Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night
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The end of an era for Armstead opens the door for a trio of signings

The San Francisco 49ers opened the negotiation period with a bang last Monday, re-signing quarterback Brandon Allen and giving him an early edge to be QB2.

Since then, the 49ers have been busy, signing eight new players—all on the defensive side of the ball—while re-signing eight more to return to the team in 2024 as of Sunday afternoon. But while there are plenty of incoming players, San Francisco has to deal with eight outgoing players, some more important than others.

With plenty of movement in the first week of free agency, these are the four early winners and losers for the 49ers:

Loser: the end of the Arik Armstead era

There were two years between the post-Jim Harbaugh era and the pre-Kyle Shanahan era, with then-general manager Trent Baalke drafting 21 players to the 49ers. Of those 21 players, six played snaps in 2023. And of those six to play snaps last season, only one played his entire career up until then with the 49ers.

Arik Armstead’s nine-year career with San Francisco ended unceremoniously last week, with the two sides unable to agree on a contract restructure. While his numbers didn’t always pop the box score, Armstead always had a leader-like presence on the defense and the team, earning captaincy in four seasons, including 2023.

It was a sudden end for both sides, but it made sense. Keeping a Super Bowl-caliber team together for as long as the 49ers have is challenging in a salary-capped league, leading to difficult decisions. Armstead recognized his value and found that with the Jacksonville Jaguars, signing a three-year deal worth up to $51 million. It’s an unfortunate ending to a promising era of 49ers football, but one that made sense for both sides.

Winner: the 49ers pass rush

I said it when the 49ers signed Randy Gregory and again when the Chase Young trade happened. Ideally, the third time is the charm: Leonard Floyd has the chance to be the best pass rusher opposite Nick Bosa the 49ers have had since Dee Ford.

After multiple attempts to shore up the spot during the 2023 season, the result was a handful of sacks and questions of effort from Bosa’s fellow Ohio State alums. After years of trying less-established names like Arden Key, Charles Omenihu, and Samson Ebukam, who gave San Francisco production, the 49ers finally swung for the fences with Floyd’s signing.

Outside of Floyd, the 49ers added 12 2023 sacks to the 2024 defensive line with three moves by signing Yetur Gross Matos (4.5 sacks in 2023) and Jordan Elliott (2.5) and trading for Maliek Collins (5). While there was a slight improvement stats-wise from the pass rush from 2022 – 48 sacks and a 7.2 sack percentage in 2023 compared to 44 and 6.9 in 2022 – most of the production came from Bosa and Javon Hargrave. The 49ers saw it as an issue and found a solution in Floyd and others, almost over-compensating to solve the need.

Loser: the run-stopping portion of the defensive line

With all the pass-rush talent added, the 49ers ignored the run-stopping portion of the defensive line in the first week of free agency. Armstead’s loss was planned, but Clelin Ferrell’s loss might not have been. This leaves two gaps in the 49ers’ run defense, and San Francisco hasn’t done much to address them yet.

In the 12 games before Armstead’s foot and knee injuries that would keep him out of the last five games of the regular season, the 49ers run defense allowed 79 yards per game. In the previous five games of the regular season without Armstead, it allowed an average of 97 rushing yards per game. Even with the return of Armstead, who was still dealing with his injuries, the 49ers allowed an average of 168.7 rushing yards per game in three playoff games.

While San Francisco has added plenty of names to the defensive line, the run stop feels lacking. Ferrell will be easier to replace than Armstead, with Matos-Gross having a decent season against the run last season. Still, Elliott and Collins finished 68th and 71st in PFF run defense grades in 2023 of 79 defensive tackles to play at least 450 snaps in 2023, and that’s a big gap left by Armstead to replace. San Francisco has ten picks to address the spot in April’s draft, but it’s hard to feel optimistic about the 49ers run defense in the early goings of the offseason.

Winner: Depth

While the Floyd signing was the only big splash for the 49ers in free agency so far, San Francisco used free agency and re-signings to get some depth on both sides of the ball.

One of the more important players for the 49ers to bring back was guard Jon Feliciano, who re-signed with San Francisco on Friday. Feliciano was brought in as offensive line depth last offseason but found himself in a platoon at right guard with Spencer Burford in the second half of the season.

The 49ers also extended the lineman to Feliciano’s right, Colton McKivitiz, through next season, bringing back its starting right tackle for what could be a lesser role in 2024. The offense also brought back Chris Conley and Ben Bartch, who added more depth to their positions.

The 49ers have been much more active on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in De’Vondre Campbell, Chase Lucas, and Isaac Yiadom, in addition to Floyd, Gross-Matos, Collins, and Elliott, shoring up all levels of the defense. With Dre Greenlaw suffering his injury during the Super Bowl, the 49ers had a sudden opening at linebacker, where Campbell now has a chance to make an impact.

The Yiadom signing gives the 49ers a tall cornerback who can play out wide across from Charvarius Ward and permanently move Deommodore Lenoir to the slot, giving San Francisco an answer at corner after a season of uncertainty and plenty of movement.

With a team that deals with injuries as much as the 49ers do, depth never hurts, and this offseason so far has been used to make San Francisco a deeper team.

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