There’s no doubt the 49ers will extend the contract of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose initial rookie deal will expire after the 2014 season.
But after the roster moves the Niners made this past week – in the draft and via trade – the long-term future of wide receiver Michael Crabtree and left guard Mike Iupati would seem a bit cloudier. Both players’ contracts also will run out after this coming season.
In a perfect NFL world where salary caps don’t exist, San Francisco certainly would keep both players. Crabtree has been the 49ers’ best and most consistent wide receiver and the favorite target of Kaepernick. And Iupati has been an All-Pro, a strong, devastating run blocker who’s been a key member of what has been one of the league’s best offensive lines.
But during the three-day draft last week, the 49ers traded for veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills and selected speedy Bruce Ellington in the fourth round. Those two, combined with Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton and Brandon Lloyd, give the team a deep and talented receiving corps. It’s possible that if Johnson and Ellington produce in 2014 and develop a chemistry with Kaepernick that the 49ers decide to pass on extending Crabtree’s deal and go on without him, with the faith that Johnson, Ellington and Co. can be cheaper replacements. Crabtree has said he wants a significant boost in pay, and as Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee pointed out, Johnson is signed for the next three seasons at “salaries that are lower – perhaps significantly lower – than what Crabtree will want.”
Meanwhile, the Niners have brought in several players that could take Iupati’s job. San Francisco now has former Dolphins starter Jonathan Martin on the roster, as well as former USC center Marcus Martin (third round) and ex-Clemson guard Brandon Thomas (third round). All three could play left guard, or Daniel Kilgore – currently slotted to start at center this season – could move to guard and make way for Marcus Martin. Also on the roster are Adam Snyder and Joe Looney who both play guard. Thomas, who won’t play this coming season because of an injury, would be in the mix for 2015.
The 49ers will have to make some difficult decisions – linebacker Aldon Smith’s contract also will be over after 2015 – and San Francisco likely won’t be able to keep Kaepernick, Smith, Iupati and Crabtree.
Who stays and who goes will likely depend in part on how the new players on the roster perform in 2014, as well as the lower salaries of the newcomers. If Johnson and Ellington shine in 2014, it could make a decision on Crabtree less painful.
“Crabtree is clearly the superior player to Johnson, though the 49ers are likely to find themselves dealing with cap issues … in the coming years,” wrote Bryan Rose of Sports Illustrated. “And paying Crabtree top wideout money may not be the most effective strategy moving forward.”