Kwon Alexander’s new contract with the 49ers raised eyebrows when the initial terms were reported Monday at the start of the NFL’s negotiating period. But the deal is far more team friendly than initially believed after details trickled out a day later.
The four-year, $54-million pact would give Alexander the highest average annual salary of any inside linebacker at $13.5 million — if fully realized. But the structure of the contract offers San Francisco very little risk beyond the coming season, which could be important as Alexander works his way back from an ACL tear in October.
The deal, essentially, reads as a year-to-year agreement that allows the 49ers to cut bait or restructure the contract after any of the next three seasons. The framework is typical of deals pieced together by San Francisco’s salary-cap expert, Paraag Marathe.
First, according to Overthecap.com, Alexander’s base salary in 2019 is just $1.75 million, but he receives $9.5 million in guaranteed bonuses plus per-game roster bonuses that make his salary-cap hit just north of $11.5 million. The only true guaranteed money beyond 2019 is the $3 million remaining of his $4 million signing bonus. Alexander is expected to earn $14.25 million in the first year.
His base salary in 2020 jumps to $11.25 million, which is guaranteed for injury only. The only remaining guarantees are pro-rated in the signing bonus, leaving just $3 million in dead money if Alexander gets released (for context, Pierre Garçon will cost the 49ers $7.2 million in dead money after the team declined to pick up his option).
Alexander’s base salaries in 2021 and 2022 are $12.55 million and $12.65 million. Teams typically try to re-work contracts by converting base salaries into signing bonuses that stretch into future seasons to create cap space. That means there’s a real chance this contract doesn’t end up averaging $13.5 million per year.
Simply put, after the coming season, the only real guarantees in Alexander’s contract come in $1 million annual bonuses. That means the team has the flexibility to adjust it as time goes by. The initial sticker shock was hardly warranted, which is typical of most free-agent deals this time of year.
From Alexander’s perspective, he should expect to be highly compensated if he plays at a high level. And he could leverage his strong play into more guaranteed money after each season.
The flexibility from San Francisco’s standpoint should work as incentive for Alexander to play like he did when he led the NFL with 108 solo tackles in 2016 and went to the Pro Bowl in 2017.
Beckham traded to Browns
The biggest news of the day came Tuesday afternoon when the New York Giants shipped star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns, according to multiple reports.
Cleveland traded its first-round pick in the draft (No. 17 overall), a third-round pick and third-year safety Jabrill Peppers, who was drafted in the first round in 2017.
The 49ers were rumored to be interested in trading for Beckham. But it seemed unlikely San Francisco would trade away the No. 2 pick.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will have an up-close look at Beckham and his new team. The 49ers are scheduled to host the Browns next fall. The regular-season schedule is expected to drop next month.
49ers spurned by cornerback
Bradley Roby, a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2014, took a one-year deal with the Houston Texans worth $10 million. He turned down a one-year offer from San Francisco, according to 9News in Denver.
It’s unknown what the 49ers offered Roby. But it’s clear they would have brought him in to compete with recent third-round draft picks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore for the starting job opposite veteran Richard Sherman.