49ers look to add veteran edge rusher in free agency before NFL draft

49ers look to add veteran edge rusher in free agency before NFL draft

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. This is Part Four of a series that examines the 49ers’ biggest offseason needs and their options in free agency.

The 49ers used the first hours of the open negotiating period to fill a need at inside linebacker.

They remain in pursuit of a veteran edge rusher.

DeForest Buckner supplied the 49ers last season with their first legitimate pass-rush threat since the days of Aldon Smith.

Buckner has things handled on the inside. Now, the 49ers need to add upgrades on the outside via free agency and the draft. The 49ers’ top edge rushers last season were Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh, who recorded 5.5 sacks apiece.

An upgrade at edge rusher would have an impact throughout the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers managed an NFL-record-worst two interceptions last season. Opposing quarterbacks were rarely rushed into bad decisions and poor throws.

On the roster

Cassius Marsh, Ronald Blair, Pita Taumoepenu, Dekoda Watson

On the market

Considering the 49ers are so thin at edge rusher, there should be plenty of options available in free agency who can provide the team with upgrades.

The 49ers figure to have interest in Ziggy Ansah, whom 49ers executive Martin Mayhew selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft as general manager of the Detroit Lions. Moreover, new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek worked with Ansah. A six-year veteran, Ansah has been plagued by injuries. But in 2015 and ’17, when he was mostly healthy, Ansah recorded 14.5 and 12 sacks.

Justin Houston, 30, recorded 9.5 and nine sacks the past two seasons. In 2014, he had 22 sacks. The Kansas City Chiefs announced Houston's release Sunday after failing to find a trade partner.

Of course, there is such a premium for pass-rushers that many of the top performers are already off the market. Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas), Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and Frank Clark (Seattle) were tagged as franchise players. Brandon Graham (Philadelphia) and Dante Fowler (L.A. Rams) were signed to extensions before the start of the open negotiating period. During the opening negotiating period, Trey Flowers and Terrell Suggs reportedly reached contract agreements with Detroit and Arizona, respectively. The Packers added Preston Smith (Washington) and Za'Darius Smith (Baltimore).

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Offseason approach

The 49ers do not have a need to add just one edge rusher. The 49ers need multiple edge rushers. One of those edge rushers is likely to come in free agency. Then, the 49ers will have the opportunity to select either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen with the No. 2 overall draft pick.

How adjusting Fred Warner's workload has unleashed his speed for 49ers

How adjusting Fred Warner's workload has unleashed his speed for 49ers

BRADENTON, Fla. — For the second time in as many months, a member of the 49ers has been named NFC Defensive Player of the Month.

Linebacker Fred Warner took home the title for November after Nick Bosa had the honor for October. During the month, Warner tallied 44 total tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and two forced fumbles. 

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes altering the linebacker’s responsibilities has given Warner an opportunity to play with more speed. 

“We’ve taken a lot off his plate so he can just go line up and play,” Saleh said Thursday. “Putting more of the onus on making sure that guys lineup and go play. We were playing some of those read-option teams, the Arizona teams, we’re asking him to make a lot of checks and see if he can get us in the perfect defense. 

“While he’s busy trying to do that, he’s not able to focus on his job. Even though he was getting everyone lined up and everything was perfect, it’s just not fair for him. So, to take a little bit off his plate so he can go ahead and go play, I think that’s really been the difference.”

Saleh is not alone in praising Warner. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman also has been impressed with the young linebacker's work ethic and growth in his second season. The fact that Warner didn’t play inside until he was with the 49ers makes his accomplishments even more significant. 

“The inside linebacker already has so much on his plate,” Sherman said. “Being able to take some of that off—there was one game I think he had six calls in one play. Where if this guy moves here, he has to readjust the line. He has to tell the DBs this, he has to tell this guy this and sometimes that just doesn’t allow him to play fast.

“He’s getting everybody else lined up to play fast but he can’t play fast. He has to think about all these calls, all these adjustments. Maybe you put a little more strain on the rest of the guys. You spread out the strain and it allows him to play fast and for us to be a better defense.”

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Now in his second year, Warner sees things developing on the field more quickly. No matter the workload given to him by Saleh, the BYU product has been able to adjust.  

“I think as the year has gone on, he has kind of started to realize what’s too much, what’s too little,” Warner said. “I agree completely. Ever since kind of the midway point of the season, I think he has lined it up for me to just go out and play fast.”  

49ers' Richard Sherman, Dee Ford speak out on Tim Ryan's comments


49ers' Richard Sherman, Dee Ford speak out on Tim Ryan's comments

BRADENTON , Fla. -- Following radio broadcaster Tim Ryan's one-game suspension for his comments regarding Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, several 49ers players spoke out, believing there was no malicious intent behind what the analyst said. 

Known as being outspoken on most topics, Richard Sherman did not mince words about what Ryan said. He even mentioned that the commentator had personally apologized to several players while at the team hotel after the announcement of his suspension. 

“I know Tim personally, and I listened to the dialogue and saw it, read it,” Sherman said. “Honestly, I wasn’t as outraged as everybody else. I understand how it can be taken in a certain context and be offensive to some. 

“But if you’re saying, ‘Hey, this is a brown ball, they are wearing dark colors, and he has a brown arm,’ honestly sometimes we were having trouble seeing it on film. He’s making a play fake and sometimes he’s swinging his arm really fast and you’re like, does he have the ball? And you look up and [Mark] Ingram is running it.

“So it was technically a valid point but the way he said it, you can always phrase things better. I’ve had a relationship with him since I’ve gotten here and he’s never been anything other than a great guy and a professional and a guy who takes his job seriously.” 

Edge rusher Dee Ford expressed similar sentiments about Ryan’s comments, and confirmed that the two had spoken since the incident. 

“He walked up to me earlier and before he even said anything I told him. ‘I got your back.’” Ford said. “I already knew the story. The words kind of got taken out of context, and of course, now he knows he could have used better judgment with his words. But we got his back. I knew what he was trying to say. 

“This era we live in, it is just what it is, but I know him personally. I speak to him a lot. He loves to watch the D-line and there’s not one -- type of bone -- you know what bone I’m talking about, in his body. So I got his back, so put that to bed really fast.”  

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh also spoke about Ryan’s nature, not believing that there was negative intent behind his comments. 

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“I’ve always, as a human being, tried to judge people on how I interact with them,” Saleh said. “And I love the man. He’s a very genuine human being and he knows he made a mistake and he’s just trying to move this on as quickly as possible.” 

Dennis Brown will be on the call with Greg Papa during Ryan’s absence for Sunday’s matchup against the Saints in the Superdome.