NFL: Super Bowl LVIII-San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

How long can the 49ers keep their championship window alive for?

The San Francisco 49ers fell short in the playoffs once again, as they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, leaving them heading into the offseason with a number of questions to answer as they try to reach their final goal of a championship once again.

One of the franchise’s biggest questions relates to their Super Bowl window, as the 49ers are nearing that ultimatum point where tough decisions are going to have to be made in order to remain salary cap-compliant.

That leads us to the over-arching question: Is the 49ers championship window closing after the team’s recent Super Bowl loss?

When championship windows come into play, the primary issue is revolved around a team’s ability to retain their star talent as they transition from their first contract to a more lucrative second contract.

The 49ers are weaving through that window right now, as they’ve dished out long-term deals to Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel, while Christian McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco while already on an extension.

Each of these contracts averages at least $15 million annually, although they can be manipulated by restructures or other moves to defer money to the later years of the deal.

San Francisco has done that in prior offseasons, leading them to kick money down the road and deal with heavier cap hits in the ensuing years.

2024 offseason

Now, the 49ers enter this offseason with 10 different players having a cap hit of at least $14 million for next season, with only one of those deals being movable: Christian McCaffrey, who isn’t going anywhere.

Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Charvarius Ward, Brandon Aiyuk, and McCaffrey all exceed the $14 million threshold, with cap hits varying from $14.124 million (Aiyuk) to $31.568 million (Williams).

However, the 49ers prepared for this by creating a significant amount of cap space at the end of last offseason with restructures, generating over $37 million in available cap that will roll over to their 2024 total.

That is why San Francisco is near the current cap projections of approximately $240 million, despite having a salary sheet that stands at nearly $280 million.

The 49ers do have 18 unrestricted free agents to deal with, while wideout Jauan Jennings leads the way for restricted free agents, but the entirety of San Francisco’s nucleus is locked up for next season.

The focus now goes towards a contract extension for Brandon Aiyuk, who is under contract for another season on the fifth-year option, but can be given a new deal this offseason, which San Francisco should take advantage of, as the price for receivers is only going up on the open market.

That leads to the question: can the 49ers afford an Aiyuk extension and how does it impact their future?

To the first question, the answer is yes because of how extensions can be structured. As Aiyuk will play the 2024 season on his fifth-year option, his extension will only begin to kick in during the 2025 season.

However, by adding additional years and money to his contract, the 49ers can lower the wideout’s 2024 cap hit by backloading his deal and elevating the cap hits of future years in an attempt to retain their top pieces for this upcoming season.

In doing so, San Francisco could actually save money on Aiyuk’s $14.124 million cap hit for 2024, which can be allocated elsewhere, be it for free agency or the team’s 11 draft picks.

Currently, the 49ers seem to have at least one more year on their Super Bowl window, as they can still afford to keep their entire core, although that may raise cap issues for future years, especially if they choose to restructure more contracts as expected.

A key player to watch this offseason will be fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who carries a $7.58 million cap hit for 2024, of which the 49ers can save nearly $5 million by releasing him.

The two sides could agree to a revamped deal, but Juszczyk’s future with the team seems uncertain under his current deal.

2025 offseason

While the 49ers likely will get another opportunity to run things back in the 2024 season, even if they are not able to re-sign Aiyuk to a contract extension, the 2025 season is where things begin to get tricky.

Nick Bosa, who signed a five-year, $170 million deal last offseason, sees an increase in cap hit from $14.671 million to $20.519 million before his cap figure jumps to $42.029 million in 2026.

Trent Williams, who could retire after next year, faces a cap hit of $34.1 million. Essentially every key player sees their contract jump with Bosa, Williams, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner, and Javon Hargrave all having cap hits that exceed $20 million.

Here is where the 49ers may need to make tough decisions. It seems unsustainable to pay two top-tier receivers in this version of the NFL, especially with talent consistently flowing in via the draft.

That leads to a tough decision between potentially moving off Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk and the timing of that choice will be crucial, as the former’s contract ends in 2025 after his age-29 season.

Additionally, players like George Kittle have movable contracts, which could be enticing for San Francisco, rather than letting players walk for nothing in free agency as they can’t afford to pay them another contract.

The point is: the 2025 offseason is where a number of these decisions come to light, placing San Francisco in a top spot between two timelines as they try to extend their current championship window.

Then comes the topic of paying quarterback Brock Purdy, who is contract-extension eligible after next season and is a free agent after 2025. He’ll likely command a hefty salary, given the moving quarterback market, which the 49ers will have to budget for as well.

Over the past few seasons, the teams that have sustained success, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, have done so by drafting well and managing their cap situation well, while facing tough decisions to move off stars.

Drafting will be key for the 49ers, who will be able to find cost-effective solutions to problems with younger talent, but regardless, a number of big-time decisions with franchise stalwarts lay ahead over the next two years.

To me, the championship window is absolutely there in 2024 and there’s an avenue to keep it for potentially another season with the current core of players, but the opportunity is starting to slip away for the 49ers, who need to capitalize sooner than later.

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About the Author: Insidethe49

Insidethe49 Site Staff

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