How 49ers can affordably address D-line in free agency


While the 49ers' defensive line has been the strength of their team, led by 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and veteran Arik Armstead, San Francisco will need to add depth during the offseason.

General manager John Lynch spoke to local Bay Area media while at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and detailed the need to see increased production from Drake Jackson, Javon Kinlaw and Kalia Davis. The 49ers will, however, also need to bolster the group during free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.

“We've got a history of guys entrusting us for one year, and a lot of that has to do with (defensive line coach) Kris Kocurek, with our scheme, with our style," Lynch said. "We let those guys attack. Most guys like to attack. They don’t want to be sitting and reading. We usually figure it out. It is daunting sometimes looking at all those black boxes on the depth chart.” 

Six 49ers defensive linemen are set to become unrestricted free agents, though there is a possibility that a few of them could return on new contracts. But with Kocurek’s track record of grooming veteran free agents, San Francisco also will look at bringing in affordable options to contribute.

With Bosa’s blockbuster extension looming in the near future, the 49ers will have to scour the market for players who show potential, but not blue-chip talent that will break the bank. There could be a player or two with salaries ranging from $4-6 million (Samson Ebukam earned $6 million in 2022).

Players who would demand $2-3 million while looking to set themselves up for a bigger payday in the future, however, are what the 49ers tends to target. Jacksonville Jaguars' Arden Key (now a free agent) is the perfect example of what San Francisco looks for. Key made $1.04 million with with the 49ers in 2021 and registered 6.5 sacks, setting up a $4M contract with Jacksonville in 2022.

Here are a few free agents that fit the mold of what the 49ers tend to target: 

OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Last team: Houston Texans 
Age: 27 years old
Experience: 5 years 
2022 salary: $3.25M
2022 Stats: 5.0 sacks, 43 tackles (31 solo
Career stats: 10 career sacks
Note: Appeared in 16 games in 2022 playing 43.1 percent of defensive snaps.

DE Morgan Fox

Last team: Los Angeles Chargers
Age: 28 years old
Experience: 6 years
2022 salary: $1.18M
2022 Stats: 6.5 sacks 38 tackles (24 solo)
Career stats: 19 career sacks
Note: Appeared in 17 games in 2022 playing 55.5 percent of defensive snaps.

DE Stephen Weatherly

Last team: Cleveland Browns
Age: 28 years old
Experience: 7 years
2022 salary: $1.05M
2022 Stats: 2.5 sacks, 23 tackles (14 solo)
Career stats: 8.0 career sacks
Note: Appeared in 15 games in 2022 playing 31.7 percent of defensive snaps.

DE Ben Banogu

Last team: Indianapolis Colts
Age: 27 years old
Experience: 4 years 
2022 salary: $1.3 million 
2022 Stats: 23 career tackles (13 solo)
Career stats: 3 career sacks
Note: Appeared in 15 games in 2022 playing 10.7 percent of defensive snaps.

DE Jihad Ward

Last team: New York Giants 
Age: 28 years old
Experience: 7 years 
2022 salary: $1.18M
2022 Stats: 3.0 sacks, 43 tackles (28 solo)
Career stats: 13 career sacks
Note: Appeared in 16 games in 2022 playing 62.5 percent of defensive snaps

Here are the members of the 49ers' 2022 defensive line who are free agents: 

Samson Ebukam

Ebukam just wrapped up his sixth NFL season, closing out a two-year contract with the 49ers. The 27-year old had his best statistical season in 2022, registering five quarterback sacks.

In his two seasons with the 49ers, the Eastern Washington product totaled 9.5 regular-season sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, two pass breakups and 24 quarterback hits. 

The 49ers could look to bringing back Ebukam, who has proven to be productive playing opposite of Bosa. His veteran presence would also be valuable for Jackson, who is charged with making a huge leap in his second NFL season.

Charles Omenihu 

The 49ers acquired Omenihu in a 2021 midseason trade with the Houston Texans, the team that drafted him in 2019. The 25-year-old appeared in 26 games for the 49ers -- three as a starter --registering 4.5 sacks in the regular season, one pass breakup, one forced fumble, three tackles for a loss and 17 quarterback hits. 

Omenihu enjoyed working with Kocurek, noting how the partnership helped his his production. The Texas product is a logical option who won't break the bank for the 49ers in 2023. 

Kerry Hyder 

Hyder has been a reliable contributor for the 49ers in two separate seasons in the Bay Area. The 31-year-old spent the 2020 and 2022 seasons with San Francisco, registering 9.5 regular season quarterback sacks and three pass breakups. 

Hyder is another cap-friendly player who would offer leadership in the defensive line room, but his production (1.5 sacks in 2022) did not come close to his 2020 season numbers when he registered a career-best 8.5 sacks. 

Jordan Willis 

Willis is one of the quietest members of the 49ers' defensive line, but also is very well respected. The 27-year-old is most known for blocking the punt that was scooped up for a touchdown by Talanoa Hufanga against the Green Bay Packers in the 2021 NFC Divisional Round. 

Over his 26 regular season games with the 49ers, Willis has racked up 7.5 regular-season sacks, while also being a notable special teams contributor, which boosts his value. 

Hassan Ridgeway 

Lynch and the 49ers front office brought in Ridgeway to help fill the void left by D.J. Jones, who was signed by the Denver Broncos for more money than the club could afford. Over his 12 games in the Bay Area, Ridgeway registered one sack, three tackles for a loss and four quarterback hits. 

With Davis entering the offseason healthy, Ridgeway re-signing with the 49ers seems like a long-shot.  

Maurice Hurst  

The 49ers were hopeful that Hurst would be a key contributor on the line in 2022 but he suffered a torn bicep in training camp that squandered his season. At 27 years old, Hurst could be an affordable contributor in 2023 as long as he remains healthy.

RELATED: Lynch believes Drake Jackson must take 'big step' in 2023

Kevin Givens

Givens is a restricted free agent (RFA) and likely will be re-signed at some point during the offseason. The 26-year-old would join Bosa, Armstead, Jackson, Davis, Kinlaw, Alex Barrett and T.Y. McGill under contract for the 2023 season.

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