Less than a week into the NFL’s free-agent signing period, things have slowed down.
The 49ers' top priority likely shifts to taking care of tight end George Kittle, who is set to enter the final year of his original four-year contract.
The 49ers managed to retain four of their top-five players -- Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, Ronald Blair and Ben Garland -- scheduled for unrestricted free agent. They also signed running back Jerick McKinnon to a new, reduced contract.
The departures will be felt, though. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints, and the 49ers traded team MVP DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick in the draft.
The 49ers now stand at $15.756 million under the league’s $198.2 million salary cap, according to the numbers compiled by OverTheCap.com. At this point in the offseason when rosters expand to 90 players, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap.
The 49ers’ reported salary-cap space does not include the new deals for defensive lineman Ronald Blair or offensive lineman Ben Garland, both of whom agreed to terms with the 49ers last week.
Also, the 49ers’ rookie pool is established at $8.162 million to sign their draft class, according to OverTheCap.com. The 49ers have seven scheduled draft picks, including the Nos. 13 and 31 selections in the first round.
The 49ers cleared $5.64 million of cap space last week upon McKinnon agreeing to a new deal after he missed the past two seasons with a torn ACL and complications.
The next major move for the 49ers could be to fairly compensate Kittle with a long-term contract.
Free-agent tight end Austin Hooper became the NFL’s highest-paid tight end at more than $10 million per season with the Cleveland Browns. Even backup tight end Levine Toilolo agreed to terms with the New York Giants on a contract that pays him more than $3 million per season.
Kittle’s salary for 2020 rose to $2.133 million through the league’s proven performance escalator. But, clearly, he still is significantly underpaid.
It is reasonable to assume that Kittle will not step on the field again without a new contract that obliterates the deal Hooper signed to become the top-paid tight end in the league.