Keep an eye on the ambitious, free-spending Super Bowl contender that just created the most 2023 cap space in the league, is known for splashy midseason moves and has one or two obvious positions that could use significant improvement.
Or put another way: Never discount Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and Jed York’s enthusiasm for keeping all of their personnel options open, especially the expensive and creative ones, when the 49ers’ leaders think this team might be a player away from a Lombardi Trophy.
This is, naturally, not a guarantee that the 49ers will pull off a major trade for a right tackle or cornerback or anybody else in the next few months. You can’t make a trade unless the right player becomes available, and quality players at those positions rarely hit the trade market at midseason. The 49ers looked pretty decent in their Week 1 destruction of the Steelers and maybe won’t be so hungry for a major move if they get to 8-0 or 7-1 by the Oct. 31 trade deadline.
However, judging by Colton McKivitz’s struggles at right tackle against T.J. Watt on Sunday, I imagine the 49ers have that position circled for serious analysis. Watt is an All-Pro and would’ve been a tough matchup for anybody, but if the problems at RT persist, I think Shanahan and Lynch would want to act as swiftly as possible.
And the 49ers put themselves in position to make a big move with last week’s long-term signing of Nick Bosa (which lowered his cap hit this season and next due to a $50 million signing bonus that amortizes over five years of the contract for cap purposes) and restructuring agreements with Arik Armstead, George Kittle and Trent Williams, which lowered all of their 2023 cap hits significantly by turning most of their 2023 salaries into bonus payments.
(I don’t know exactly what York’s total bonus payout was for those four players just last week, but it had to be near $100 million. Direct deposit. Bam. When it’s rightly pointed out that the cap is easily manipulated, this is why. If you have players you expect to be good for several more years, you can always push cash into the pot and delay the cap hits. But I’m not sure how “easy” it was for York to write those kinds of checks in addition to all the other millions committed to this payroll. He’s very rich. So are other owners. York has simply been more amenable to these kinds of expensive cap adjustments recently than most of his peers.)
In all, that gave the 49ers about $42 million in space on this year’s cap. Which isn’t just the most in the league, it’s $25-40 million more than most of the other Super Bowl contenders. The Eagles and Chiefs, for instance, both currently have less than $1 million in space. And the 49ers, of course, have the recent history of acquiring Christian McCaffrey at midseason last year, Emmanuel Sanders at midseason in 2019 and Jimmy Garoppolo at midseason in 2017.
How the 49ers paid Nick Bosa huge money — all while surging to No. 1 in cap space
And this year, thanks to last week’s maneuvering, the 49ers have the means to take a specific huge salary and possibly take back a bad contract or two as further incentive beyond the usual first-round pick offering.
For instance, I’m not saying the Buccaneers would consider this, but if things start to go really bad in Tampa Bay, the 49ers might be the only team that could offer to take a few bad contracts off of the Bucs’ hands on the way to acquiring star tackle Tristan Wirfs, who recently had his fifth-year option for $18.6 million picked up for 2024. The 49ers would have to add one or two first-round picks to any offer like that, but you get the point, I think.
OK, yes, Wirfs is unlikely to be moved, given that he’s only 24 and the Bucs should want to keep him for a long time. But what about Laremy Tunsil if the Texans start sinking swiftly and looking for financial relief? How many first-rounders would the 49ers put into a trade for Pro Bowlers like Wirfs or Tunsil? Well, they put three into the trade for Trey Lance, and that didn’t work very well. But I don’t know if the 49ers can project to land a quality starting right tackle with potentially the 30th or 31st pick in 2024 or 2025. A trade might be the only way. And I don’t think Lynch and Shanahan would let the Lance deal dissuade them from moving a few more future first-rounders if they’ve got a chance at a good right tackle (who could maybe project to move to left tackle whenever Williams is ready to retire).
La’el Collins, just released by the Bengals, could be another, very inexpensive option. Maybe a temporary one, since something clearly has gone a little wrong in his career from his solid Dallas days, but you’d have to believe that the 49ers are looking at all names right now. Still, the long-term answer likely would have to come by trade.
The 49ers can operate a little bit like an NBA team, basically, by trying to wedge themselves into a deal using their cap space. Which reminds me, last week was an opportune time for Lynch to mention on KNBR that former Warriors president Bob Myers called at one significant point during the Bosa negotiations to offer key encouragement and context. Remember, Myers spent two years creating the opening to sign Kevin Durant in 2016 and throughout his tenure consistently kept his options open at all times while targeting very specific players.
That’s why I can’t be the only one who was struck by the timing of the 49ers’ cap maneuverings last week. They could’ve done the three restructures later in the season, just in time to roll the new space over into 2024. But they did it now in case anybody valuable pops up on the trade market, the way McCaffrey popped up last October. And if the market turns out to be cold, the 49ers can still roll the cap space over.
But I think the 49ers would very much like another rocket boost or two this season, the way the Rams moved all-in by trading so many draft picks for Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller on their way to the Super Bowl they won two seasons ago. Not too surprisingly, Stafford is the only one of those players the 49ers will see at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. The Rams’ roster also is suffering from burning all those draft picks. But the Rams have that trophy and yes, Shanahan, Lynch and York would very much like one (or more), too.
49ers mailbag: Why didn’t Kyle Shanahan pull starters sooner? What’s the plan at RT?
Let’s just lay out some Brock Purdy facts, since the discourse about him has largely gotten beyond the realm of reason lately.
On Sunday, Purdy completed 65.5 percent of his passes (19 for 29), averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, threw 2 touchdowns and had no interceptions. His passer rating for Sunday’s game: 111.3.
In nine regular-season games last season (five as a starter, one in relief for an injured Garoppolo, three just to run out the clock), Purdy completed 67.1 percent of his passes, averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, threw 13 touchdowns and had 4 interceptions. His 2023 regular-season passer rating: 107.3.
In three playoff games last season (one of which only lasted 4 attempts), Purdy completed 65.1 percent of his passes, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt, threw 3 touchdowns and had no interceptions. His postseason passer rating: 109.8, which was behind only Patrick Mahomes (114.7) and Kirk Cousins (112.9) among playoff QBs.
This is who Purdy is, folks. He’s good.
In the nine games when Purdy has played more than 70 percent of the snaps, he’s never had a completion percentage lower than 60 percent, had a game when he threw multiple interceptions or put up a passer rating lower than 87.6 (which came in the playoff victory over Dallas last year).
Not to kick a guy while he’s down, but Buffalo’s Josh Allen, logically considered an elite QB, just threw three interceptions (and one TD) and had a 62.7 rating in the Bills’ loss to the Jets on Monday night. And Allen had six games (including the postseason) with a passer rating under 80.0 last season.
Purdy’s never had a game like that. Nothing even close. He will at some point. But to go this far into his career without one is extremely significant, if you ask me. And if you ask Purdy’s teammates and opponents.
“The TK Show”: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on Apple, Spotify and The Athletic app.
Brock Purdy looks like his 2022 self in silencing ‘haters,’ trouncing Steelers
(Photo of Nick Bosa: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images)