NFL free agency 2014: 49ers prefer keeping big contracts in-house

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If recent history has taught us anything, don't expect San Francisco to chase big-money free agents this offseason.

The San Francisco 49ers have several positions they need to address this offseason, wide receiver and secondary players being the most obvious. While a deep free agent class of cornerbacks and safeties and some solid, relatively cheap options at receiver will be available this offseason, recent history suggests the Niners will be more inclined to re-sign players in-house rather than chase big-money free agents on the open market.

That means key players with expiring contracts like wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown could be re-signed this offseason.

As Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com writes, several big swings and misses in free agency have made San Francisco skittish. In 2005, they signed offensive tackle Jonas Jennings to a seven-year, $36 million deal. In return, they received just four injury-plagued seasons. Two years later, they made cornerback Nate Clements the highest paid defender in NFL history with a massive eight-year, $80 million contract. He lasted four seasons before being released.

Since then, the 49ers brass has clearly put an emphasis on building within the organization. Most of the Niners' big contracts over the past few years have been awarded to players already on the team. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Ray McDonald have all reeled in lucrative extensions.

If the 49ers keep to that strategy, they'll be looking to retain Boldin, Whitner and Brown instead of turning to free agent replacements. The problem is, there may not be enough money to go around. According to Spotrac.com, San Francisco has $5.5 million in cap room, which won't be enough to retain those three. They should be able to free up more space through cuts and contract restructuring, but even then it could be tight, especially considering their first move will likely be locking down quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a hefty extension.

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