The defensive ends the 49ers could target
Barring a significant change in philosophy this offseason, the pass rush will continue to be the bedrock of the 49ers defense. That’s why they might be looking to bolster that unity in free agency despite the return of Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam and Arik Armstead.
With Arden Key coming off a career year that might have earned him a big payday in 2022, the 49ers may have to look elsewhere for peak help. It would make sense for them to bring Jordan Willis back, and Dee Ford’s future is still up in the air. There are a handful of veteran options in the free agent market that make sense for a club looking to consistently win in the trenches:
Dallas might not let Armstrong off the hook, but the 49ers might be willing to overpay a bit for the 24-year-old former fourth-round pick who posted a career-high 5.0 sacks last season. Armstrong is a good size at 6-4, 255 pounds and he might even be able to hit inside to play the role Key played for the 49ers a season ago. In four years with Dallas, Armstrong had 7.5 sacks and 65 pressures in 59 games.
A disappointing former first-round pick would suit the 49ers’ free agency MO for the past two years. They love bringing in talented players who have underperformed in the pros. That describes Charlton perfectly. The former No. 28 overall played in Dallas for two years before moving to Miami, Kansas City and Pittsburgh over the past three seasons. In 55 games over five years, Charlton has just 11.5 sacks. However, his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame makes him the kind of player the 49ers and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek can move between rim and inside.
An improvement in each of the past two seasons could inflate Nwosu’s market and push him out of the 49ers’ range. If his market doesn’t grow, he’d make a good situational rusher for San Francisco in the same vein as Ford. Nwosu over the past two years has 9.5 sacks and 67 pressures after putting up just 5.5 and 49 his first two seasons. His lack of versatility could affect the 49ers’ interest, but there are worse players to target if Ford is released or retired.
Turay is another relatively high draft pick who hasn’t always done a good job in the NFL. He had a strong rookie year in 2018 then fired in 2019 when he snatched 14 pressures and 2.0 sacks with a forced fumble in 4 games. A broken ankle cost him the rest of the season and he hasn’t been the same player since. In 2020 he struggled in just seven games, but he bounced back in 2021 with 5.5 sacks in 13 games. It looks like Turay is set for a bumper year for a team that wants to bank on the talent of the former No. 52 overall pick. The 49ers aren’t expected to break Turay’s bank, but it’s a good bet if his market takes a while to come together.
The Eagles took Barnett to the first round of the 2017 draft and he never really turned the corner after a productive third season where he posted a career-high 6.5 sacks and 50 squeezes. Since then he has seen his production decline with 7.5 sacks and 67 squeezes in the past two years combined. It’s clear that Barnett is a rotation player worthy of a good defensive line, which can make him a relatively expensive addition. Just 2.0 sacks in 2021 could drop his value enough to drop him into the 49ers’ price range. Adding Barnett to an already strong DE roster would give San Francisco a chance to replicate the relentless passing rush that helped them build the league’s best pass defense in 2019.
Fowler had an interesting career. He was the third overall pick in 2015, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in training camp. His first two years were good with sacks of 4.0 and 8.0, but then he struggled in the third year and was traded to the Rams. In 2019, he put up 11.5 sacks for Los Angeles in what seemed like a breakthrough year for him. Since then, he has struggled to replicate that success and has only 7.5 sacks in two seasons with the Falcons. It’s hard to imagine there will be a robust market for Fowler, and putting him at the end of the 49ers defensive line might be the best way for him to hit the cap he set for himself in 2019.