Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle are under contract for another season apiece.
But any discussion about the 49ers’ finances and free agency must include mention of the big contracts that loom for Buckner and Kittle.
This offseason could be key for both men, as the 49ers would like to find a way to reward both players and keep them under contract for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, as the 49ers are about a month away from free agency, they’ll be watching exactly where they spend their dollars after advancing to Super Bowl LIV, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“We're committed to finding a way to be better,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We'd love to keep everybody. This team is special. There's a special feel to it. We hope that's the case. It's probably not likely, it just doesn't happen in this league.”
“There may have to be tradeoffs along the way. But I think we're in a good position to find a way to certainly keep the core together and even like I said our mindset to improve it.”
Following is a look at the 49ers who are not under contract for 2020 and are scheduled for unrestricted or restricted free agency:
Unrestricted free agents
The 49ers have sole negotiating rights with each of the following players until March 16, when the open-negotiating window opens. On March 18, players can sign with other teams. Teams can tag a franchise player at any time from Feb. 25 to March 10. Here are the team’s scheduled unrestricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):
DL Arik Armstead ($9.046 million)
Armstead put together back-to-back seasons in which he played every game. That comes after two seasons in which he missed a combined 18 games due to injuries. Armstead always has been good as a run defender. This season, he was a man for all downs.
Armstead figures to land a lucrative free agent contract -- either with the 49ers or some other team. If the 49ers want to place the franchise tag on him, it would cost approximately $18 million for just one season. A multi-year deal would give him more guaranteed money with the cap hit in 2020 would not be as large for the 49ers.
It would be difficult to replace what Armstead brought to the team this season. He is perfect for this defense -- a defensive end on base downs who moves inside to rush the passer.
Lynch suggested he does not want to use the franchise tag on Armstead because he wants a long-term deal.
“We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time,” Lynch said.
S Jimmie Ward ($4.5 million)
After injuries and position switches prevented Ward from ever showing what he could do, things settled down for him this season. Ward just wants to play free safety. For which team he plays is another question.
Tarvarius Moore started the first three games of the season at free safety when Ward was out after undergoing surgery on a broken finger. Moore played five snaps on defense in the Super Bowl, and he was in the middle of three plays. Two were very good, including an interception of Patrick Mahomes. One was not so good, as he was flagged for pass interference on a crucial third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers must decide if they want to pay the price to keep Ward or to make the transition next season to Moore. Re-signing Ward would appear to be a priority.
WR Emmanuel Sanders ($11 million)
Sanders, a 10-year veteran, fit in well with the team after coming to the 49ers in a midseason trade with Denver. He said he loves playing for the 49ers. But will the 49ers be willing to pay the price to make a multi-year offer to retain him? The 49ers will want to bring him back, but it the question is whether there will be other teams willing to make a more lucrative commitment.
Deebo Samuel, Richie James and Dante Pettis are under contract. The 49ers figure to bring back Kendrick Bourne as a restricted free agent. Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd missed this season due to injuries but, if healthy, figure to be major contributors.
DE Ronald Blair (650,000)
Blair sustained a torn ACL in November. He was a valuable member of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation, and his absence late in the season meant less rest for the third-down pass-rushers. The 49ers should make every attempt to bring him back.
C Ben Garland ($805,000)
Garland filled in admirably when Weston Richburg went down with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee on Dec. 8. Garland already has shown what he can do as a backup, and the price figures to be right to bring him back.
DT Sheldon Day ($737,000)
Day was a starter down the stretch of the season after D.J. Jones was placed on IR with a severe high ankle sprain. Day might find a starting opportunity elsewhere in the league. If that’s the case, the 49ers will probably not be willing to pay the price to retain him.
TE Levine Toilolo ($895,000)
Toilolo ended up being a low-key important piece to the 49ers’ offense as an extra blocker. They will certainly be willing to bring him back on a deal worth the veteran minimum.
TE Garrett Celek ($2.5 million)
Celek announced his retirement last week after eight seasons with the 49ers. He underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk in his back and appeared in five games last season before going in injured reserve.
CB Dontae Johnson ($805,000)
Johnson had a good training camp, then was brought back to the team during the season when the club needed him due to injuries. He could be back this season, too.
OT Shon Coleman ($820,000)
Coleman was a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2016 whom the 49ers acquired for a seventh-round selection in 2018. He did not play in 2018, and he was slated to be the team’s swing tackle last season before he sustained a season-ending injury in the first preseason game.
DE Damontre Moore ($805,000)
Moore nearly made the team out of training camp, then was added to the roster after Blair’s injury. He sustained a fractured forearm in his second game and was lost for the season. It seems like it’s a low-risk move to bring him back on a one-year deal.
DT Earl Mitchell ($930,000)
Mitchell unretired to join the 49ers for the playoffs. After playing 19 snaps in the Super Bowl and registering a half-sack, Mitchell told Nick Wagoner of ESPN that this time he is retiring for good.
WR Jordan Matthews ($805,000)
Matthews was a veteran insurance policy who appeared in one game with the 49ers this season and did not catch a pass.
DE Anthony Zettel ($720,000)
Zettel appeared in the final regular-season game and all three playoff games as a backup defensive end.
CB Jason Verrett ($3 million)
The 49ers took what they figured was a low-risk gamble on Verrett, whose career has been plagued by injuries. He appeared in just one game before going on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Restricted free agents
Players can negotiate with any team. The 49ers can place tenders of original round, second round or first round on these players. Because none of the following players was acquired by 49ers through draft, the 49ers would receive no compensation with an original-round tender. Here are the team’s scheduled restricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):
WR Kendrick Bourne ($556,667)
If the 49ers place a same-round tender on Bourne, he could attract some attention as a free agent. The best course of action for the 49ers would be to sign him to a multi-year extension to ensure that they keep him around for a while. He had 30 catches for 358 yards and his five TD receptions were tied for the team-lead with George Kittle.
RB Matt Breida ($556,667)
Breida, the team’s leading rusher in 2018, ended up not playing much down the stretch of the regular season and playoffs, as Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman handled the duties at running back. In the Super Bowl, Jeff Wilson played five snaps of offense, and Breida did not play. If another team wants to sign Breida to a multi-year contract, he might not be back.
LB Elijah Lee ($645,000)
Lee did not make the club out of training camp, but he ended up serving roles on special teams and as a backup linebacker. Lee appears to be a player the 49ers would like to keep around.