As the San Francisco 49ers try to create some much needed salary cap space, you can be sure a few players will be left off the roster. From pending free-agents G Mike Iupati and WR Michael Crabtree to the uncertain futures of fan favorites RB Frank Gore and DE Justin Smith, it will be up to GM Trent Baalke and team president Paraag Marathe to work their magic.
In a perfect world, Baalke would love nothing more than to keep the entire roster intact, however this isn’t a perfect world and with the salary cap being a big part of today’s NFL, key players will be looking for work elsewhere in 2015.
So who are those players? I have identified the top three 49ers who will likely be asked to take a significant pay cut or be released on June 1. Why June 1 you ask? Because that’s the date when favorable ‘dead money’ can be taken into account.
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The simple definition of dead money is the salary cap space a team must allocate to a particular player who has been cut. It serves as a mechanism to ensure that every dollar a team has paid the player is eventually allocated to that team’s salary cap.
Dead money is a mathematical formula: Total Paid + Remaining Guaranteed – Total Cap Hit.
1. OLB Ahmad Brooks
Analysis: The team would need to account for $2,348,750 in dead money but would save the team $4,706,250 in salary cap space as Brooks is scheduled to make $7,055,000 in 2015. A player that is now considered expendable due to the play of promising second-year rushing phenom OLB Aaron Lynch makes Brooks a likely candidate to be cut post June 1.
2. TE Vernon Davis
Analysis: Davis is scheduled to make $6,967,920 in 2015. A high price-tag for a player coming off a career-low season while also being over the age of 30–makes Davis an easy target to release. If they go that route the team would allocate $2,067,920 in dead money while gaining a whopping $4.9 million in cap space. If this takes place the 49ers will need to draft a replacement come May as TE Vance McDonald has not been getting the job done.
3. WR Stevie Johnson
Analysis: Johnson was acquired via trade with the Buffalo Bills on draft day last season and therefore does not account for any dead money. In addition, Johnson’s situation is much different from the other two players due to the fact that he was traded. What this means is that Johnson will have the same cap impact pre-June 1 as opposed to post-June 1. Johnson is scheduled to earn $6,025,000 in 2015. If the 49ers fall in love with a wide-receiver in the draft like WR Kevin White or WR DeVante Parker they may trade up and grab one of them while wiping their hands of Johnson in the process.
If the 49ers decide to cut all three players they will gain $15,631,250 in salary cap space. The majority of that money will be saved for the 2015 draft class and the remainder can be deciding whether to make competitive offers to current free-agents Pro Bowl G Mike Iupati and CB Perrish Cox or use that money to target lower priced free-agents on the open-market. Either way the 49ers have options.