There is no doubt that San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald is an extremely important part of their front seven. He is durable, consistent, and doesn’t mind being an unsung hero to the national media and pretty much every fan outside of San Francisco. But being as important as he is, his days could very well be numbered in the bay area.
Last season McDonald had a PFF rating of 1.8, ranking him 22nd among 3-4 defensive ends. He was rated a very pedestrian 0.8 in pass rushing and 0.4 against the run. Compare this to the previous season when he had a total rating of 2.4 and a pass rush rating of 7.5, ranking him 11th overall at his position.
What makes this dropoff in effectiveness more alarming is that he will be 30-years-old before the 2014 season begins. In the NFL, that’s a key age due to the wall that most football players seem to hit after turning 30-years-old.
Besides his age, McDonald also counts for $5.3 million against the cap in 2014. If he were to get cut this season, he would cost the team $4.2 million in dead money. With his skill level still being where it is, it wouldn’t be worth that much dead money to cut him. Next season, he will count for almost $6 million against the cap, and if he gets cut, he will only account for $2.5 million in dead money. That figure is a lot more manageable, especially if he continues to decline in 2014.
Something else McDonald has against him is the amount of youth behind him on the depth chart. The 49ers have Tank Carradine, Lawrence Okoye, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial all waiting in the wings to get more playing time. Out of those four, Carradine and Jerod-Eddie are the oldest at 24 years old.
To sustain success in the NFL, teams have to be willing to let veterans go when they start to decline and are still getting paid too much. To make sure he’s not a cap casualty going into the 2015 season, he must make sure that the decline experienced last season was an aberration. What the 49ers will most likely do is ask McDonald to restructure his contract so his cap number isn’t so big. If he declines, he will probably be cut.
With the youth the 49ers have on the defensive line, they won’t be hamstrung by aging vets whose skills aren’t what they once were. If McDonald wants to retire a 49er, he’ll either need to improve his play this season, or take a significant pay cut.