For at least the last five years, the San Francisco 49ers have used a subtle, and apparently non-negotiable, device to maximize their options in any/every given year regarding players with payments due to become fully guaranteed. Whereas most teams use guarantee triggers within the first few days after the waiver period in February or the first few days of the new league year in mid-March, the 49ers push the deadline all the way to April 1.
This gives the team a full opportunity to look around at all available options before renewing the commitment to the player by letting the guarantee vest instead of cutting or trading him. The 49ers can simply acquire an upgrade, and they can then cut or trade the player before the payment becomes fully guaranteed.
Agents privately have been complaining about this tactic for a long time. In a profile of Wasserman agents Doug Hendrickson and C.J. LaBoy from Vic Tafur of TheAthletic.com, Hendrickson complains openly about it.
“The Niners’ contracts are bullsh-t,” Hendrickson tells Tafur. “They are team-friendly deals, they do the triggers in April versus normally in March and no one has really had the leverage to change it.”
LaBoy added that Colin Kaepernick’s much-hyped long-term deal from 2014, which wasn’t worth nearly as much as his then-agents leaked to multiple reporters, “perpetuated the problem,” because “he took the sh-ttiest deal in terms of structure.”
The player currently at the mercy of said sh-tty structure, masterminded and implemented by 49ers executive Paraag Marathe, is quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. As Tafur notes, Garoppolo’s rolling guarantee structure delays the conversion of $15.7 million of his $23.8 million 2020 base salary until April 1.
This allows the 49ers to look at each and every veteran quarterback who is or who may be available (including, possibly, former Kyle Shanahan pupil Kirk Cousins) before cutting the cord on Garoppolo. It also gives the 49ers a chance to evaluate the incoming class of rookie quarterbacks at the Scouting Combine and, for most if not all of them, their Pro Day workouts. The 49ers also could accelerate the visit/workout timetable for the rookies in which they may have interest before having to make their decision about Garoppolo.
That’s the benefit of the structure to the team — and its detriment to players. If the 49ers don’t dump a guy like Garoppolo until April 1, teams looking for veteran quarterbacks may already have made other arrangements before Garoppolo hits the market.
Of course, the more likely reality is that teams will know Garoppolo is available, because the 49ers would try to trade him before cutting him. Still, the 49ers surely wouldn’t commence that process before acquiring a new quarterback, or developing confidence about a quarterback who will be targeted in the draft.
That’s the benefit of a structure that the 49ers — and only the 49ers — successfully impose on veteran players, with no one (other than Hendrickson) calling them out for doing it.
Not that it makes a difference. Since re-signing Kaepernick in 2014, the 49ers haven’t returned to the playoffs once.