Colin Kaepernick Alex Boone 3

The 49ers have just a shade over $5.7 million in cap space. Vernon Davis and Alex Boone are skipping workouts and have let it be known that they hope to get some of that available loot. While Davis is the one who went on ESPN and compared himself to Jimmy Graham, Boone has a much stronger case. Boone’s case is so strong, he deserves a raise at some point very soon.

Mike Iupati is a free agent after this season, and many feel like he should be the 49ers’ top priority now that Colin Kaepernick’s extension has been finalized. In fact, Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle recently named Iupati as the team’s third best player with the following description:

He might be the most likely candidate on the team to be a Hall of Famer. Even when he has a down year like in 2013, he still gets to the Pro Bowl. Size, temperament and talent are off the charts.

With all due respect to Lynch, who’s been covering the 49ers a long time, I’d name Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and possibly even Davis before Iupati when predicting future Hall of Fame inductees from the 49ers’ roster. But that’s beside the point. Iupati was excellent from the early stages of his career, and based on reputation alone will probably earn a hefty contract after this season if the 49ers let him test his worth on the open market.

However, there’s a reason why the 49ers extended their other 2010 first-rounder, Anthony Davis, before re-upping Iupati. Davis is relatively healthy, his play is ascending, and he’s a tackle. Iupati may have already peaked, seems to get hit with one injury after another, and plays guard.

Iupati is a very strong left guard, deserving of the $2,975,000 base salary (18th among guards) he’s scheduled to make along with about $1.7 million in bonuses. The point here is that Boone is underpaid. He’s scheduled to make $2,000,000 in base salary in 2014 (tied for 24th among guards). He’ll also get $200,000 as a roster bonus if he’s active for all 16 games. Then Boone’s base salary dips to $1,200,000 in 2015 with a $400,000 roster bonus.

Both Iupati and Boone make less in average salary than Andy Lee ($3,400,000) Phil Dawson ($3,067,000).

Boone recently turned 27, which isn’t exactly ancient in guard terms. He could play through this contract and look for a raise in 2016, but I have a much easier time understanding his displeasure than Davis’, since the latter’s average salary is No. 3 among all tight ends. Yes, Davis’ contract was front-loaded, and he wants to cash in on a 13-touchdown season while he can. But Boone was arguably the glue that kept the line together last year.

Boone led the team in snaps with 1,021 (Iupati played 715 snaps, over 250 fewer than any other starter on the 49ers’ offensive line). When Joe Staley was injured in Week 13 against the Rams, it was Boone who moved over to left tackle and allowed no sacks, no hits and just one hurry.

Boone signed his current deal (a four-year contract worth $6.54 million) when he was the team’s swing tackle, which meant he was expected to be the line’s sixth man. But he won the starting right guard job in 2012 and shined, grading out as the No. 3 guard in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus with a score of 22.9 (Iupati was fifth with a score of 20.7).

The PFF scores for each player sunk to the middle of the pack in 2013, as the entire line had a down year – at least compared to 2012, when they were arguably the best unit in the NFL. The 49ers will have a new starting center in 2014 (either Daniel Kilgore or Marcus Martin), and unless the 49ers think someone like Adam Snyder, Joe Looney or either Martin (Marcus or Jonathan) can approximate Boone’s level of play, it’s easy to see why Boone thinks he should be making starting guard money.

The 49ers also drafted guard Brandon Thomas in the third, round, but he’s coming off knee surgery and will probably spend 2014 on the NFI (“Non-Football Injury”) list.

What the 49ers do with Boone might tell us what they’re planning to do about Iupati. If they take a hard line with “The Rhino,” that could mean they’re hopeful that Iupati can recover fully from the broken ankle he suffered in the NFC Championship and sign an extension at a later date. If they give Boone a raise, there might not be much more money to go around at that position. Unless the 49ers believe Boone isn’t a part of their future, this might be a good time to extend him through his prime years and give him a raise above his measly (in relative terms) 2015 salary.