Last week, the 49ers re-signed defensive tackle Kevin Givens to a one-year, $2.1 million deal, with two million of it fully guaranteed. That was a move that not only made the 49ers stronger in 2023, but also highlights the long-term success at an organizational level.
Givens has spent his entire career with the 49ers after being signed by the team as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2019. After logging just 10 total snaps during his rookie season, Givens has quietly developed into a key contributor on one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL.
While this fearsome 49ers defensive front is geared around the blue chip talents like Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, the collective success of the group wouldn’t be possible without the contributions from depth pieces like Givens.
Whenever you have a group of players that is as talented as the 49ers roster currently is, financial flexibility will always be at a premium due to the amount of big contracts that are paid out to the elite players.
That amplifies the importance of being able to work within the margins, and fill out the rest of your roster with capable players who aren’t going to hamper your already limited financial flexibility.
Because Givens entered the league as an undrafted free agent, he has been a steal for this 49ers team when it comes to the cap hits that he has incurred during his four seasons with the team. Here Givens cap hits during his time with the 49ers, including the percentage of the overall salary cap that Givens accounted for:
2019 - $29,118 (0.01%)
2020 - $610,000 (0.30%)
2021 - $685,551 (0.35%)
2022 - $895,000 (0.42%)
2023 - $2,100,000 (0.88%)
Givens has been a pivotal piece of a defense that has been a top five unit for years and counting, while never accounting for more than a half of a percent of the team's overall salary cap in any of those four seasons.
This tremendous return on investment is the result of the 49ers organization shining in two areas in particular. First and foremost, the ability to scout, prioritize, and ultimately incentivize undrafted free agents to sign with them during the scramble that follows the conclusion of the NFL draft.
Players like Givens and Emmanuel Moseley may not have heard their names called during the draft, but both ended flourishing as vital pieces on one of the most stout defenses in recent memory.
That’s where the second and most important aspect comes into play. Development. The 49ers ability to identify talent will only take them as far as their belief in their own coaching staff to develop these players and get the most out of guys who might have been were overlooked coming out of college.
Givens is a perfect example of this development, jumping from a minimal role during his rookie season to playing the second most snaps of any 49ers defensive tackle during the 2022 season. Because of how team friendly those cap hits were, it allowed the 49ers to have plenty of patience with the long-term outlook of a player like Givens.
Without the pressure of needing immediate results in year one, the 49ers have been able to take this “redshirt” approach with players like Givens, giving them some of their most important periods of growth behind the scenes.
While the financial flexibility relative to overall contribution from players like Givens has been imperative to the 49ers success in recent years, the most important thing ultimately is earning those snaps organically with your play and growth as a player.
The ability that Givens has cannot be overlooked. Having a player like that as a second or third option on your defensive line is a luxury that many teams in the league do not have. At 6’1, 285 pounds, Givens has great burst that creates a unique challenge for opposing offensive linemen who are tasked with blocking him.
Take a look at this rep from the 49ers Week 11 win over the Arizona Cardinals last season. Lined up as a 2i, Givens is going to land a club move on the inside shoulder of the left guard before flattening Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy for a big loss.
Here is another rep from Givens, this time from the three technique in the 49ers Week 7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Givens executes a textbook swim move on the right guard and hits Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as he lets go of this ball, which was miraculously caught in spite of the hit Givens delivered
Even when Givens wasn’t able to get home with his pass rush, he showed a consistent ability to effect the outcome of the play by getting his hands on the ball near the line of scrimmage. Here are a couple of examples of that, starting with the 49ers Wild Card win in Dallas from the 2021 season.
Kevin Givens swim move/batted ball at line of scrimmage @ Dallas 2021 WC round pic.twitter.com/PYP1mePOwR— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 20, 2023
Here is another from the 49ers Week 4 win over the Los Angeles Rams last season:
Kevin Givens batted ball at the line of scrimmage pic.twitter.com/Mp0bmK1zhw— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 20, 2023
Givens is a handful as a pass rushing threat, but is equally stout when he is tasked with defending the run. The exceptional burst in his get off paired with his size and agility allows Givens to slip blocks with regularity.
This tackle for loss in the 49ers Week 11 win over the Arizona Cardinals is a great example. Givens lands a strike on the outside shoulder of the guard, quickly clears him with a swim move and finishes off with a tackle in the backfield for a loss:
Kevin Givens lands a strike on the outside shoulder of the LG and clears the block with a swim move to generate this TFL pic.twitter.com/879cglU1vq— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 19, 2023
Here is another great example of Givens clearing a block by landing an emphatic strike on the shoulder of a guard that led to a tackle for loss. This is from the 49ers Week 2 win over the Seahawks last season:
Kevin Givens run stop Week 2 vs SEA pic.twitter.com/TRK614bvOp— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 20, 2023
I added a couple more cut ups from that 2021 Wild Card game in Dallas because Givens was pivotal in the 49ers coming out victorious in a game that they were missing their two best defensive players in.
This ties in once again with the value, as the 49ers got a game-changing performance on the highest stage from a player who only accounted for a fraction of a percent of their salary cap.
Kevin Givens run stop @ Dallas 2021 WC round pic.twitter.com/9rgPVDVRZW— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 20, 2023
This last one highlights the trait that is probably the most coveted by the 49ers, and more specifically defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. That trait is a relentless motor. Givens is the kind of player where their heart and hustle is evident every time you turn the tape on. He wouldn’t know what taking a play off looks like because he flat out doesn’t do it.
Here is an example of that motor, and how that hustle resulted in a sack of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott:
Kevin Givens sacks @ Dallas 2021 WC pic.twitter.com/UWd3UE6pEG— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 20, 2023
Givens checks every box of what the 49ers are looking for when they fill out their roster. A cost-efficient player, developed in house, who has the talent and the drive to become an impact player at the highest level. The retention of Givens going into 2023 helps the 49ers in the present while also validating their process of the past.