49ers free agent strategy: Can't make everybody happy

49ers free agent strategy: Can't make everybody happy
February 18, 2014, 9:00 am
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The 49ers need to be frugal with extensions due to Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Aldon Smith next year. (USATSI)

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The 49ers typically have a 40-percent roster turnover from one year to the next.

The goal is to keep the nucleus intact while cycling through players to find a combination of young players on their first contracts and veteran role players to go along with the nucleus.

We turn back the clock three years to a statement Trent Baalke made shortly after becoming 49ers general manager:

”I think it’s always important to keep good football players and we’re doing to do everything we can to keep as many of them as we can. But the fact remains, it’s a business. And you can’t keep them all, you can’t pay them all, you can’t make everybody happy.”

The question is always asked: “Who is the 49ers’ top priority to re-sign?”

The answer is never simple because the 49ers have assigned a certain value for every player. When the player’s asking price exceeds the amount the 49ers have set aside, the 49ers move on rather than take cap space away from others to satisfy someone else.

Anquan Boldin and Donte Whitner are two starters the 49ers want back. But if Boldin is looking for a significant raise on his 2013 salary of $6 million or Whitner seeks Dashon Goldson money, it seems unlikely either will be back. (At least until they hit the open market and see if there are other teams willing to step forward to meet their demands.) All indications are that Boldin will be easier to re-sign before free agents can begin negotiating with other clubs on March 8.

[RELATED: Boldin, Dawson top candidates for deals before free agency]

More important for the long-term future of the 49ers, there are four significant 49ers players who are entering the final years of their rookie contracts: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, guard Mike Iupati and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

The 49ers have the most flexibility with Smith because as a first-round draft pick on the new collective bargaining agreement the 49ers can wrap him up for 2015 at the “transition tag” of around $9.5 million. Then, they could franchise him in 2016, too.

Kaepernick is seemingly the only player who would be considered a “must sign.” After all, when was the last time a talented quarterback who has taken a team deep into the playoffs in his first two seasons as the starter got away from a team before making it to a second contract?

[RELATED: Finding fair price for Kaepernick extension]

The 49ers do not want to resort to placing the franchise tag on anybody next year because of the huge cap, but it provides some perspective to see how much it would cost to retain Kaepernick, Crabtree and Iupati in 2015. According to CBS Sports' Joel Corry, a former NFL agent, this year's franchise figure for quarterbacks is projected at $16.06 million. The tag for offensive linemen will be approximately $11.1 million, and wide receivers will check in at $11.5 million.

[RELATED: 49ers unlikely to use franchise tag]

Of those franchise amounts, the quarterback figure appears to be much closer in line with the kind of money the 49ers figure to devote to retain Kaepernick on a long-term contract.