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New labor deal is mixed bag for 49ers

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Cornerback Richard Sherman cast the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement as a win for team owners, from “a lot to a little,” he tweeted Sunday morning.

Sherman, entering his third season on the 49ers, was one of the most outspoken critics of the labor deal before it was passed by merely 60 votes (1,019-959).

As for the 49ers as a whole, how does the new CBA impact their ability to win next season and beyond? First of all, such a forecast is trivial considering the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted the 49ers to bar employees from their Santa Clara facility as of last Friday. That said, let’s scout the CBA’s apparent ramifications:

How likely is a Super Bowl return?

An expanded playoff field, from 12 to 14 teams, obviously helps the 49ers’ — and all teams’ — postseason chances. The 49ers are not just any team. They are the one coming off Super Bowl defeat, a moniker that comes with a “hangover” stigma that typically means a tough road back to title contention. Only three previous teams won the Lombardi Trophy after losing in the prior year’s Super Bowl, and the 49ers now must get past a larger playoff field for their “revenge tour.”

An extra wild-card berth in the NFC is especially helpful in a NFC West packed with contenders. Only the No. 1 seed gets a bye for the wild-card round. The 49ers didn’t lock up last season’s No. 1 seed until Dre Greenlaw’s heroic, goal-line tackle in a Week 17 win at Seattle.

How does salary cap look?

This year’s salary cap will be $198.2 million per club, a rise of $10 million from 2019, according to the NFL Network. That is about what was expected, before bigger increases ensue in 2021 and beyond with this new CBA.

The 49ers were projected to have $14 million in space, according to overthecap.com, but now the CBA allows for financial flexibility through extensions, reworked contracts and roster cuts. This could clear the way for anticipated deals with DeForest Buckner and George Kittle, and perhaps a restructured contract for Jimmy Garoppolo ($24 million salary in 2020), Dee Ford ($13.6 million), Sherman ($8 million), Kyle Juszczyk ($5 million), Jerick McKinnon ($6.5 million) and Jaquiski Tartt ($4 million).

Hoping to keep their roster mostly intact, the 49ers have until Monday to deploy their franchise tag on a potential free agent, and defensive end Arik Armstead is the most likely target if they can stomach projected a $19 million salary hit.

Unless delays are enacted — as many expect — free agent discussions are set to start Monday, and deals can be formalized as early as Wednesday when the new league year is scheduled to start.

How will a 48-man roster help in games?

Depth and safety benefits obviously come with suiting up two extra players (48 from a 53-man active roster). But injuries caused such attrition in recent years that the 49ers did not have 48 healthy bodies, and barely 46, to suit up late in the season. Of the 48 who now dress for games, eight must be offensive linemen; the 49ers suited up only seven in their playoff games, with just Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule on the bench.

The 49ers also spent last season carrying C.J. Beathard as a No. 3 quarterback even though he never suited up, and perhaps this 48-man bump will prompt 49ers brass to reconsider their roster structure. The practice squad will increase from 10 to 12 players, and eventually 14.

When will the 17-game schedule begin?

It’s expected between 2021 and 2023. So this season’s opponents remain all set, beyond their typical home-and-away sets with Arizona, Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams. Also coming to Levi’s Stadium will be Buffalo, Green Bay, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington. The 49ers’ other away games are at Dallas, New England, New York Jets and Giants and New Orleans.

So much else to this year’s NFL calendar is in flux, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 49ers’ offseason program was slated to start as early as April 20, but that date figures to get pushed back, if the 49ers or NFL don’t eliminate spring workouts altogether. The NFL’s season opener is scheduled for Sept. 10, presumably featuring the 49ers’ Super Bowl conqueror, the Kansas City Chiefs.

A prediction: the NFL offseason programs are scuttled or at least delayed until June, then only three exhibitions ensue, with a bye week preceding the regular season and then only one bye week allotted per team afterward.

How do players cash in more?

Contract extensions aside, players’ minimum salaries are on the rise. That’s good news for all teams, and the 49ers employ their share of younger players on minimum deals. Last season, for example, Emmanuel Moseley and Dre Greenlaw made the first-year minimum of $495,000, then they each pocketed over $300,000 in performance-based-pay program.

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