Arik Armstead

49ers set firm goal of making their defensive line 'dominant force'

49ers set firm goal of making their defensive line 'dominant force'

The 49ers have invested the team’s top draft pick on a defensive lineman three of the past four years.

In less than a month, there’s a good chance it will be four in five years.

"We want to become a dominant force there," 49ers general manager John Lynch said last week at the NFL owners meeting. "We think that's very important."

There is history that shows if a team is going to stock up at one position, defensive line is the best place to start.

George Seifert, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the 49ers in the 1990s, was a defensive visionary. He often said that it was impossible for a team to have too many defensive linemen.

In Seifert’s eight drafts as head coach, the 49ers selected 16 defensive linemen, including Ted Washington (1991), Dana Stubblefield (1993) and Bryant Young (1994) in the first rounds. They also added a handful of other players during those years who were listed as linebackers but could rush the passer on nickel downs.

DeForest Buckner has lived up to the production expected of the No. 7 overall selection, and is likely to become among the highest-paid defensive players in the league when he signs his next contract. Arik Armstead is in his contract year, playing on the fifth-year option. Solomon Thomas has struggled to find his niche in two NFL seasons.

The 49ers added another first-round draft pick last month with the acquisition of edge rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.

If the 49ers end up selecting Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen, at least one of those recent first-round picks will not be trotting onto the field to open the game as a starter.

And that’s OK. There are plenty of snaps to go around for defensive linemen, who are often rotated into games on a series-by-series basis.

“You can never have too much D-linemen,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Last season, Buckner played 79.4 percent of the 49ers’ 1,073 defensive snaps. That number can probably go down a little bit to keep Buckner more fresh through the course of games and the entire season.

Thomas and Armstead played 60 and 56.7 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps, respectively. Those numbers can remain near the same this season. The combination of starting nose tackles, Earl Mitchell and D.J. Jones, played 46.6 percent. The 49ers declined to pick up the option on Mitchell’s contract.

Nickel edge rushers Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair played 51.3 and 49.8 of all snaps. Marsh was cut last month after the 49ers acquired Ford.

Shanahan referenced the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles as teams that have strong defensive lines and annually add even more players to the mix.

[RELATED: Is Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams pick at No. 2?]

“Everyone needs D-inemen,” Shanahan said. “They are very hard to find. And when you get guys who are difference-makers, those guys can change the game as much as anyone just on their own by rushing the passer.”

Dee Ford, known for costly penalty, could help 49ers become contenders

Dee Ford, known for costly penalty, could help 49ers become contenders

The next time we see Dee Ford play in an NFL game, it'll reportedly be in a 49ers uniform.

The last time we saw Dee Ford play in an NFL game, he arguably cost the Chiefs a shot at the Super Bowl.

It's true. With his team leading the Patriots 28-24 and 1:01 remaining in the 4th quarter of the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Ford’s former teammate Charvarius Ward appeared to clinch the victory for Kansas City when he intercepted New England quarterback Tom Brady on 3rd-and-10.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, however, the interception was negated because Ford lined up offside. The Patriots retained possession and went on to score a touchdown to take a temporary lead. The Chiefs then tied the score at 31-31 with a field goal in the final seconds of regulation, but we all know how that one ultimately worked out.

The Patriots are reigning Super Bowl champions. And Dee Ford is no longer a member of the Chiefs.

It’s truly a shame that Ford’s most memorable play as a professional football player is one so notoriously remembered by his former team’s fan base. Because Ford is one hell of a football player.

Make no mistake, the Chiefs didn’t let Ford go because they didn’t want him, or as some form of retribution for that costly penalty. Ford was rated as the top edge rusher by Pro Football Focus last year, and you don’t let that kind of talent go voluntarily.

No, this was more about planning for the future from the Chiefs’ perspective. Patrick Mahomes took the NFL by storm this past season, and the promising young quarterback likely will receive a contract that will dwarf all others once his rookie deal comes to an end.

