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Report: The 49ers could be in the defensive line market during free agency

The Niners might be forced to replace some of their in-house free agents

Denver Broncos v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The legal tampering period is officially here. The 49ers are expected to be active, although it may not be for a top-tier free agent. San Francisco has extended Colton McKivitz and re-signed Tashaun Gipson.

Neither of those signings should preclude the Niners from adding an offensive lineman or a safety during free agency. Mostly because of Mike McGlinchey, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and a couple of other defensive lineman are scheduled to hit free agency.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the 49ers will be looking to add defensive linemen during free agency:

As Dan noted, defensive tackle is where much free agency money will be allocated. At the top, Javon Hargrave will post a big number. Same for Dre’Mont Jones, more of a 3-4 defensive end who can play inside and adapt to multiple schemes. A lot of buzz that those two will price themselves out of Philly and Denver, respectfully. But veterans such as Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata and Poona Ford are well-positioned, too. A lot of depth here. The Browns, Texans, Giants, Bengals, Panthers and 49ers all could be in the defensive line pool to some degree. Plenty of well-known veterans (Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson) who could help a team such as Seattle, one of many looking for D-line help.

That blurb was specifically about defensive tackles. As of today, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, and Kalia Davis make up the defensive tackles under contract. Ebukam Omenihu, Kerry Hyder, and Jordan Willis are the edge rushers who are unrestricted free agents.

Fowler also said, “some people around the league are making the connection between 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and Houston,” which was the free space on this year’s free agency bingo card.

Back to the trenches. Letting Omenihu and Ebukam walk essentially means the 49ers must replace two starters. Both players were second and third in snaps played along the defensive line, and each played nearly 200 more snaps than fourth place.

Drake Jackson is an easy player to pencil in as one replacement. Letting a 26-year-old-to-be in Omenihu walk could prove costly, though San Francisco might not have a choice if the market has their say. It feels like we say that about whoever plays opposite of Nick Bosa every year, but there’s been evident growth in Omenihu’s game from last year to this year.

Omenihu finished 13th among all edge rushers in total pressures, with all but one player ahead of him playing at significantly more snaps. Per PFF, only five players had a higher win percentage than Omenihu last season and two of them were finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award and the other was Myles Garrett.

We haven’t seen the best of Omenihu, which is why he should be a priority for the 49ers to re-sign. If Omenihu walks, the 49ers should take a long look at bringing Arden Key back. They play a similar role, and Key proved that he could produce last year without the benefit of playing on the same line as Nick Bosa. Key topped 50 pressures and was 15th in win percentage as a pass rusher.

Defensive tackle is a difficult position for a rookie to come in and excel at right away, so it makes sense why Fowler believes that’s where most of the money would be allocated. If the salary cap wasn’t a thing, Dre’Mont Jones would make for the perfect pairing next to Arik Armstead.

The 49ers saw Kalia Davis practice for the final few weeks of the season. It may not seem like much, but it gives the team an idea of what they have in their sixth-round rookie from last year’s class. If the team is confident in Davis, that could lead to a lower-level signing at defensive tackle and allow the team to spend elsewhere.

San Francisco’s blueprint to their success has been clear under Kyle Shanahan, despite him being an offensive coach. They are going to go into the regular season with nine to ten defensive linemen they feel can give them quality snaps. That means the Niners must sign/draft three to four defenders for the trenches.