There was a lot written last week about the big financial decisions the 49ers likely will have to make in the next year. Young, rising stars like Vernon Davis and Dashon Goldson will demand big pay days, and the 49ers must carve out a substantial amount for a franchise quarterback whether he is home-grown or imported. But there are also ways of saving money.
In May of 2007, the 49ers made news by making cornerback Nate Clements the highest-paid defensive player in the league. They also signed safety Michael Lewis to a big contract. Those players will make a combined $10.1 million in base salary in 2010 and nearly $13 million combined next season.
As I've written before, Lewis' status this year largely depends on Taylor Mays' progress. My guess is that Lewis begins the season as the safety starter and that Mays gradually takes over as the year goes on (provided that Lewis remains healthy). Clements is in a position of greater strength because the 49ers did not select a cornerback until the seventh round of the recent draft. However, it's difficult to see either player returning in 2011 - when a salary cap may be re-installed - unless they restructure their deals.
Lewis has been a mainstay at the team's offseason program this year. In fact, he flies back home to Houston every weekend to be with his family and then flies back to San Jose for the work week. Clements, however, has been working out privately in Arizona. His absence is a signal to the coaching staff that he wasn't happy at being demoted for the team's Nov. 1 game in Indianapolis last year. Instead of starting at cornerback, Clements returned punts. He promptly broke his shoulder and missed the rest of the season.
That game against the Colts was preceded by losses to the Falcons and Texans. In the Atlanta game, Clements allowed receiver Roddy White to catch a short pass on the sideline and then race 90 yards for a touchdown. The following week, Clements missed a tackle against the Texans that also turned into a touchdown. That missed tackle did not sit well with Mike Singletary and prompted Clements' benching the following week.
2010: $6 million
2011: $7.25 million
2012: $9 million
2013: $10.7 million
2014: $15.5 million
2010: $4.1 million
2011: $5.7 million
2012: $6.7 million
Source: NFL Players Association.
-- Matt Barrows