The 49ers have been stocking their linebacking cupboard with safety converts who are aggressive and will thump you. So far, it’s worked. They’re about to pay one of those safety converts to be the highest-paid linebacker in NFL History, potentially.
One of the more underrated position battles in training camp is the fight for the third linebacker spot next to Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner. There are a few options, but the top two are Azeez Al-Shaair and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.
The 24-year-old Flannigan-Fowles doesn’t have much experience. Last year was his first time seeing the field, and he only played 61 snaps, though Flannigan-Fowles did play 43% of the 49ers’ special teams snaps.
There isn’t any extravagant breakdown of Flannigan-Fowles and his nine tackles last year coming. He was targeted a whopping three times and allowed 25 yards in coverage. If Flannigan-Fowles starts this year, it’ll be due to a stellar training camp.
Age: 24 (birthday is September 4)
Experience: One accrued season
Weight: 209 pounds
Flannigan-Fowles is classified as an “SFA,” or street free agent. Here’s how Over The Cap explains what an SFA is from 2016:
SFA’s are players who had contracts that extended into at least 2016 with an NFL team but were released from the contract. Players who were released or not on an active roster prior to the playoffs were free to sign futures contracts for the 2016 League Year in January. Now that the Super Bowl is complete, teams can begin to release players under contract for 2016. Unlike unrestricted free agents who are not allowed to sign until March 9, these players are free to sign with any team in the NFL once released from their contract.
Usually, players released from their contract during this period are those who don’t factor at all into the future plans of a team, and the team sees fit to let them have an early chance at free agency; players like Michael Griffin, Nate Allen, and Riley Cooper all recently cut fit into this category. These players do not factor into any compensatory equations and would be the type of free agent that draft-conscious teams like the Ravens and Packers would target once available.
Flannigan-Fowles is in the final year of his contract and doesn’t have any guaranteed money. If he makes the 49ers roster, his cap number would be $780,000
Odds of making the roster
If we assume San Francisco keeps five linebackers, then three spots are up for grabs. Since Nate Gerry was recently released, that means it’ll come down to Flannigan-Fowles, Al-Shaair, James Burgess, Jonas Griffith, and Elijah Sullivan.
I’m counting Samson Ebukam as a defensive lineman, though that’s conjecture, and he could very well be the 49ers’ third linebacker in their base package and rush the passer in sub-packages.
Flannigan-Fowles made the roster and played a big role on special teams last year. That experience should land him on the roster this season unless Griffith or Sullivan play out of their minds during training camp and force Flannigan-Fowles off the roster.
What to expect in 2021
We should expect a similar role for Flannigan-Fowles this year. If the goal is to get your best 11 players on the field, then Ebukam is an instant upgrade over the players who played in that third linebacking spot last season.
Another year of special teams should serve the former University of Arizona product well. If there is an injury to the linebacking corps, then that’s where Flannigan-Fowles could find himself on the field for the defense.
It all depends on the plans for Ebukam, but going from an undrafted free agent to playing for a playoff contender is already a win if you’re Flannigan-Fowles.