The 49ers are going to have to dip into their cap space if they want to sign one of the league’s marquee free agents this offseason.
According to cornerback Richard Sherman, San Francisco has to outbid the Dallas Cowboys if they want his close friend and three-time All-Pro Earl Thomas patrolling the back end of the defense in 2019 and beyond. Thomas, a native of Orange, Texas, has already expressed an interest in joining the Cowboys following his messy divorce from the Seattle Seahawks, but he’s open to rejoining Sherman in the Bay Area.
“If the money’s equal, if all things are equal, he’s going to Dallas,” Sherman said from the NFL scouting combine Wednesday in Indianapolis. “Now if that (compensation is) not the same, there’s more of a discussion, more of a fight. But then it becomes a bidding war. But that’s up to people make more major decisions than I.”
Sherman said he’s had multiple conversations recently with Thomas, though the 49ers can’t formally make an offer until March 11, when the window opens to negotiate with free agents ahead of the start of the 2019 league year two days later.
The fit for Thomas in San Francisco’s defense would be natural, as it was for Sherman when he joined his former division rival nearly a year ago. The 49ers run the same defensive scheme as Seahawks and should want to improve at safety after playing eight different combinations at the position in 2018.
Sherman indicated Thomas would be interested, for the right price.
“There’s serious interest. There’s obviously a clear and easy fit,” he said. “But financially it has to make sense. If you go into free agency and say, ‘Hey, we offered Earl Thomas $7 million,’ it doesn’t matter how much I recruit, it doesn’t how much you say. If finances make sense, then I would say we’re a major player in it. If everything aligns the right way.”
The 49ers are expected to have roughly $65 million in cap space while Thomas could become the league’s highest paid safety. That title is held by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Barry, who averages $13 million per season after signing for six years and $78 million in February 2017.
Thomas wouldn’t come without risk. He turns 30 in May and ended last season with a fractured leg suffered in October after just three games. But he’s expected to make a full recovery in time for the start of the regular season.