SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers in April picked up the fifth-year option on defensive end Arik Armstead for the 2019 season.
But his one-year, $9.046 million salary does not become guaranteed until March.
Armstead, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has three sacks while starting all 13 games at defensive end. But he appears to be earning his money in the run game, where coach Kyle Shanahan places him among the NFL’s elite.
“I’m extremely happy,” Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).
“He’s as hard as anyone there is to go against. I’ve seen him practice every day. He’s a pain for us to go against every day in training camp. I see it on Sunday, also.”
Armstead rates as the NFL’s No. 3 edge defender against the run, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Only Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney rank ahead of Armstead.
At 6-foot-7, 292 pounds, Armstead has 40 tackles and six tackles for loss, ranking second on the 49ers among defensive linemen behind DeForest Buckner. Linebacker Fred Warner was asked if Armstead can manhandle offensive linemen.
“He can and he does,” Warner said. “He’s a big dude, and he uses his size and his strength to his advantage. He makes some plays, like, ‘Oooh.’ He makes plays that jump off the tape. That’s been big for us up front.”
The 49ers rank 12th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 107.8 yards per game. The opposition is averaging 4.1 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks 10th-best in the league.
Still, the 49ers have a decision to make in the offseason with Armstead, even if it appears obvious the coaching staff will lobby for Armstead's return.
Rookie defensive linemen Kentavius Street, who was cleared this week to practice after sustaining a torn ACL before the draft, and Jullian Taylor also play the “big end” position.
But while the $9.046 million devoted to Armstead is large, the 49ers are expected to have more than $65 million in cap space next season even with Armstead’s salary on the books.
“We’d love sacks, of course. I know he would; I would; fans would. But that doesn’t always happen,” Shanahan said. “We need four guys rushing great together. I know Arik can get better in that area, but he also has done some good things in the pass rush.
"Just collectively, I think we can get better. But you ask me about the run game, Arik is as good as anyone I’ve seen right now.”