Heading into the 2022 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers‘ biggest cap hit belonged to franchise left tackle Trent Williams. While this wouldn’t be the biggest issue imaginable, as the Niners were roughly $4 million under the cap ceiling, if the front office wanted to pursue mid-season trades or approach a veteran free agent like Odell Beckham Jr. with a competitive contract offer, it could be crucial.
Set to count just over $14 million against the cap, John Lynch and Williams’ representatives went to work on a creative solution to the team’s financial issues and worked out a restructured deal that worked for both parties. Converting $5.45 million of Williams’ 2022 base salary into a bonus that will be paid out over the remaining years of his contract, the All-Pro left tackle will now earn a base salary of just $1.8 million for the remainder of the season with a cap hit of $8.58 million according to Akash Anavarathan of Niners Nation.
But why did Lynch decide to make this move three weeks into the 2022 NFL season? Is this a short-term move to help the Niners now, or could this financial play have more to do with the future than the present? Either way, options appear to be the key.
3. The 49ers Could Make a Trade in 2022
If the 49ers are able to succeed with Jimmy Garoppolo and feel they are able to take a real shot at the Super Bowl this season, Lynch may opt to use the salary cap space now to pursue an immediate upgrade at a position of need.
While $9 million may not seem like much more than $4 million in the grand scheme of things of a salary cap worth $208.2 million, there are dozens of players who have an average annual value that fits into that added financial window, according to Over the Cap.
If Lynch wants to pursue a veteran starter on the final year of his contract with a non-playoff team, having that extra $5 million could be the difference between being able to acquire a player for nothing more than draft compensation versus having to send out any matching salary in a potential deal.
2. The Niners Could Put the Money Toward Nick Bosa’s Extention
Eventually, Nick Bosa is going to earn a long-term contract extension that could re-set the market for edge rushers. It could come before the end of September, it could come in March of 2023, or it could come even later if Lynch wants to see just how high the market for edge rushers will go.
Though the 49ers are projected to have $27.9 million in cap space in 2023 according to Over the Cap, Bosa’s extension could soak quite a bit of that money up and make it hard to pay key free agents like Jimmy Garoppolo, Jeff Wilson, Mike McGlinchey, Samson Ebukam, Emmanuel Moseley, and Robbie Gould, who will also be free agents, according to Spotrac. Putting that money toward Bosa’s new deal one way or another could prove savvy.
1. The 49ers Could Roll the Money Over to 2023
If Lynch opts not to use the $9 million in cap space they reportedly have in free agency during the 2022 season, the team can roll the money over to 2023 and use it as they please. They can use it to sign other free agents, use it to re-sign their own players, and potentially even use it towards a new deal for Garoppolo, who will need a new contract if he is to remain with the Niners in 2023.
This route would afford San Francisco the maximum amount of flexibility in an important free agency period and allow Lynch to continue to field a competitive roster as he sees fit. Even if this isn’t the most exciting route and would make it harder to pull off a midseason trade to bolster the team in the short-term, it may be the best long-term play for a general manager signed through 2024.