Dee Ford

49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance

49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance

This is the sixth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

We continue with a look at the 49ers’ defensive line.

Under contract (signed through)

-Dee Ford (2023)
-DeForest Buckner (2020)
-Nick Bosa (2022)
-Solomon Thomas (2020)
-D.J. Jones (2020)
-Jullian Taylor (2021)
-Kentavius Street (2021)
-Kevin Givens (2021)
-Willie Henry (2020)
-Ray Smith (2021)
-Alex Barrett (2021)
-Jonathan Kongbo (2022)

Buckner is scheduled to play on the fifth-year option of $14.36 million, but the 49ers would like to work out a multi-year contract extension for him and likely see his cap number come down this year.

Ford’s $13.65 million salary for the 2020 season becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. Ford signed the lucrative deal a year ago after coming from the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade for a second-round draft pick.

Thomas is scheduled to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. The 49ers will not pick up the fifth-year option for 2021, but it is not out of the question he could return beyond this season on a significantly reduced contract.

Expiring contracts

-Arik Armstead (UFA)
-Ronald Blair (UFA)
-Sheldon Day (UFA)
-Damontre Moore (UFA)
-Anthony Zettel (UFA)
-Earl Mitchell (UFA)

The 49ers could use the franchise tag on Armstead, but that would require the team committing more than $19 million to him for the 2020 season. The 49ers prefer to re-sign Armstead to a multi-year extension for a lower annual average.

What needs to happen

The 49ers had tremendous depth along the defensive line, but it never seems to be enough at this position. That is why the 49ers will always be looking for more players at this spot. The 49ers could use another outside pass rusher capable of six sacks on the season.

Armstead will cost the most to retain among all the 49ers’ free agents. How high are they willing to go? Lynch made it sound as if the team is focused on a long-term contract, rather than the fallback of merely placing the franchise tag on him.

It might be even a greater priority to work out a long-term extension with Buckner, who enters the final year of his contract. All you need to know about how Buckner is viewed inside the organization became evident when the coaching staff voted him as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award.

Blair and Day are scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Blair served an important role as a backup nickel pass-rusher. His absence after he sustained a torn ACL in the middle of the season was felt. Blair could have taken some of the pass-rush snaps to enable others on the defensive line to remain fresh.

Day could be a starter somewhere else. But when Jones slated to start again this season at nose tackle, the 49ers are not likely to pay much to retain him as a backup.

[RELATED: Why 49ers' O-Line is in good shape for immediate future]

Expectations

The 49ers defensive line was dominant last season. It was San Francisco's strength, and they need to be even more dominant this season.

Bosa quickly established himself as a star. Buckner is another star. Ford has to take the necessary steps in the offseason to make sure the 49ers do not lose him for long stretches of time next season.

Armstead gives the 49ers exactly what they need. He’s a base defensive end who moves inside to rush the passer in nickel situations. If he returns, the 49ers should have the best collection of defensive linemen in the league. If Armstead is not back, the 49ers must add a lower-cost option who fits the scheme and minimizes the drop-off.

Thomas will be back for his fourth season with the 49ers, and there is no reason why he can't produce significantly more in 2020 as a rotational player.

Chiefs' Travis Kelce takes shot at Dee Ford during Super Bowl parade

Chiefs' Travis Kelce takes shot at Dee Ford during Super Bowl parade

We’ve seen athletes have themselves a pretty good time during championship parades, with good reason.

From Draymond Green to Marshawn Lynch to Klay Thompson, professional athletes tend to let loose following a title, going just as hard on the celebration as they do throughout the season leading up to that championship.

The Chiefs hosted their parade through Kansas City on Wednesday, celebrating the franchise’s Super Bowl LIV victory over the 49ers.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce made a speech and took a shot at former teammate and 49ers defensive end Dee Ford.

“How about my dog, 55, and he ain’t offsides, motherf-----g Frank Clark,” Kelce exclaimed.

[RELATED: Ward wants to re-sign with 49ers but only if he plays safety]

Ford was one of the Chiefs’ top defensive players in 2018, but a critical offsides penalty took away a game-clinching interception and allowed the New England Patriots to beat Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.

Clark took his own shots at Ford during the leadup to the Super Bowl, and clearly no one in the state of Missouri has either.

As world piles on Kyle Shanahan, 49ers' locker room is standing by him

As world piles on Kyle Shanahan, 49ers' locker room is standing by him

There's no shortage of criticism being directed at 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan for San Francisco's stunning collapse against the Kanas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. However, it's not coming from within his own locker room.

Quite the opposite, actually.

The strong bond between players and coaches that was emboldened over the 49ers' progression from the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to NFC champions was readily apparent in the comments emanating from their distraught locker room following the 31-20 loss at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. 

After finishing his postgame press conference, Shanahan returned to his deflated team. Surely, he was in a terrible mood as well, knowing that for the second time in four years, he had the Lombardi Trophy in his grasp, only to see it slip away. Nonetheless, he put his personal disappointment aside and, according to NFL Media's Mike Silver, delivered an uplifting speech befitting of a leader. His players certainly appreciated it.

"Kyle held his head high," defensive end Dee Ford described. "He told us, 'Of course it's not the result we wanted, but I'll line up with any player in here, anytime.' He told us, 'This team is special.' And it is."

As sad as tight end George Kittle was while watching his coach have to make that speech -- rather than the joyous one they were all hoping for -- he valued the sentiment of Shanahan's message.

"S--t, it was brutal," Kittle said. "I don't know how to describe it. It just sucked. Kyle was great, though. That's one thing I do like about Kyle is, he keeps it real, all the time. I love playing for him."

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored one of San Francisco's two touchdowns in the Super Bowl, and played a critical role in setting up the other. He was one of the first free-agents to sign with the 49ers after Shanahan was hired ahead of the 2017 season, and he had only glowing things to say about his coach after the lowest point of their time together.

"I have so much love and respect for Kyle," Juszczyk said. "He's the best coach that I've ever played for. He's the same guy every single day, no matter what happens. He always looks to himself first when it comes to blame. And he takes our ideas and suggestions and will really listen, and think about implementing things after the fact. It sucks just because of how much everybody respects and loves him, and because we hate to hear any negativity about him, and we know it's coming."

[RELATED: How Shanahan's lack of aggressiveness cost 49ers before]

Juszczyk, a Harvard alumnus, is a smart guy. The negativity has already begun to flow, and it's going to be quite some time until the faucet is turned all the way off. It won't be coming from within the locker room, though, and that will be key as the 49ers try to get back to the Super Bowl next year.