The San Francisco 49ers announced a two-year contract extension for Ray-Ray Armstrong Monday afternoon. The signing means the team’s two starting inside linebackers from Week 1, Armstrong and NaVorro Bowman, are under contract through at least 2018.
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil offered a lot of praise for Armstrong on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. When asked if the coaches had envisioned Armstrong as an every-down linebacker, O’Neil said it seemed like that was how it was developing.
“I do think that that’s the way it was going for him. I do see him as that type of player. He’s got a skill set that’s very different than anything we have in that room as far as his ability to blitz and play man coverage, which is what we want to be defensively.”
Armstrong was previously a safety, so there were going to be concerns about if he had the size to deal with the physicality of defending the run.
“Yeah. I think that was one of the things that if you asked any of the personnel guys and any of the coaches, that was our biggest question mark and I thought that he answered that throughout the preseason. He really showed up in the crossover practices against Denver and Houston where we got a lot of two-back stuff where they were downhill and he went to go get it and it showed up in some of the preseason game stuff.”
And yet, the 49ers gave him a two-year extension. The injury is likely a big part of the reason for that, but his lack of a significant track record is also pertinent. He’s a player they like, but want to see more out of before committing any further.
And so, to a significant extent, the ILB depth chart remains seriously unresolved for 2017. Gerald Hodges, Michael Wilhoite, and Nick Bellore are all free agents after this season. Shayne Skov is signed for one more year, and they have Wynton McManis on the practice squad, but otherwise, it’s just Armstrong and Bowman.
Even if the team thinks Bowman and Armstrong are enough as starters, they would do well to address the position in the draft. Sure, they could add some stop-gap options in free agency, but they need some young depth at the position. Bowman is not getting any younger and is coming off his second major leg injury. As I said above, Armstrong has some potential, but the team clearly wants to see more.
Whether or not Armstrong might work out as a starter should not preclude the 49ers from investing a day two early day three pick in the draft. And if the team decides a first round pick on Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster makes sense, there can be some justifications. Armstrong’s extension does not mean the team would not consider going heavy at the position next April.