San Francisco

Can 49ers' New Defensive Tackle Live up to Big Contract?

Earl Mitchell was a coveted free agent after being released by Miami, but his production in the NFL has been somewhat disappointing

The 49ers have a new leadership group in place with general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, and the duo obviously isn’t going to hesitate to make moves.

Already, San Francisco has acted to bring in help for the defensive line by signing free agent tackle Earl Mitchell.

The question is, did they overpay for what the eight-year veteran can bring?

Mitchell, 29, released by the Dolphins recently, received a four-year deal worth as much as $16 million, including $5.5 million for 2017, about $1.5 million more than he was to receive in Miami. He was interviewed by several other teams interested in his services.

Lynch told the media Mitchell is a “man of high character” who “represents everything we want to be as a football team.”

“Earl is a tone-setter who plays the game with tremendous passion and the effort necessary to win in this league,” Lynch said, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “We believe those qualities are contagious and will help to make our team stronger. We look forward to the impact Earl will have on the field, in the locker room and in our community.”

To be sure, the 49ers need help on the defensive line, which gave up huge chunks to opposing running backs in 2016. Getting stronger against the run is a priority for the 49ers. Mitchell missed seven games because of injury in 2016, however, and has never been a Pro Bowler. He was durable from 2010 through 2014 when he played all but one game but has missed 11 games over the past two years. Also, he has just 5½ career sacks in 100 NFL games while being in on 206 tackles.

Kevin Nogle, who writes about the Dolphins for a website in Miami, told David Fucillo of SB Nation that Mitchell was expected to be a strong, run-stuffing inside presence in Miami, “but never really developed into that player for the Dolphins.”

Added Nogle: “Mitchell is a solid player who will be able to fill a role on a defense still looking to find itself and he will provide veteran leadership, but do not expect to be getting a dominating defensive tackle who will take control of the line of scrimmage. That’s just not Mitchell’s game.”

In fact, Eric Eager of the analytic website Pro Football Focus wrote this past year that the Dolphins’ contract with Mitchell ranked among the NFL’s five worst for interior defensive linemen, pointing to 2015 numbers in which Mitchell ranked 97th among interior linemen.

Wrote Eager: “Mitchell has never finished higher than 30th in overall grading among defensive tackles during any point in his career.”

Now he’s received a sizable raise to play for the 49ers. It will be interesting to see how much value the team gets from its first major acquisition in the Lynch-Shanahan era.

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