Arik Armstead is going to force general manager John Lynch to make a tough decision this offseason.
The 49ers defensive lineman is having a huge, breakout year for San Francisco. Going into this season, Armstead – the team’s No. 1 pick in 2015 – had nine career sacks and never more than three in any season. And while some young talented players on the team have received contract extensions, Armstead went into this final, fifth-year option season not knowing if he’s in the team’s future plans, or will exit via free agency.
Back in September, after Armstead had sacks in his first two games, Lynch said he believes in Armstead’s talent, but wasn’t certain if San Francisco can afford him.
"He’s playing really well and bringing a lot to the table," Lynch said in September. "We’re glad we have him and we’re going to work hard to keep him, but you can only sign so many, so we’ll have to see where that goes."
Where it’s gone through the first 11 games for Armstead is through the roof.
Playing both inside and outside on the defensive line in Robert Saleh’s constantly shifting and talented defensive front, Armstead is having by far the best year of his pro career. He has 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and a recovery, 13 quarterback hits and has been in on 38 tackles. He ranks tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks and is only 3½ behind NFL leader Cameron Jordan of the Saints.
As the 10-1 49ers prepare to face the 9-2 Ravens in Baltimore Sunday, Armstead has become an important piece in a revitalized pass rush. With Armstead, rookie Nick Bosa (eight sacks), ex-Chief Dee Ford (6.5) and DeForest Buckner (5.5) leading the way, the 49ers have 37 sacks and rank No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and passing defense.
Armstead is coming off a big game in a win over the Packers, in which he had two sacks and five tackles.
Defensive coordinator Saleh says Armstead always has been terrific in his work ethic, studies and effort, but now that he’s paired with new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, he’s taken his game to a higher plane. Kocurek makes it plain every week how he wants each of his players to attack opposing blockers. Saleh says Armstead is thriving.
"Arik has completely bought into that and he he has bought into a style that coach Kocurek and really everybody in this organization believes he can be and it’s showing up play to play," said Saleh. "He’s playing exactly the way he’s being asked to play and he’s showing his dominance and I only think he’s going to get better."
Armstead and the 49ers are set for a 10 a.m. kickoff Sunday in Baltimore. Oddsmakers have made the Ravens 5½-point favorites.