After four seasons watching Arik Armstead, the 49ers have a decision to make over the next couple of months.
The former first-round pick out of Oregon in 2015 is signed through the 2019 season – the team picked up his fifth-year option this past April – but the 49ers could cut ties with Armstead before March. If the team decides to go that route, they’d avoid having to pay him the full $9 million which would be guaranteed to Armstead at that time.
Armstead, 25, has had an up-and-down tenure with the 49ers since being drafted, with his progress stunted by injuries. He played 16 games in 2015, but just eight in 2016 and six in 2017. Over those first three seasons, he also managed just six sacks and 50 combined tackles.
But in 2018, Armstead stayed healthy and produced his best season. He started all 16 games, was in on 48 tackles (including six for loss), had three sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
While Armstead still isn’t having the success as a pass rusher that the team hoped for when it drafted him, Armstead was a force against the run in 2018.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters in December that he’s “extremely happy” with Armstead’s play at defensive end.
“He’s as hard as anyone there is to go against,” as a run defender, said Shanahan. “I’ve seen him practice every day. He’s a pain for us to go against every day in training camp. I see it on Sunday, also.”
The analytic website Pro Football Focus graded him among the NFL’s top edge defenders vs. the run.
Though Armstead will be expensive to retain, it seems likely the 49ers will decide to keep the 6-foot-7, 292-pounder for 2019 – and perhaps beyond. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see general manager John Lynch to negotiate a longer-term extension with Armstead, who was the team’s fifth highest-graded player by Pro Football Focus in 2018.
Said Lynch at the end of this past season: “I don’t want to make any absolutes, ‘Yes, he’s going to be here,’ all those things. But, we are pleased with the way Arik progressed and excited about his future.”