SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When it comes to their roster, the San Francisco 49ers have plenty of decisions to make in the coming months. Free agency is fast approaching and the NFL draft will follow after that.
Before we get to those two primary methods of roster addition and deletion, we must first get a grasp on which players will hit the free-agent market. Which is to say we must first get an official list of players who have been designated franchise- or transition-tag worthy.
The window for teams to use the franchise and transition tag opens on Wednesday and teams can use a tag to keep a player they want anytime between then and March 1 at 4 p.m. ET. Given their options, it's safe to say that the Niners using either tag is highly unlikely.
As a quick reminder, teams using the franchise tag must tender that player a one-year offer worth the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at his position or 120 percent of his salary in the previous year, whichever is greater. If a player receives a "non-exclusive" franchise tag, he can still negotiate with other teams. If he signs an offer sheet elsewhere and his former team doesn't match it, the new team must send two first-round picks to the original team or negotiate alternative compensation. The original team has seven days to match the offer sheet. The exclusive franchise tag does not allow for players to negotiate with other teams.
The transition tag follows the same guidelines as the non-exclusive franchise tag except the one-year salary is the average of the top 10 salaries at his position. A team can only use one tag in a given offseason.
For the Niners, there simply aren't any players on the roster scheduled to hit free agency who would command the type of salary or necessary protection that come with either tag. A quick scan of the team's 17 potential unrestricted free agents would indicate that the likes of kicker Phil Dawson, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and receiver Jeremy Kerley are their most productive players set to hit the market. None would command the type of salary that goes with either tag.
Of course, that doesn't mean the 49ers won't be keeping a close eye on what happens with tags elsewhere around the league. Namely, the situation between the Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins will be worth monitoring. Washington tagged Cousins last year and it's possible it will do so again, as it's unlikely to allow him to leave without compensation. Cousins played for new Niners coach Kyle Shanahan early in his career and the ties between the two have made the 49ers an oft-discussed possible landing spot should the Redskins be willing to let Cousins go.
Others who could be of interest for the Niners include New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery and San Diego pass-rusher Melvin Ingram.
That's not to say the 49ers will be active or big spenders in free agency should any or all of those players not get the tag and test the open market. But Shanahan has indicated the team will explore any and all options to improve the roster.
"It's the same for that position as any position; you want the best player possible," Shanahan said. "And there's not one absolute answer to that. Everyone wants the best quarterback in the league. Everyone wants the best left tackle in the league, the best receiver. That's what you're always trying to find, and that's what you're always looking for as a personnel staff and that's what you’re always hoping to get as a coach. You don't get those options every year. That's why you have to look into the draft at every single possibility. You have to look into free agency at every single possibility. You have to look at possible trades and every single possibility.
"That's why there is no offseason because there's so many possibilities and there's no absolute way on how to find that in this league. But there's different options each year. We have to find out every single one of those options and then you evaluate those and whatever you think the best option is that gives you the best chance to win now and in the future, that's what my A is and B and C. There is no exact answer. You have to see the options and you rank those differently every year. It depends on what your choices are."
Those choices will gain a little more clarity over the next few weeks.