The San Francisco 49ers were a bad team a season ago and enough of a mess in the front office that big changes were obviously coming in the offseason. Not everyone thought general manager Trent Baalke was out of a job, but many did. Some thought that it might not be the case when Baalke’s front office offered up two significant contract extensions in December 2016.
Those players extended: linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong and tight end Vance McDonald.
McDonald was given a five-year contract worth $35 million despite extremely pedestrian play characterized by stone-handed drops. That deal was awarded on Dec. 9 2016. Armstrong was given a two-year extension on Dec. 19 and at the time, it was thought that Armstrong would be one of two starting inside linebackers alongside the rehabbing NaVorro Bowman.
Of course, that was when the 49ers were still running a 3-4 defense, though Armstrong’s skillset did translate well enough to be the primary backup at Reuben Foster’s eventual spot. Either way, he lasted quite a bit longer than McDonald, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in August.
McDonald never seemed like the answer at tight end, and certainly never looked worthy of a five-year extension. His deal seemed like Baalke grasping at straws, as did Armstrong’s after that. Now both players, plus a slew of Baalke draftees, are off the team and the 49ers continue to churn the roster over.
John Lynch is throwing a lot at the wall and seeing what sticks, cycling guys off the street and the waiver wire. I don’t know if Elijah Lee or Mark Nzechoa are going to be anything special per se, but even if they weren’t as good as Armstrong is now, that doesn’t really change the fact that Armstrong hit his ceiling.
Armstrong seemed to have the support of head coach Kyle Shanahan early on during Foster’s first couple games out, but that was at odds with his play. He was actively bad for a few games, and Shanahan was likely praising him because he simply had nobody else to praise.