So, the Chiefs had to make a tough decision, and the 49ers were there to capitalize.

San Francisco has more money to spend than they know what to do with, so the five-year, $87.5 million contract they reportedly gave Ford -- after the Chiefs rescinded their franchise tag -- isn't a long-term concern. Plus, given the creativity they've used in structuring deals in recent years, it wouldn't be surprising if we learned Ford's contract was primarily front-loaded.

And, by the way, Ford is worth it.

In terms of average annual value (AAV), his new reported deal puts him right in line with other edge rushers that have reportedly reached agreements in free agency, and you could certainly make the case Ford is the best of the bunch.

Former Patriot Trey Flowers, 25, reportedly agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with the Lions in free agency, with an AAV of $18 million per season. He accounted for 7.5 sacks and 78 quarterback pressures (second-most in NFL) for New England last season.

Former Raven Za'Darius Smith, 26, reportedly agreed to a four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers, with an AAV of $16.5 million per season. He registered 8.5 sacks and 60 total quarterback pressures for Baltimore last season.

Ford, 27, tied for eighth in the NFL last season with 13.0 sacks for the Chiefs. His 84 quarterback pressures ranked first among all edge defenders in the league. His seven forced fumbles equaled as many as the entire 49ers' defense combined.

And all it cost them -- other than the money -- was a 2020 second-round pick.

The 49ers endured more than their fair share of injuries last season, and to some very crucial players early on like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon. One would assume they won't have as poor injury luck in the year ahead, and with an influx of talent -- namely Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft -- San Francisco could very well make the leap next season.

Just for fun, let's say they finish 9-7. That would make their 2020 second-round pick roughly the 50th pick overall. That's not just a price you pay every single time.

That's highway robbery.

[RELATED: Why Ford trade made more sense for 49ers than OBJ]

The 49ers' biggest need entering the offseason -- by far -- was that of an edge rusher, and likely multiple. They've addressed that need with their reported trade for Ford, and done so without emptying their cupboards of assets. They still possess the second overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and if they use that selection on, say, Ohio State's Nick Bosa or Kentucky's Josh Allen, it's easy to see why the 49ers would be excited.

Adding Ford to a pass rush that includes former first-round picks DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, as well as potentially Bosa or Allen, would give San Francisco one of the most talented, daunting defensive lines in the league.

The 49ers still have a long way to go to build a championship contender, but Ford -- despite his previous mishap -- is the exact kind of player that will help them get there.

49ers commit to guaranteed fifth-season salary for Arik Armstead

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USATSI

49ers commit to guaranteed fifth-season salary for Arik Armstead

INDIANAPOLIS -- A year ago, the 49ers picked up the non-binding fifth-year option on defensive lineman Arik Armstead's contract.

In two weeks, Armstead will be guaranteed his 2019 salary of $9.046 million for being on the team's roster on the first day of the new league year. Coach Kyle Shanahan announced Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine that Armstead will have a place on the team.

When asked how difficult it was to make the decision to bring back Armstead on the lucrative one-year deal, Shanahan answered, “I don’t think it was difficult at all.”

Armstead, who's 24 and was the No. 17 overall pick of the 2015 draft from Oregon, appeared in just 30 games during his first three NFL seasons. Last year, he started 16 games for the first time in his career.

“We’re not into losing good players, and he has played very well for us,” Shanahan said. “I think he can take it to a whole ‘nother level and I hope to see him do that this year. If he does, that will be very good for the Niners and very good for him because he’s got the ability to do it.

“He’s already done some very good things for us in these two years. Hopefully, this year he can stay healthier. Hopefully, the addition of changing our style a little on the D-line will help him. And I expect him to get better.”

[RELATED: Armstead played through broken bone]

The new style on the defensive line, brought by new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, consists of defensive ends lining up wider. The 49ers envision Armstead playing defensive end on run downs, then moving inside to rush the passer on nickel downs.

Armstead recorded career bests last season with three sacks and 48 tackles.