The 49ers employed five first-round defensive linemen this past season and were able to do so because four of those were on rookie contracts. Arik Armstead‘s has expired, leading to uncertainty for San Francisco’s sack leader.
Armstead is open to the franchise tag, but the 49ers are hoping they can either bypass that arrangement or use it as a bridge to ensure he will be a part of their defensive line well into the 2020s.
“Arik is an excellent player,” 49ers GM John Lynch said, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “He had an excellent year. I think everything is on the table. We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time.”
This would be a promising development for the 49ers, but it won’t be easy. Even with releases of Jerick McKinnon and Marquise Goodwin saving them north of $8MM, the 49ers would still barely hold $20MM in cap space. They also have Jimmie Ward and Emmanuel Sanders as free agents at positions of greater need. San Francisco’s extension pecking order is also clear, with George Kittle and DeForest Buckner slotted ahead of Armstead in that figurative queue.
Armstead led the 49ers with 10 sacks in 2019 and accumulated two more in the playoffs. The versatile pass rusher only registered nine in four prior injury- and inconsistency-marred seasons, however. But another team will likely be willing to offer Armstead more than the 49ers will, should he reach free agency. A tag-and-negotiate scenario may be the team’s only chance to retain the 6-foot-7 talent, and said tag is expected to cost nearly $18MM.
This will not be an easy process for the NFC champions, but they are not resigned to losing the contract-year wonder just yet.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.