49ers

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

While Solomon Thomas is determined to prove he is worthy of his lofty draft status of two years ago, he is under no pressure to do it alone.

The 49ers’ defensive line is stacked with five players who entered the league as recent first-round draft picks.

Only Dee Ford, chosen No. 23 overall by the Kansas City in 2014, is on his second NFL contract. The 49ers acquired him in a trade for a second-round pick in 2020 after the Chiefs designated him as their franchise player.

Ford, 28, has registered double-digit sacks in two of the past three seasons, including a career-best 13 last season. DeForest Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick of the 49ers in 2016, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a career-high 12 sacks.

Thomas, Buckner, Arik Armstead, chosen No. 17 overall in 2015, and recent No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa give the 49ers depth, as well as plenty of hope the defensive line can emerge as the clear strength of the team.

“Yeah, and we kind of love it,” Thomas said of the expectations for the season. “We’re excited for this year. We have some great players. Picked up a great player, a great kid, Nick Bosa. I love working with Nick so far. And Dee Ford has been a great leader. He’s a great player. He’s got one of the best first steps in football. It’s insane.”

Armstead had a strong season as a run defender and is looking to improve dramatically on his three sacks last season. Thomas admittedly struggled on the field in 2018 while trying to cope with the death of his sister, Ella, shortly after the conclusion of his rookie season.

The 49ers’ defensive line figures to consist of a rotation of those five players, along with Ronald Blair on nickel downs and nose tackle D.J. Jones in the base defense.

[RELATED: Mike McGlicnhey explains what makes Dee Ford special]

Ford and Bosa are strictly edge players, while Buckner is exclusively a defensive tackle. Armstead and Thomas are considered defensive end in base situations and inside pass-rushers on nickel downs.

“We’re excited,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a fun year. We have great guys. Everyone in the room has a chance to contribute and be great and make this a great and fun year and a dominating year. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day.”

George Kittle makes 49ers' top plays in franchise history: No. 20-16

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George Kittle makes 49ers' top plays in franchise history: No. 20-16

The 49ers have played 70 seasons in the National Football League after four seasons (1946 to ‘49) in the All-America Football Conference.

As the 49ers prepare for the organization’s 75th season, it gives us reason to look back on the top plays in franchise history.

It’s subjective, of course. We tried to take into account historical significance, so a play that happens in the postseason is weighted in a way that reflects that. But some great plays simply stand on their own, regardless of when it occurred.

What follows is a list of the top 20 plays in 49ers history, beginning the countdown with Nos. 20 through No. 16.

CLICK FOR PLAYS NO. 20-16

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' George Kittle deserves 'a special contract,' agent believes

49ers' George Kittle deserves 'a special contract,' agent believes

After the best three-season opening for a tight end in NFL history, George Kittle is eligible to receive a new contract from the 49ers before the 2020 season.

It would appear both sides should prioritize a fair contract before the club is allowed to get on the field again. The biggest issue is figuring out what is fair pay for someone who does it all -- but does it at a position that ranks behind only running backs on the NFL pay scale.

“Right now, there is not a comp for George,” Kittle's agent, Jack Bechta, said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s unique. He’s a unicorn. He’s one of a kind.”

Kittle, a fifth-round draft pick from Iowa in 2017, has more receiving yards than any tight end through three seasons in NFL history. He is the only tight end in 49ers history with a 1,000-yard season – and he has done it in back-to-back years. He set the league record for tight ends in 2018 with 1,377 yards receiving.

He was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 after catching 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games.

Moreover, Kittle is a dominant blocker in the run game.

“George is a very special player. He needs a special contract,” Bechta said. “And those things take time for both sides. It’s a nice problem for everybody to have.

“At the end of the day, I trust the Niners will do the right thing and take good care of George, as they should. But I trust the process. I won’t comment where we’re at, or numbers or anything like that. But hopefully it gets done.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Tight ends are lagging behind most of the other positions in the NFL pay structure, Bechta points out.

Hunter Henry is scheduled to be the highest paid tight end in the league this season at $10.6 million after the Los Angeles Chargers designated him as their franchise player. Austin Hooper became the league’s top-paid tight end on a multi-year contract when the Cleveland Browns signed him as a free agent to a four-year deal that averages $10.5 million annually.

[RELATEDLynch expects Kittle contract extension 'in due time']

Meanwhile, Kittle is scheduled to make $2.133 million this season through the league’s proven performance escalator. Clearly, he is underpaid.

The 49ers have him under contract for the upcoming season. Kittle is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season. If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year extension before then, they could designate him as their franchise player to retain him on a one-year deal. Both sides do not want it to come to that.

“There are smart people at the Niners,” Bechta said. “They’ll figure it out. They love George, and George loves them. And hopefully it’ll all work out.”