Arik Armstead

Elijah Mitchell Facing Another Extended Absence; Arik Armstead Nearing Return

Elijah Mitchell opened the season as the 49ers’ starting running back, but an MCL sprain changed his second-year path. After returning to complement trade acquisition Christian McCaffrey, Mitchell will be shut down because of an MCL again.

The 49ers are expecting to be without Mitchell for a six- to eight-week stretch because of another MCL sprain, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. This depleted a backfield already affected by the 49ers trading Mitchell’s initial replacement — Jeff Wilson — to the Dolphins on deadline day. Mitchell damaged his other MCL, per The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, not the one he hurt in September.

Despite being a sixth-round pick, Mitchell emerged as San Francisco’s lead back last season. The Louisiana product amassed 963 rushing yards in just 11 games, but injuries have continually held back the mid-major alum. While other issues led to Mitchell’s six missed games as a rookie, he underwent knee surgery this offseason. His ensuing bouts of knee trouble obviously provide a concern about his long-term viability. The 49ers will need to make another backfield adjustment going forward.

San Francisco has assembled an interesting collection of skill-position players, adding McCaffrey to its George KittleDeebo Samuel duo. But these three have each run into extensive injury trouble, injecting doubt about their availability for the next two months. Mitchell represented high-end insurance for McCaffrey and played well upon return from his initial MCL sprain, but he can be labeled an injury-prone player at this point as well. The 49ers can turn back to third-round rookie Tyrion Davis-Price as a CMC complement. The LSU product’s role stands to grow going forward, with Wilson now the Dolphins’ starter post-trade.

The 49ers may also have a decision to make regarding their injured reserve list. The NFL’s offseason IR adjustment would allow for Mitchell to be placed on IR and return again, but the league also capped the number of players who can be activated from teams’ IR, PUP and NFI lists at eight. The 49ers lead the league with seven such activations, and starting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw remains on IR. If Mitchell returns to IR, only one of these two players can be activated this season. The 49ers are planning to place Mitchell back on IR, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com tweets, putting this either/or scenario into play. Mitchell’s timetable indicates the team would need to hold its final IR activation until the postseason, inserting some roster-related risk into the surging 49ers’ equation.

Arik Armstead has missed most of the 49ers’ season but is not on IR; Shanahan provided more positive injury news regarding the longtime San Francisco defensive lineman. Armstead is expected to return to practice Wednesday, Wagoner tweets. The veteran D-tackle has been out since Week 4 with a hairline fibula fracture. The 49ers have maintained their No. 1 defensive ranking for weeks without Armstead and others in the picture. They stand to receive a boost when the eighth-year defender returns to action.

Arik Armstead Rehabbing Hairline Fracture

The 49ers figure to return from their Week 9 bye much healthier. They designated three players — Elijah Mitchell, Colton McKivitz, Azeez Al-Shaair — to return from IR and saw a few others return to practice this week. Arik Armstead was not in either group.

Armstead, who has not played since Week 4, remains sidelined. Kyle Shanahan specified what the veteran defensive lineman is battling for the first time this week, indicating Armstead is working his way back from a stress reaction and hairline fracture in his left fibula, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes.

While not on the same level as a broken leg, this hairline fracture has defined Armstead’s eighth NFL season. The 49ers having not placed the former first-round pick on IR provides some indication the team expects him back, but Armstead has already missed four straight games because of this injury. Armstead, 29, also dealt with a foot injury this season. His absence has hurt the 49ers, who have shown elite defensive capabilities when they are relatively close to full strength.

San Francisco has been shorthanded at every defensive position over the course of this season. The team has been hardest at defensive tackle. Both Week 1 starters — Armstead and Javon Kinlaw — have missed much of this campaign. Still, San Francisco enters Week 10 ranked atop the league in total defense. During games Armstead has played, the 49ers are allowing 2.8 yards per carry. In games he has missed, the total ballooned to 3.8, per Branch.

Injuries plagued Armstead during the early part of his career. He missed eight games in 2016 and 10 in 2017. But the former No. 17 overall pick suited up for every 49ers contest from 2018-21. The 49ers re-signed Armstead to a five-year, $85MM deal on the same day — March 16, 2020 — they agreed to trade DeForest Buckner to the Colts. The elder Oregon alum has rewarded the 49ers’ faith, being a key part of their Nick Bosa-led defensive lines over the past four seasons. Pro Football Focus ranked Armstead as a top-20 interior D-lineman from 2019-21.

