NFL Free Agency

49ers' defensive line highlights team's free-agent decisions

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The 49ers have placed a great deal of emphasis on acquiring depth along the defensive line, and general manager John Lynch has quite a chore ahead of him this offseason to maintain a strong rotation along their front four.

With the NFL free-agent signing period approaching on Monday, the 49ers have six veteran defensive linemen who are scheduled to hit the open market and one more who is expected to join them.

The 49ers are set to release defensive tackle Arik Armstead, the longest-tenured player on the team, after he declined to accept a proposed reduction from his scheduled $17.4 million salary for the 2024 season.

It is not uncommon for the 49ers to enter training camp with a dozen or more NFL-caliber defensive linemen to create competition for, at most, 10 roster spots.

The 49ers could make a big splash on the free-agent market or with a trade to acquire a top-of-the-line talent on the defensive line. As the open negotiating period begins on Monday at 9 a.m., the 49ers are lacking in quality and quantity with only starters Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave under contract.

The free-agent signing period officially opens Wednesday, March 13, at 1 p.m.

Here is a complete rundown of the 49ers’ scheduled unrestricted free agents on defense (ranked from top to bottom in playing time or depth chart):

S Tashaun Gipson

In the summer of 2022, it appeared Gipson’s career might be over. But he ended up starting every game in which he appeared for the 49ers over the past two seasons.

Gipson, 33, was a solid starter this season, but the 49ers appear set up at the safety positions with Talanoa Hufanga, returning from ACL surgery, and Ji’Ayir Brown as the starters.

DE Clelin Ferrell

The 49ers tried to avoid the risk of injuries heading into the playoffs by resting many of their starters for the Week 17 game against the Los Angeles Rams. But the team’s defense sustained a big blow when Ferrell sustained a season-ending knee injury.

He started every game in the regular season and was an active base-down defender. The 49ers’ run defense suffered without him. The 49ers would love for Ferrell to be back on the team. But will his steady play of 2023 land him a deal with a team that does not have the budget constraints of the 49ers?

DE Chase Young

This was seen as a half-season rental when the 49ers acquired Young from the Washington Commanders for a special-compensatory draft pick at the end of the third round. The 49ers fully expect Young to sign a nice contract elsewhere and, perhaps, provide them with a nice compensatory selection for the 2025 NFL Draft.

Young had an up-and-down time with the 49ers. He had 2.5 sacks in nine regular-season games, but played well in the Super Bowl with a sack and a forced intentional grounding.

DT Javon Kinlaw

Kinlaw did not live up to the lofty expectations after he was chosen with the pick the 49ers acquired in the DeForest Buckner trade four years ago. The 2023 season was the closest everybody has come to seeing Kinlaw’s potential. For the first time in his career, he was able to stay healthy and see considerable playing time.

After declining the fifth-year option, the 49ers could look to bring back Kinlaw for at least another season. But that will depend on how much interest he generates on the open market.

LB Oren Burks

Burks was one of the 49ers’ top special-teams players over the past two seasons as well as the 49ers’ No. 3 linebacker. When the 49ers were in their base defense, Burks was on the field. He registered five tackles while playing 71 snaps in the Super Bowl due to Dre Greenlaw’s Achilles injury.

Burks is a priority to re-sign but it will likely be on a contract similar to the one he signed two years ago when he came over after spending his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay.

DT Kevin Givens

Givens carved out a niche for himself over the past four seasons as a rotational player along the 49ers’ defensive line. After starting 11 games in 2022, Givens saw a drop in his playing time due to the arrival of Hargrave and better health along the D-line.

Givens fits what the 49ers are looking to do on the defensive line. They could also be looking for Kalia Davis to step up and slide into his role.

DE Randy Gregory

The 49ers acquired Gregory and a seventh-round pick from Denver in October for a sixth-round selection, but he did not provide them with the kind of production for which they were hoping.

Gregory registered just 2.5 sacks in 15 games, including no sacks in the playoff. Unless it’s a deal for near the minimum salary, Gregory, 31, is likely to be signing elsewhere this offseason.

LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Flannigan-Fowles has been a nice role player on defense and special teams since winning a spot in 2020 as an undrafted rookie. The 49ers took measures a year ago to cover for possible departures of Flannigan-Fowles and Burks with the selections of inside linebackers Dee Winters and Jalen Graham on Day 3 of the draft.

S Logan Ryan

Ryan, an 11-year NFL veteran, signed with the 49ers in early December after injuries to safeties Hufanga and George Odum. He ended up working his way into a significant role in the Super Bowl as San Francisco's nickel back.

The 49ers can be expected to keep the door open for Ryan’s return but they will try to find younger players to groom to provide competition and depth in the defensive backfield.

DT Sebastian Joseph-Day

A late-season pickup after the Chargers released him, Joseph-Day appeared in just two regular-season games. He played just four snaps in the Super Bowl. It is unlikely he will return to the team. But with former Chargers coach Brandon Staley joining the staff, the 49ers could look into re-upping Joseph-Day for a full season.

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