NFL Free Agency

How NFL's $255.4M salary cap impacts 49ers' 2024 free-agent decisions

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The 49ers now head into the next NFL season with a little more financial wiggle room than expected.

The league announced Friday that the 2024 salary cap has been set at $255.4 million per team, an increase of more than $30 million -- by far the highest spike of any year since the cap was introduced in 1994.

At the moment, the 49ers have one of the NFL's highest payrolls, but they're still projected to be slightly more than $4.6 million under the cap with their current active contracts.

Many of the 21 free agents currently on their roster won’t return, but the 49ers will make a few a priority as they decide how to allocate their money. They also can convert some of their most expensive player salaries into signing bonuses in order to manipulate their cap room -- something they historically have done.

Here are a few players and positions that will require a very close look from the 49ers as they attempt to set their 2024 roster under the new cap:

Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk technically is under contract through 2024, but like Nick Bosa last season and Deebo Samuel the year prior, the wide receiver likely will not step foot on the 49ers' practice field until an extension has been signed.

The Arizona State product, who caught 75 passes for a career-high 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, will look for a much-deserved top-dollar deal after receiving second-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his four-year NFL career.

Brock Purdy’s favorite target also averaged 17.9 yards per reception per game and had a 71.4 percent catch rate while earning PFF’s second-highest offensive grade for an NFL wide receiver (91.5). Only Miami Dolphins star Tyreek Hill graded higher (93.4).

With the sizable jump in cap space, the 49ers are more likely to be able to keep Aiyuk for the foreseeable future.

Jauan Jennings

Jennings might not have comparable stats to Aiyuk, but what the physical wideout does best can't be measured on paper. The seventh-round draft pick not only gets under opposing defensive backs and linebackers' skin, but 12 of his 19 total receptions during the 2023 season were for a first down.

The Tennessee product also is vital to the success of coach Kyle Shanahan’s run game. Jennings earned PFF's top outside-zone run-blocking grade for an NFL wide receiver while on the field for 142 plays as a run blocker.

Jennings is an restricted free agent, which gives the 49ers the first right of refusal if another team makes an offer, and procuring an agreement with the Super Bowl LVIII hero is nearly as important to San Francisco as locking up Aiyuk.

Other wide receivers

Ray-Ray McCloud and Chris Conley are the remaining 49ers pass-catchers who will enter free agency. While Shanahan has been impressed with both, San Francisco likely will look for improved production from Ronnie Bell as the returner and Danny Gray as a deep threat. Both remain under contract in 2024.

Defensive line

The 49ers' defensive front has the highest number of free agents to be of any position on the roster. They also will be the most expensive.

Randy Gregory and Chase Young likely will demand financially prohibitive numbers from San Francisco, but the team could target a few other players in light of the higher cap number.

Clelin Ferrell will return to action next season after successful knee surgery and is a candidate for a short-term contract that could benefit both sides. The former first-round draft pick had a productive season after signing a one-year deal for $2.5 million following four seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens also could be affordable for the 49ers on short-term contracts. Kinlaw, a 2020 first-round pick who played a full 17-game season for the first time in his career, arguably played his best football during San Francisco's lengthy playoff run.

Re-signing with the 49ers could benefit Kinlaw, since it would allow him to show that staying healthy wasn't a fluke, as well as help him build his résumé toward a more sizable, long-term deal in 2025.

Defensive back

The 49ers released Isaiah Oliver with one season left on his two-year contract Friday. They had hoped the former Atlanta Falcon would become their starter in nickel situations, and while he appeared in all 17 regular-season games for San Francisco, he started in just six.

Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir are locked in as the 49ers' starting cornerbacks, and Ji’Ayir Brown and a healthy Talanoa Hufanga will start at safety. But San Francisco still needs a nickel back who can support linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw on the second level.

Tashaun Gipson, Logan Ryan and Terrance Mitchell round out the defensive backs who will enter free agency, but the 49ers are more likely to use their cap space elsewhere. Ambry Thomas, Sam Womack and Darrell Luter remain on the roster and are candidates for increased playing time in 2024.

Offensive line

Jon Feliciano, Ben Bartch and Matt Pryor are the 49ers offensive linemen headed to free agency. Of the three, Feliciano is the only one who had significant playing time in 2023, and after his public outing of teammate Spencer Burford on social media after the Super Bowl loss, San Francisco might choose to go in a different direction.

The 2024 draft class also is rich in offensive line prospects, which lowers the odds of the 49ers re-signing their free agents.


Warner and Greenlaw are the presumptive starters, but with the timeline of Greenlaw’s return from an Achilles injury suffered in the Super Bowl in uncertain, the 49ers might prioritize re-signing a player who already knows the scheme.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks are set to enter free agency, and linebacker isn't a position of strength in this season’s NFL draft. So, one or both of the 49ers' veteran linebackers should be an affordable option with a little more cap space.

Tight end

George Kittle is the obvious starter, but Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner are set to become free agents. The 49ers drafted Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis last year to add depth, but they have yet to see much production from either.

San Francisco's most logical plan is to develop its second-year players over re-signing veteran tight ends, but Dwelley’s last four 49ers contracts have been one-year agreements, so a return can't be ruled out.


Brock Purdy is the 49ers' clear starter, but who will be tapped as his backup remains to be seen, as both Sam Darnold and Brandon Allen will seek new deals. Either or both are candidates to return on similarly affordable one-year agreements.

Running back

Christian McCaffrey, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, is locked in through 2025, and he'll again be joined by Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason in the backfield in Shanahan’s run-first-based offense.

The 49ers likely will look to the later rounds of the draft to add depth after Ty Davis-Price agreed to a Philadelphia Eagles contract Tuesday, as announced by his representation.

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