Dante Fowler could be 49ers NFL free agency target to upgrade pass rush


Dante Fowler could be 49ers NFL free agency target to upgrade pass rush

SANTA CLARA -- More than a month before the NFL draft, the 49ers will have an opportunity in free agency to add upgrades at their most urgent position of need.

The 49ers looked into adding edge rushers on the trade market this year, but they did not land either Khalil Mack or Dante Fowler, who were dealt to other teams.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week that the 49ers were interested in Fowler, but they were hesitant to part ways with draft picks for a player whose contract expired at the end of the season. Fowler ended up with the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers’ opponent in Sunday's season finale.

“We’re always interested in adding pass rushers, and he’s a good pass rusher to add,” Shanahan said Wednesday of Fowler. “It was just a tough situation for us because you knew he was on the final year of his contract, so you know you’re only making a trade for a guy who you can only guarantee half the year.

“So, you’ll see how that goes, but it was just a little risky for the situation we were in.”

Fowler, 24, has four sacks this season -- two in seven games with the Jacksonville Jaguars and two since going to the Rams in an October trade for a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round choice.

He was the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, but he missed his entire rookie season with a torn left ACL. He had a career-high eight sacks last season and two more in the playoffs.

The Jaguars declined to pick up his fifth-year option for 2019, which would have paid him $14.2 million. The Rams have sole negotiating rights with Fowler, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Robert Saleh, the 49ers' defensive coordinator, last year mentioned Fowler among five players in the system he considers as good fits to play the team’s edge rusher position.

[RELATED: How 49ers could land No. 1 overall draft pick]

The 49ers haven't gotten consistent pressure from their edge rushers. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner leads the team with 12 sacks, and outside rushers Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh are second with 5.5 apiece.

But Fowler comes with some off-the-field baggage. He was suspended for the first game of the season because of a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Fowler was arrested in July in Florida for battery and sentenced to a year of probation, 75 hours of community service and $1,575 in fines. He also was arrested in March 2016 on misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest charges.

49ers' road back to Super Bowl made tougher by Drew Brees, Greg Olsen

49ers' road back to Super Bowl made tougher by Drew Brees, Greg Olsen

The 49ers' road back to the Super Bowl was always going to be tougher than their most recent one. That's what happens when you play a first-place schedule as opposed to a third-place one. But based on a couple of developments Tuesday, that road just got even tougher.

First, Drew Brees took to Instagram to let the world know he would be returning for a 20th NFL season and 15th with the New Orleans Saints.

Brees, who turned 41 in January, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, but the quarterback had previously made it clear that he would either retire or return for another season in the Big Easy. Clearly, he chose the latter.

While Brees and the Saints still will need to agree to a contract, it appears that is a foregone conclusion. When Brees hit free agency in 2018, he agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract with New Orleans, but with only one year guaranteed.

Brees will be back with the Saints for the 2020 NFL season, but it now appears unlikely that his backup, Teddy Bridgewater, will do the same. Like Brees, Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent, and is likely to command a higher salary on the open market than New Orleans can afford after he went 5-0 as a starter while Brees was injured last season. Taysom Hill, the Saints' do-it-all third-string QB, is a restricted free agent, so New Orleans can match any offer for him and stands a much better chance of retaining him than Bridgewater.

The Saints arguably were San Francisco's toughest competition in the NFC last season, and matched the Niners with a 13-3 regular-season record. That was with Brees missing five games with a thumb injury, and there is every reason to believe New Orleans will be one of the best teams in the conference again in 2020.

If the Saints weren't the 49ers' toughest opponent last season, then it was probably the Seattle Seahawks, who beat San Francisco at Levi's Stadium and came within inches of sweeping the regular-season series and the division title. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been a thorn in San Francisco's side ever since he was drafted by Seattle in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he just got another weapon. Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Seahawks on Tuesday with $5.5 million guaranteed. ESPN's Adam Schefter was the first to report.

Olsen isn't what he once was, as injuries have taken their toll on the 13-year NFL veteran. Still, after being limited to 16 combined games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Olsen appeared in 14 games for Carolina last year and hauled in 52 receptions for 597 yards and two touchdowns. 

With Will Dissly coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, Jacob Hollister a restricted free agent and Luke Willson an unrestricted free agent, Seattle was in dire need of some quality tight end depth. Olsen checks that box, and since he was released by the Panthers, the signing won't cost the Seahawks a compensatory draft pick.

With wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf posing major problems on the outside, Olsen likely will have more room to operate in the middle of the field than all those years spent in Carolina, where he was often his team's No. 1 receiving option. Of course, he'll have to stay healthy to be of use.

[RELATED: 49ers have solid running backs, but group lacks something]

The 49ers have some tough decisions to make in how they plan to load up for next season. Clearly, some of their top competitors have already begun that process.

Watch George Kittle wreak havoc in run game during youth football days

Watch George Kittle wreak havoc in run game during youth football days

Watching George Kittle run with the ball is something of beauty -- and he's been doing it for a long time now.

His wife, Claire, posted on her Instagram story some old-school footage of the 49ers' two-time Pro Bowl tight end wreaking havoc during his youth football games:

He was running hard well before he got paid to do it. 

Last season, Kittle had 1,053 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a huge part of the 49ers' run to Super Bowl LIV. 

While the 49ers ultimately fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Big Game, Kittle made a promise to ensure he and the rest of the 49ers will be back and will get "vengeance."

[RELATED: Kittle tops PFF's best of 2019]

It's nice to see where it all began. The guy is a freak on the field and we're lucky some of us just get to watch and don't have to keep up.