Kinlaw is on IR. Swelling and soreness in the former first-rounder’s surgically repaired did not recede as quickly as the team anticipated, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows (subscription required). The third-year D-tackle has been out since Week 3. The 49ers have used three of their injury activations already. Activating Mitchell, Al-Shaair, McKivitz and defensive end Jordan Willis, who returned to practice on Wednesday, would limit the team’s flexibility down the stretch. It would surprise to see all four activated, but each being back at practice puts that scenario in play. Those activations, as teams can only move eight players off IR this season, could affect Kinlaw’s chances of playing again this season. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers proceed here.

The 49ers released Dee Ford after he ran into chronic injury trouble. Kinlaw, who underwent reconstructive knee surgery during the 2021 season, has seen a lingering injury alter his career path as well. With Kinlaw acknowledging knee pain would be an issue again this season, his 2022 absence stands to have a bigger impact on his career compared to Armstead’s. The 49ers have used Kevin Givens and Hassan Ridgeway as their primary DTs this year. Kinlaw will be eligible to return to practice next week, though it is uncertain the South Carolina alum will be ready.

49ers S Jimmie Ward Expected To Miss Multiple Games

After missing the 49ers’ first four games with a hamstring injury, Jimmie Ward came off injured reserve and returned to his starting post alongside emerging talent Talanoa Hufanga. Ward then suffered another injury on San Francisco’s first defensive play. Another absence is on tap.

The ninth-year safety, whom the 49ers brought back from IR when first eligible, is looking at a multiweek shutdown after his latest injury, according to Kyle Shanahan. The sixth-year HC said (via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch) Ward could return “in a few weeks.” Ward suffered a broken left hand and has already undergone surgery.

[RELATED: Emmanuel Moseley Suffers Torn ACL]

Ward, 31, is guaranteed to miss this week’s game against the Falcons, with a re-evaluation scheduled for next week to determine how effectively he can play with a cast. The former first-round pick came into the season having enjoyed an improved run of health. He only missed six games from 2019-21, anchoring San Francisco’s safety group as Jaquiski Tartt was more frequently absent. But Ward experienced extensive early-career injury misfortune, playing more than 10 games just once in his first five seasons.

The 49ers have Tashaun Gipson on hand as Ward’s replacement. With Gipson starting the team’s first four games, when Ward was on IR, the 49ers plugging the veteran back in alongside Hufanga makes for a simple transition. But injuries are continuing to pile up for the 49ers, depleting what might be the NFL’s premier defense.

Arik Armstead will miss another game due to foot and ankle issues, while Nick Bosa is uncertain to suit up against Atlanta after suffering a groin injury in Week 5. Shanahan said Bosa has a chance to play in Week 6, though he did not practice Wednesday. Charles Omenihu is likely to start if Bosa cannot go, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Javon Kinlaw, who has followed Ward in encountering early-career injury trouble, has missed the past two games due to lingering pain in his surgically repaired left knee. Kinlaw, who has not yet adequately filled the DeForest Buckner void for which he was drafted, is expecting to play through some pain this season.

Moseley’s injury could reopen the door for Jason Verrett, a talented player but one who has cleared the six-game barrier just twice in eight seasons. The 49ers designated Verrett for return and look to view him as a starter if he is healthy. In total, however, the 3-2 team has sustained a concerning number of injuries to start this season.

49ers DTs Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw To Miss Time

The 49ers presently boast the best defense in the league in terms of yards per game, but their DL depth is about to be tested in a big way. As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle (subscription required) writes, starting defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw are expected to miss at least the next two games.

Armstead, who is dealing with a foot injury, could be placed on injured reserve, which would require that he miss at least four contests. The 2015 first-rounder had been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and now has a left ankle ailment as well. He missed the club’s Week 3 loss to the Broncos, and while he started the Niners’ Week 4 victory over the Rams, he was forced to leave that game in the fourth quarter.

Until this season, Armstead had been a highly durable player. From 2018-21, he did not miss a single regular season contest and consistently received high marks from Pro Football Focus. If PFF’s grades are any indication, however, Armstead’s foot problems are having an impact on his play. He has struggled to a 52.9 overall grade in an admittedly small sample size this season after posting marks of at least 74.2 since 2018.

