MIAMI, Fla. — The 49ers’ defensive line can flat out rush the passer with a group that’s as good as any.
Arik Armstead‘s the oft-forgotten member of this quintessential sub-package quartet despite being the 2019 unit’s sack leader.
He has been labeled with a deragortory, bad word in past seasons that starts with a B.
Yeah, that one. First-round bust.
It no longer fits the Sacramento native and former No. 17 overall pick after a dominant 2019 regular season with 54 tackles, 10 sacks, nine quarterback hits, 43 hurries and two forced fumbles. His 62 total pressures ranks in the top 16 among defensive ends. His pass-rush win rate sits at No. 21.
Armstead overcame earlier injury struggles and built off a healthy 2018 to show great progress over previous seasons and garnered respect across the league.
“He doesn’t get the pub that some others do, but he has probably been the most consistent player on our defensive line this year,” Bosa said. “He has really stepped it up when we needed him in the pass rush. I think he’s the best run player in the NFL right now, when it comes to defensive ends. People don’t give him credit, but he’ll reap the rewards from it this offseason.
“Some team, whether it’s us or someone else — he’ll reap the benefits, no doubt about it.”
Armstead’s agent will spread the stats above far and wide this spring, after he formally hits unrestricted free agency. It could earn an eight-figure average annual salary with plenty guaranteed.
Not that Armstead worries much about that. That’s what he’s saying publicly, anyway. He should rest well and focus on playing Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs knowing he’ll get paid no matter what.
“Using brain cells on [impending free agency] is a waste,” Armstead said. “It’s not productive. I need to focus completely on the games. That includes the next one, which is the biggest game of my life. I’m going to do everything I can to help us win, so this team can be remembered forever.”
He might not get paid by the team that drafted him back in 2015. The 49ers have some complicated salary-cap math coming up, with Buckner and all-world tight end George Kittle due lucrative extensions in the near future. Armstead’s super-agent Joel Segal isn’t known for giving discounts (nor should he), so the 49ers might be forced to let Armstead walk out the front door.
That would be a blow to an awesome defensive line with every other starter coming back in 2020. It’s also an understood product of the modern NFL landscape where elite teams must make hard decisions.
Armstead’s teammates know the NFL business well, and are thrilled that Armstead stayed healthy, played well and shed an unwanted label.
“Having a breakout season like he did shows that all the hard work really paid off,” Buckner said. “He did so over the last couple of years despite all the naysayers, and people calling him a bust. We all knew the type of player he was. He just needed to take it one day at a time and build. He needed to stay on the field and do that the last two years was key.
“When you’re unavailable, nobody can see what you’re capable of. He was able to build off the healthy year he had last year. That was huge.”
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (9:30 p.m. Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).
Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of “49ers Pregame Live” with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting immediately after the game.
Arik Armstead focused on Super Bowl 54 in possible last game with 49ers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area