PHILADELPHIA — Maybe you don’t want to hear this right now.
Maybe you need to hear this right now.
But in the wake of the 49ers’ gut-punch NFC Championship Game loss, it’s important to note that the Niners’ championship window remains wide open for the 2023 season and likely beyond.
Even if Brock Purdy’s elbow injury leaves him sidelined for the start — or all — of the 2023 campaign, the Niners are built to win games. While other teams in the league are quarterback-dependent to win, the Niners proved this year they can win with merely competent play at the position — such is the strength of their roster. To get more than competent play — as the Niners received from Jimmy Garoppolo just before his injury and then Purdy before his — turned San Francisco into the NFC favorite entering the playoffs.
There will be plenty of speculation about the quarterback position for the Niners moving forward. Don’t outright dismiss all of it — there are scenarios where San Francisco’s brass signs an outsider or retains Garoppolo, a free agent — but the most likely outcome is that the Niners’ quarterback room consists of Trey Lance and Purdy.
If the Niners are all-in on Purdy, it ensures they’re title contenders for years to come. You can build one hell of a team when you have a starting quarterback making less than one-half of one percent of the salary cap.
And because those two quarterbacks cost roughly $10 million, total, against the salary cap next season, the Niners are in a position that’s rare for teams in the NFL’s final four: They can re-sign key players that are due raises.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Niners have an estimated $16.3 million of salary cap space for next season. That alone is an accomplishment for an accomplished team. But the truth is that number will be much larger. The Niners can — and should, in many cases — restructure the contracts of core players George Kittle, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, Christian McCaffrey, and Trent Williams to free up even more salary cap space for this season.
Add in Nick Bosa’s expected extension — which will create even more space — and the Niners should feel they’re sitting pretty heading into the purchasing period of free agency.
Now, much of that salary cap space will go to re-signing other key Niners’ players.
Key free agents include tackle Mike McGlinchey, Garoppolo, defensive back Jimmie Ward, defensive end Charles Omenihu, linebacker Aziz center Jake Brendel, kicker Robbie Gould, safety Tashaun Gipson, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, defensive end Samson Ebukam, guard Daniel Brunskill, and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley.
The Niners will probably start with McGlinchey, who told me yesterday, with his eyes welling up, that he wants to return to the team. The organization hasn’t hidden its desire to bring back McGlinchey, either.
The question is if the Niners can keep McGlinchey if there’s a bidding war for his services.
The baseline for a new McGlinchey contract is a $15 million-a-year deal.
The Niners can afford that, but it’s reasonably close to a spending ceiling.
Is McGlinchey the best right tackle in the game? No.
But you could do a lot worse, and that’s a lesson the Niners are not keen to find out the hard way.
Garoppolo is gone. I mean it this time. Someone will pay him close to $30 million to be a solid veteran for their team. (I’m looking at you, Jets.)
Ward is likely gone, too. The Niners made their call on him when they moved him to nickelback. While he was great at that position, he wants to play free safety. He’s great at that, too. Talking to Ward over the last few weeks and again Sunday night, I get the impression he’ll take his best offer, which is not likely to be the Niners’ offer.
Brendel and Gould should be top priorities, but I don’t expect either guy to demand a massive raise.
There’s simply too much competition at safety for Tashaun Gipson to demand a raise, either.
Kerry Hyder left the Niners for a big money deal before. He ended up right back with the Niners. I doubt he tries again. Samson Ebukam and Dan Brunskill are wild cards — the might stay, they might go. The Niners have replacements for both of them already on the roster.
Then there’s Charles Omenihu, whose NFL career is in limbo until his domestic violence arrest.
And Emmanuel Moseley would be a greater threat to leave, but he he tore his ACL. A short-term, get-right deal benefits both sides.
The Niners should have enough cash to bring back many of these players. They might even have enough money to add a mid-tier free agent or two, like how they added Charvarious Ward this past offseason.
Most top NFL teams are constantly purging top talent year after year. (I’m looking at you, Rams and Packers.) The Niners will lose some players, but the team’s key players and a good number of their starters should return for another run at the title.
It’s difficult to reach the NFC Championship Game. Such success should not be taken for granted.
But the Niners have every reason to be back in the NFC title game next year, too.
And who knows, maybe they’ll have a healthy quarterback for that go-around.