Kinlaw, meanwhile, has battled intermittent knee trouble since his college days. A 2020 first-round choice, Kinlaw appeared in 14 games (12 starts) in his rookie campaign, but he played in just four contests in 2021 before undergoing season-ending knee surgery (which was later reported to be an ACL reconstruction). Unlike Armstead, Kinlaw did play in the Denver contest, though he has been on the field for just one practice since then due to a fluid buildup in his surgically-repaired knee.

Given the nature of the surgery, neither Kinlaw nor head coach Kyle Shanahan were surprised by this setback, and Kinlaw acknowledged he would be dealing with some ups and downs throughout the year. Still, this is unwelcome news for a team that invests significant resources into its defensive front and that has been relying heavily on its defense through the first quarter of the season.

In the absence of Armstead and Kinlaw, Kevin Givens and Hassan Ridgeway will serve as the starting DTs.

49ers DT Maurice Hurst Tore Biceps, Expected To Miss Season

Maurice Hurst‘s bad luck with the 49ers continues. The defensive tackle tore his biceps during practice on Friday and will have to undergo surgery, according to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area (on Twitter). The injury will likely sideline Hurst for the entire 2022 season, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Hurst was a fifth-round pick by the Raiders in 2018, and he ended up spending three seasons with the organization. After collecting 31 tackles and four sacks in 13 games (10 starts) as a rookie, Hurst only started seven games and compiled four more sacks in his final two seasons with the Raiders.

The 27-year-old caught on with San Francisco last offseason. Hurst started the season on injured reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain during the preseason. He returned for a pair of games before nursing a calf injury the rest of the way. Hurst re-signed with the 49ers in March, inking a veteran salary exception worth a bit more than $1MM. The team later released and re-signed the defensive tackle to save a chunk of cash.

Heading into training camp, defensive tackle looked like an area of strength for the 49ers. Now, the team is down three players at the position. Besides Hurst, Hassan Ridgeway is dealing with a quad injury and is out of practice, while Arik Armstead‘s sprained knee will sideline him for a few weeks. Fortunately, Javon Kinlaw will return to practice after recovering from a knee sprain, but as Matt Barrows of The Athletic tweets, the former first-round pick will be on a “pitch count” for at least the next few practices.

George Kittle, Arik Armstead Rework Contracts With 49ers

The 49ers have opened up a significant chunk of cap space. According to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter), the team has restructured the contracts of tight end George Kittle and defensive tackle Arik Armstead. These moves will open $18.75MM in cap space.

Kittle inked a sizable five-year, $75MM deal with the 49ers prior to the 2020 season, but he was limited to only eight games that year while dealing with a knee injury and a broken bone in his foot. He got into 14 games this past season and returned to his Pro Bowl form, hauling in 71 catches for 910 yards and six touchdowns.

Armstead has spent his entire career with San Francisco. The former first-round pick signed a five-year, $85MM deal ($48.5MM guaranteed) with the 49ers following a 2019 season where he finished with 10 sacks. Armstead has collected only 9.5 sacks over the past two seasons (33 starts), but he’s still collected 58 tackles and 24 QB hits.

COVID-19 Latest: Ravens, Williams, Browns

Earlier Wednesday, the NFL took the Ravens-Steelers rematch off its Thanksgiving schedule. That game is now on tap for 12:15pm CT Sunday. More is emerging on why the Steelers will see another of their games delayed. The Ravens disciplined a strength and conditioning coach for “conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff.” The Ravens are levying the discipline because the unnamed staffer did not report symptoms or consistently wear a mask or a contact tracing device, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). This is believed to have contributed to the Ravens’ outbreak — one that comes nearly two months after a Titans outbreak altered the Steelers’ schedule. Seven Ravens players and at least five staffers have tested positive for COVID. This will not only weaken Baltimore against Pittsburgh but potentially deplete team’s roster for its Week 13 Thursday game against Dallas.

Several teams shuffled their rosters because of COVID on Wednesday. Here is the latest:

