being another year older and another year slower. The downside of that is that his presence might also stunt the opportunities and development of the younger players.