Gregory, 30, had signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Broncos last offseason, but played just six games in 2022 and had one sack through four games this season.
What are the implications of Gregory’s trade to the 49ers?
As mentioned above, Gregory had signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Broncos last offseason.
What happens to the remainder of the deal?
Well, the Broncos will be on the hook for Gregory’s $14 million base salary in 2023, with the 49ers paying only the prorated veteran’s minimum of $840,000 this season.
Gregory has cap hits of $14 million for each of the next three seasons, but has no guaranteed money remaining on his deal, meaning the 49ers could move off of the pass rusher at no additional cost as early as this offseason.
With such an expensive contract for the next three seasons, as well as Gregory’s age, it’s highly unlikely that the edge rusher remains with the 49ers on his current deal next season, essentially deeming this move as a one-year rental.
Regardless, it’s a fantastic deal for the 49ers, who are getting a pass-rusher in his prime for a relatively minimal cost, while moving down just one round in a draft where they already have 10 other draft picks.
Why did the 49ers make the trade for Gregory?
Looking at the team’s current defensive line, the 49ers have seen immediate contributions from free agent signee Javon Hargrave, who arguably has been the top pass rusher of the bunch with three sacks and 17 pressures.
Of course, the 49ers also have returners Nick Bosa, who leads the team with 20 pressures, Arik Armstead, who has 11 pressures of his own, and Javon Kinlaw, who has quietly broken out with 12 pressures.
But, that fourth defensive line spot, occupied by Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell at the moment, doesn’t seem to fit the 49ers’ standards.
Kyle Posey alluded to the discrepancy earlier this week when advocating for Gregory, pointing out the average numbers that Jackson, Ferrell, and backup Kerry Hyder have posted, despite facing a lower double-team rate than their counterparts on the defensive line.
Add to the fact that Jackson has been inconsistent in the run game, while Ferrell hasn’t shown much in the regular season as a pass rusher, and it makes sense that the 49ers wanted an upgrade to round out their starting rotation.
This move is as much of an indictment on the 49ers’ current belief in their rotational pieces as it is on their urgency to win this season, as San Francisco swooped in to acquire Gregory before he became a free agent, which was expected to occur last week.
In Gregory, the 49ers are getting a player who had six sacks on a stout Dallas Cowboys defensive line in 2021 and is looking for a career rejuvenation after an injury cost him with the Broncos.
However, the defensive end does come with some prior concerns as Gregory has been suspended four different times due to violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Still, the 49ers clearly believe that he’s changed and his on-the-field impact would be a significant addition to their current group of defensive linemen.
At his best, Gregory is a high-level pass rusher who can work within the 49ers’ rotation, which could bode well for injuries, and provides San Francisco with four higher-level pass-rushing threats.
Additionally, the 49ers have been looking for a speed threat to complement Bosa on the edge, and Gregory provides that element, as well as a variety of pass-rushing moves that could be useful on Sundays.
The 49ers already announced that Gregory would not play this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys, as head coach Kyle Shanahan shared that the defensive end would join the team on Monday.
But, Gregory should be in the mix in Week 6, where the 49ers will be able to debut their new star-studded defensive line.