  • 49ers left tackle Trent Williams tested positive for COVID-19 last week, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano (on Twitter). A cancer survivor, Williams has not experienced issues with the virus yet, Graziano tweets. Williams, who landed on the 49ers’ COVID list earlier this month as a high-risk close contact, is on track to miss San Francisco’s Week 12 game in Los Angeles.
  • Six players remain on San Francisco’s virus list. The 49ers removed Arik Armstead and center Hroniss Grasu on Wednesday.
  • Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki tested positive Wednesday, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter). Takitaki played against the Eagles and returned an interception for a touchdown. The Cleveland starting linebacker’s positive test follows Myles Garrett‘s. Neither they nor Denzel Ward (injury) will be available for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. The Browns closed their facility Wednesday, but their Jags game remains on schedule.
  • The Bengals placed wide receiver Auden Tate and recently acquired offensive lineman B.J. Finney on their reserve/COVID-19 list. Cincinnati has seen staffers test positive, with D-line coach Nick Eason being the most recent. Eason was alerted of his positive test Tuesday. The Bengals now have five players on their reserve/COVID list.
  • Christian Wilkins is off the Dolphins‘ COVID list. Wilkins was not reported to have tested positive, but the second-year defensive lineman still missed two games after landing on the team’s virus list.
  • The Raiders activated Cory Littleton from their COVID list. The high-profile free agent addition has been out for two weeks due to a positive coronavirus test. Las Vegas’ defense remains shorthanded due to virus issues, with Clelin Ferrell testing positive last week and Lamarcus Joyner missing Sunday’s Chiefs game because of his status as a close contact.
  • Dante Fowler also tested positive two weeks ago and missed the Falcons‘ Week 11 game, but the big-ticket free agent addition is off the list now and on course to return to Atlanta’s lineup Sunday.
  • The Vikings and Chargers also removed players from their respective virus lists Wednesday. Minnesota activated guard Dru Samia; Los Angeles activated cornerback Brandon Facyson.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/16/20

We’ll put all of today’s minor moves here:

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans 

Fortunately it looks like all these COVID-19 list placements were due to contacts and not positive tests, meaning the Chiefs will likely have both of their starting tackles available on Sunday assuming they don’t test positive between now and then.

West Rumors: Chargers, Cardinals, Armstead

In signing Chris Harris, the Chargers now employ three first-team All-Pros (Harris, Derwin James, Desmond King) and a second-team All-Pro (Casey Hayward) in their secondary. Harris resided as the NFL’s slot kingpin for many years, but the injury-depleted Broncos used him almost exclusively on the outside last season. The four-time Pro Bowler confirmed Tuesday the Chargers informed him he will be their primary slot defender, per Daniel Popper of The Athletic (on Twitter). For most of his Broncos career, Harris played outside in base sets and inside in sub-packages.

Harris’ Los Angeles arrival puts King in an interesting position. King has become a high-end slot player for the Bolts, earning All-Pro recognition for the role in 2018. Harris said (video link via Pro Football Focus; h/t Chargers Legion) earlier this offseason the Chargers planned to move King to safety, where he played at Iowa. The contract-year defender being a full-time safety would allow the Bolts to start their four All-Pro defensive backs, but Anthony Lynn has yet to indicate how the team’s new secondary will look.

Here is the latest from the West divisions:

  • On the subject of defensive alignments, the 49ers are not expected to make Arik Armstead a full-time defensive tackle despite trading DeForest Buckner and seeing fellow Super Bowl D-tackle starter Sheldon Day join him in Indianapolis. Armstead is expected to remain a base-downs defensive end and inside pass rusher, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Armstead has shown the ability to be an outside and inside pass rusher, leading the 49ers with 10 sacks last season.
  • Kliff Kingsbury‘s offense did not feature too much from the tight end position last season, though the Cardinals did extend Maxx Williams. Neither he nor Charles Clay reached 250 receiving yards in 2019. The Cardinals, however, are eyeing tight ends in this coming draft class, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com tweets. They had planned to bring in some for pre-draft workouts, but the NFL nixed those early in the process. This draft class is not viewed to be especially deep at tight end, however.
  • The Cardinals also are interested in Utah running back Zack Moss, according to Weinfuss (on Twitter). Moss already went through a FaceTime conversation with Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon, per Weinfuss. Moss ended the 2019 season as the Pac-12’s offensive player of the year, totaling 1,804 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns as a senior.
  • Arizona’s Marcus Gilbert contract is not quite as lucrative as initially advertised. While it is worth up to $3.75MM, the veteran right tackle’s deal will be for the veteran minimum ($1.05MM, in Gilbert’s case), Howard Balzer of SI.com writes. The longtime Steelers starter will see just $150K guaranteed. Gilbert missed all of last season with an injury, one that severely limited him on the open market.
  • The Broncos are guaranteeing Jeremiah Attaochu $500K, per the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson (on Twitter). That includes $250K of his $1MM base salary. Attaochu will be expected to be a backup to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

Contract Details: JPP, Cousins, Weatherly

Deals are coming in quickly, so we’ve compiled some important contract details below: