We're going to continue taking our looks at the San Francisco 49ers' pending free agents with one of the most surprising players of last season: outside linebacker Dan Skuta. San Francisco has 15 players hitting unrestricted free agency, two restricted free agents and two exclusive rights free agents this offseason.
I think most of us here didn't expect a whole lot out of Skuta, a guy who was signed to be a special teamer but who wound up taking the primary snaps when Aldon Smith was suspended. He was somewhat overshadowed by Aaron Lynch breaking out, but Skuta was fairly consistent and surprisingly strong as a pass-rusher.
Skuta has started 18 games for the 49ers, with five sacks this past season. He was good in whatever was asked of him, not looking out of place next to the rest of San Francisco's solid defense. I thought his skills rushing the passer are still underrated, but other teams will surely take notice once he hits the open market.
Playing in 14 games, Skuta had 33 total tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles this past season. That's after not getting any sacks in 2013 and only getting half a sack in four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. I'm not sure what kind of role he fits best in at this point, but I'd expect Skuta will see some buzz this offseason.
Why he will return
I'm not sure what's going to happen with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, and Aldon Smith isn't reliable. Skuta is insurance, and the 49ers could pay him a solid amount to keep him around in that case. Skuta is probably in line to be a backup, even if Brooks is released for salary cap reasons, thanks to Lynch. I think most are of the opinion that Lynch is the future of the position, but Skuta has plenty of value at this point.
Why he will depart
Lynch. Skuta can bank on Smith screwing up again, but he can't bank on stopping the momentum of Lynch, who looked excellent rushing the passer and will probably spend a lot of time this offseason working on making himself more well-rounded. Skuta won't start over Lynch unless the 49ers uncover significant issues with their young pass-rusher.
There's also the possibility that another team will want to pay Skuta like a starter. That wouldn't surprise me one bit, and while I think the 49ers are capable of paying Skuta more than backup money, another team will probably offer him more. He's already popped up a couple times on free agent sleepers lists. I imagine more than a few NFL general managers have him on a short list.
Odds of returning
I think I'll go with the low odds here, just because I think Skuta will have some other opportunities and will consider those opportunities better for his career than potentially being a backup on the 49ers. Let's go with something like a 15 percent chance of returning.