49ers' roster virtually set with little money left in NFL's salary cap

49ers' roster virtually set with little money left in NFL's salary cap

The 49ers’ roster virtually is set.

After adding their five-player draft class and the signings of their undrafted rookies, the 49ers are just $5.75 million under the 2020 salary cap, according to the latest figures released by the NFL Players Association.

Although he is not ruling out anything, 49ers general manager John Lynch does not anticipate any more impactful roster additions before the start of the regular season.

“There’s always an opportunity to get better,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “We do like where our roster is at. We’re extremely happy with where it’s at. I don’t anticipate anything big coming -- and we are kind of nudged up against the cap, as well.

“So there’s really not a lot of room to go do things like that. That’s for good reason. We have a lot of really good players and we’re extremely excited about that.”

If the 49ers use any more of their cap space, it would likely be to work out a contract extension to compensate tight end George Kittle fairly while securing his services for the long term.

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The 49ers are coming off a 13-3 regular season in which they won the NFC West and gained homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The 49ers held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before their defense allowed three touchdowns in the final seven minutes in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Lynch said he and coach Kyle Shanahan challenged themselves to find a way to give the 49ers a chance to be improved despite the inevitable losses of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and left tackle Joe Staley.

“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re a better team.’ That’s not how this works,” Lynch said. “You have to put it to work and let a season unfold. But we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to do that.”

The 49ers added South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the draft to fill holes from the departures. Then, the 49ers worked a trade to acquire seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams from Washington.

“I’m very proud of the job we did in putting together the pieces of the puzzle and working with the challenges and finding a way to give ourselves an opportunity to be an even better roster,” Lynch said. “I think that opportunity is there for us, and now we have to go do it – albeit in different times, unprecedented times.”

[RELATEDKittle ranked as 2017 NFL Draft's second-best player by PFF]

The 49ers are conducting position-group meetings through video conferences while NFL facilities and offseason programs are shut down due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While a handful of teams also are holding virtual workouts, Lynch said he has faith in the character and conscientiousness of the players they have assembled to do all the right things when nobody from the organization is watching. Lynch said the 49ers place a priority on looking for individuals with talent and “spirit” when assembling their roster.

“Whenever the scientists, the league, everyone, tells us it’s time to go, our guys are going to be ready to go both mentally and physically,” Lynch said. “We have great belief in our guys, and that’s a nice feeling.”

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]