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49ers' need at edge rusher could be fixed in free agency or NFL Draft

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49ers' need at edge rusher could be fixed in free agency or NFL Draft

Editor's note: The 49ers season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the team's biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. This week's focus is on edge rushers.

The 49ers have tried to pattern their defense after the scheme and style the Seattle Seahawks have deployed for most of the past decade.

The biggest problem, however, is that the 49ers do not have the players to pull it off with as much success.

And it all starts with 49ers’ lack of an edge rusher.

[RELATED: 49ers promote pass-rusher Pita Taumoepenu from practice squad]

A year ago, the 49ers were able to fill the biggest need on the team with the acquisition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade from the New England Patriots. But they have made no progress when it comes to getting production from the position coach Kyle Shanahan considers the defensive equivalent.

“A quarterback can hide a lot of problems, and so can a pass rush,” Shanahan said.

There were few – if any – options available last offseason in free agency or where the 49ers picked in the draft. However, this offseason could be a lot different, as the 49ers are positioned perfectly to make a  low-pressure decision to provide an immediate upgrade.

Players likely to stay in 2019

Ronald Blair: The third-year pro has remained healthy and developed into the team’s best outside pass-rusher. Blair, 25, is second on the 49ers with 4.5 sacks, and he still has a lot to learn and room to improve.

Cassius Marsh: He will have to earn his way back as a third or fourth outside pass-rusher after failing to provide a consistent pass rush while getting plenty of opportunities. He had more chances as an edge-rusher than anyone on the team, but has managed just 3.5 sacks on the season. He is likely to stick around, but will face more challengers for his spot.

Players likely to go

Arik Armstead: The 49ers have a difficult decision to make on Armstead, who is scheduled to make $9 millon next season on the fifth-year option. The one-year deal becomes guaranteed at the start of the new league year in March. The 49ers consider Armstead as an elite defensive lineman against the run. But that is a lot of money to play for someone who does not have the explosion to make a consistent impact as a pass-rusher. It could go either way.

[RELATED: 49ers' defense must make adjustments to fit their players]

Dekoda Watson: He will be 31, and coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him twice land on injured reserve. He has recorded just six sacks in nine NFL seasons, but 1.5 sacks came in his season debut in Week 9 against the Raiders. After that, he faded to the background.

49ers offseason plan

FREE AGENCY: There is a reason it’s rare that game-changing edge rushers switch teams. Once a team gets a good one, they are not going to let him go.

The Raiders were the exception. They had Khalil Mack, and they traded him to the Chicago Bears.

The 49ers made a competitive trade offer for Mack, according to general manager John Lynch, but did not close the deal to keep Mack in the Bay Area.

Detroit edge rusher Ziggy Ansah is playing under the franchise tag this season. He missed six games this season with a shoulder injury. He is not expected to be tagged for a second year in a row.

With an estimated $70 million in salary-cap space, the 49ers have plenty of money available to spend.

The free-agent market could be thin at edge rusher, as teams are likely to prevent their top guys from hitting the open market. Among the players who could receive franchise tags are Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas), Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and Frank Clark (Seattle). Keep an eye on Rams free agent Dante Fowler, whom defensive coordinator Robert Saleh worked with while they were both in Jacksonville.

DRAFT: The 49ers are four losses away from answering their most pressing need. With four more losses, the 49ers will own the No. 1 overall pick and can run their draft card up to select former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa.

Well, that was easy.

Even if the 49ers defy the odds and win a game or two down the stretch, their first pick is still likely to be an edge rusher. The second-best guy on their list could be Josh Allen of Kentucky. Not only does he rank near the top of the nation with 14 sacks, but he has generated five forced fumbles. On a defense that lacks playmakers and guys with a nose for the football, Allen could be a nice consolation prize.

BOTTOM LINE: At the end of the regular season, the 49ers will know whether they will have the No. 1 overall pick and can select the top college player on their board. If the 49ers are picking elsewhere in the top-five, they would likely become a lot more aggressive in free agency to fill the need.

Watch Kyle Shanahan's postgame speech after 49ers' win vs. Washington

Watch Kyle Shanahan's postgame speech after 49ers' win vs. Washington

Kyle Shanahan was quite pleased with his team's effort in San Francisco's 9-0 win over Washington on Sunday.

"We talked about making it our house, man," the 49ers coach said during his postgame speech in the locker room. "That was our house!"

It wasn't pretty, and how could it have been, given the unrelenting downpour and the mud that covered FedEx Field. But a win is a win, and Shanahan was happy to see his players get one last dip in the dirt after achieving victory.

"There was no cooler thing to me than watching 53 guys go sliding, doing angels across the field," he said of San Francisco's Slip-N-Slide procession.

The hard-fought win stood in contrast to previous successes, such as the 49ers' 24-point victory in Cincinnati in Week 2. Shanahan wanted his team to derive confidence from that knowledge, while also not losing sight of the ultimate goal.

"Guys we're just getting started, alright," Shanahan said in closing. "We can win a game in any way. We had seven starters out today. We bonded together, we'll get some back, but it doesn't matter. 

"This room, we've got something special. Let's keep this s--t going."

[RELATED: Panthers to start Allen at QB, not Cam, vs. 49ers in Week 8]

Next up for San Francisco is a home game against Carolina in Week 8. Safe to say, there won't be as much mud in that one.

Why Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers' answers at wide receiver are on team

Why Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers' answers at wide receiver are on team

Eight days before the NFL trade deadline, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that he does not feel as much urgency to add a veteran receiver in the middle of the season than in his previous two. 

“I think less (urgency) than we’ve had in the last couple of years because I do see that there are guys in our building that I do think the answers are here,” Shanahan told reporters Monday in Santa Clara, amid reports that the 49ers are in the market to add a wide receiver.

The 49ers played Sunday without rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, who injured his groin a week earlier against the Los Angeles Rams. Marquise Goodwin played just seven snaps before leaving with an injury Sunday. He was evaluated for a concussion but was cleared. Goodwin is not in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Shanahan said.

San Francisco also hopes to get Trent Taylor and rookie Jalen Hurd back later in the season. Both players are on injured reserve. They are eligible to return after sitting out eight games from the time they went on IR.

“It was tough not having Deebo last week and Marquise being a little bit banged up, we’ll get both of those two back,” Shanahan said. “The guys we have I still think can continue to get better. We’re still holding out hopes, too, for Jalen and Trent Taylor that they can heal up and hopefully return later this year.

“We’re always looking to improve, but I do like the guys we have here.”

[RELATED: 49ers, Raiders stand pat in power rankings following Week 7]

Tight end George Kittle is the 49ers' top pass-catcher with 34 receptions for 376 yards and one touchdown. Samuel leads the wideouts in receptions with 15 catches for 168 yards, while Goodwin has 11 catches for 181 yards. Samuel and Goodwin have one TD apiece. Kendrick Bourne had his best game of the season on Sunday with three catches for 69 yards in the 49ers' 9-0 victory over Washington.

Dante Pettis, a second-round pick in 2018, has not produced up to expectations. He has nine catches for 83 yards and one touchdown.