Arik Armstead had a career year in 2019 where he finished in the upper half of the NFL in total pressures, sacks, and stops. I will die on the hill that he was the 49ers' best defensive player during the first half of the season. Armstead’s versatility and dominance helped the defense go. He was rewarded with an $85 million contract as Armstead showed steady improvement each year before taking a jump in 2019.
What the 2020 season showed was what most of us already knew: He’s not a “Batman.” Armstead is a strong No. 2 who does all of the dirty work inside to keep linebackers clean and defensive lineman come free on stunts, but he’s not going to have games where he has a few QB hits or sacks.
Armstead is the punching bag for some 49ers fans. In their minds, he hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status because of the box score. That ignores quite a bit of what Armstead brings to the table, as you can’t quantify everything in football. To me, he’s a very good player who deserved to be paid.
Age: 27 (birthday is November 15)
Experience: Six accrued seasons
Armstead is entering the second year of his five-year deal. His base salary for 2021 is $6.6 million, with Armstead’s cap number reaching $12.4 million. This will be the last year his contract reads as a steal, as Armstead’s cap number balloons to $20 million in 2022.
With the salary cap expected to jump as TV deals are secured next year, that shouldn’t be an issue. However, if the team feels like Armstead’s performance is unsatisfactory, they can release Armstead after this season with a post-June 1 designation and save $15 million against the cap while eating five million in dead money.
Why he’ll improve in 2021
We have to be fair to Armstead. He was on the field in December with the likes of Alex Barrett and Dion Jordan. That’s no slight to them, but they’re not Nick Bosa or Year 2 of Javon Kinlaw, where he had an offseason.
Armstead should improve due to the players around him improving. Also, if the offense is as good as expected, the 49ers should be playing with the lead more, which will allow Armstead to kick inside and dominate against guards. He’s at his best when he gets to rush the passer from inside.
Can he win more on the outside? Sure, but Armstead is one of the few examples in the NFL where he’s a productive player that does a lot for his team, but it doesn’t show up in the box score. Because of that, many believe he underwhelms. That’s not the case, and that will be proven this year.
Over/Under 5 sacks for Armstead in 2021?
No matter how well Armstead plays, he’ll be judged by his sack number from fans and the media. In six seasons, Armstead has surpassed four sacks just once. That would suggest his ten sacks in 2019 was an outlier. That also so happens to be the lone year he played with a mega-talented defensive line, which is what the Niners should have this season.
What do you think? Will Armstead surpass five sacks this season for the second time in his career? I lean yes, thanks to having more opportunities and the talent around him.