The 49ers Were Caught Cheating With the Salary Cap — Again

A "clerical payroll error” has cost San Francisco draft picks

The logo of the San Francisco 49ers on the back of a fan's jacket.
The 49ers have been docked by the NFL.
DeFodi Images via Getty Images

It has yet to be labeled with the “gate” suffix that the New England Patriots made infamous over the course of winning six Super Bowls in two decades, but the San Francisco 49ers were busted by the NFL over the weekend for cheating on the league’s salary cap in 2022. Following a review by the league, the 49ers will forfeit their original fifth-round selection in the 2025 NFL Draft and have their 2024 fourth-round selection moved four spots down behind compensatory picks. This is because of an administrative payroll accounting error that was uncovered by the NFL.

According to the league, the NFL determined the 49ers would have remained under the salary cap at all times regardless of the error and there was no intent to circumvent the cap. “We take responsibility and accept the imposed discipline from the NFL due to a clerical payroll error,” the team said in a statement. “At no time did we mislead or otherwise deceive the league or gain a competitive advantage in connection with the payroll mistake.”

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Honestly, that could 100% be the case. Playing around with the NFL salary cap is commonplace, and any team that is trying to win could, and should, be doing it. That doesn’t make it legal under NFL rules, something the 49ers know all too well — the team was previously busted for salary cap violations about 20 years ago.

In a 2000 settlement that was reached with the NFL and the NFL Players Association over San Fran’s alleged attempt to circumvent salary cap rules by not disclosing certain parts of agreements the team had reached with players, former 49ers executives Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark were fined $600,000. The team will agreed to fork over $300,000 and forfeit its fifth draft choice in 2001 and third in 2002.

With the latest violation, which will once again cost the team a pair of picks, the 49ers now have an established pattern of behavior with regard to the salary cap. They don’t respect it or adhere to it, much like the rest of the NFL. Unlike the league’s other 31 teams, the 49ers have been caught for their cap callousness.

Does it matter? Other than the loss of the picks, not really. San Francisco, despite losing the Super Bowl to the Chiefs for the second time in five years, still has the best roster in the NFL and has an excellent shot to win a title in the 2024 season.

The extra picks would have helped, but the “clerical payroll error” that aided San Fran in putting their team together was probably even more beneficial. It didn’t lead to a Super Bowl or a “gate” designation, but you can’t fault the 49ers for getting cute with the cap. If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. Just ask the Patriots.

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