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Arik Armstead finishes strong 2018 amid uncertain future with 49ers

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The first-round pick in 2015 put together a solid season for the 49ers, but Arik Armstead’s future in Santa Clara is far from certain.

NFL: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2018 was Arik Armstead’s first 16-game season as a starter. The first round pick in 2015 began his career rotating into the 49ers’ defensive front, starting once. After 2016 and ‘17 were cut short due to injury, Armstead put together an impressive season over the course of his fourth year in San Francisco.

“I just want to continue to get better,” Armstead said via NBC Sports’ Jennifer Lee Chan. “This year was a good stepping stone for my career, playing a full 16 games. That was my main goal this year. I think when I’m healthy I can do some good things out there. I want to build on that for next year.”

Armstead totaled 48 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 2018 — all career bests. He earned a 74.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, eight points behind fellow defensive lineman DeForest Buckner’s 82.8. The pair rank 28th and 20th among NFL defensive ends, respectively. In fact, it could be argued that Armstead was the 49ers’ best defensive lineman behind Buckner, whose 12-sack season gained far more conversations.

“Yeah, you always want those stats,” Armstead said, via Chan, “but they don’t always happen and you got to find ways to be impactful in the game through those things. People who don’t know football can say a bunch of things looking at the stat line at the end of the game, but I think true football people will notice what you do out there and notice how effective you are.”

Armstead’s success in 2018 didn’t come without tribulations. He finished the season with a fractured bone in his right hand and it’s not known if the injury will require surgery. It’s the third year in a row Armstead has dealt with injuries. In 2016, Armstead missed the final eight games of the season to undergo shoulder surgery due to an injury suffered during training camp. In 2017, a broken hand ended Armstead’s season after six games.

Despite his struggles, the 49ers exercised Arik Armstead’s fifth-year option last offseason, locking up the former first-round pick for 2019. At the cost of $9 million, Armstead’s future with the team is far from certain. 49ers General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have until May to decide if Armstead will be on the roster come training camp.

“Arik’s done a good job and you don’t want to lose good players,” Shanahan said on Monday. “Those decisions are based off of how do you want to balance and allocate all the money because you can’t do whatever you want.”

Both Shanahan and Lynch were complimentary of Armstead’s strong season, but neither would offer firm commitment to the 49ers defensive lineman.

“I don’t want to make any absolutes, ‘Yes, he’s going to be here,’ all those things,” Lynch said. “But, we are pleased with the way Arik progressed and excited about his future.”

The 49ers are projected roughly $70 million in salary cap space for 2019. Armstead’s $9 million, while inflated, shouldn't get in the way of the team’s ability to spend money during the offseason. If cost is a concern, the 49ers could look into extending Armstead, softening the blow by spreading the cap hit over the course of the contract.