If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year extension with defensive lineman Arik Armstead, the decision will belong to the 49ers.
The 49ers could place the franchise tag on Armstead while continuing to try to work out a long-term deal. Then, the 49ers must decide whether to devote approximately $19 million in cap space for Armstead for one season or attempt to work out a deal.
The 49ers should have a good idea of what will happen with Armstead and the team's other top defensive free agent, safety Jimmie Ward, and act accordingly during the open negotiating period leading into the start of the new league year.
Here are five defensive free agents who could be good fits for the 49ers:
Quinton Jefferson, DE, Seattle
Jefferson can be a less-pricey replacement for Arik Armstead, whom is expected to command the most money of any of the 49ers' free agents. Potentially for less than half the cost, Jefferson could play defensive end on base downs and move inside to rush the passer.
Jefferson, 26, was the Seahawks' second-best defensive lineman last season. His 2019 production was valued at $6.36 million by OverTheCap.com. The 49ers would not extend too far to get him, but Jefferson could help minimize the loss of Armstead – if the sides are unable to work out a multi-year deal.
Jack Crawford, DL, Atlanta
Crawford, 31, is scheduled for unrestricted one year removed from his best NFL season. In 2018, he started 11 games and registered six sacks. At 6-foot-5, 274 pounds, Crawford can be a solid rotational player on the 49ers' defensive line.
He could split time at defensive end in base situations to help keep Dee Ford fresh for nickel situations. Crawford can also mix into the lineup to rush the passer from the interior. If the cost is in the $2 million range, Crawford would be a solid pickup.
Brandon Mebane, NT, Free Agent
Mebane, 35, might not have much time remaining in his career. But he is familiar with the defense and might want to come to the 49ers for a final chance at another Super Bowl.
Mebane could have a role in the defense as a rotational player behind D.J. Jones. Because the Los Angeles Chargers released him, he would not count against the 49ers in the compensatory formula, which is a bonus.
Kevin Johnson, CB, Buffalo
Johnson signed a one-year contract with Buffalo a year ago to prove he could remain healthy. He did. He appeared in all 16 games and started in the playoffs. Johnson would not come in as a starter, but he can compete with Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon, as Jason Verrett was scheduled to a year ago.
Johnson, 27, has additional value on special teams, which makes him even more valuable because if he does not start, he can still make a contribution on game days.
Will Parks, S, Denver
If Ward does not return to the team this offseason – and there is still a decent chance he does – the 49ers would likely turn to two-year veteran Tarvarius Moore to take over full time at free safety.
But if the 49ers decide to look outside for a starter, Parks is someone – at the right price – could come in and compete with Moore. However, there are early reports that Park will attract a lot of attention on the open market. If Parks is a hot commodity, the 49ers would easily turn the page.
Adrian Phillips of the Los Angeles Chargers is another potentially cost-effective option.
NFL free agency: 49ers should target these five defensive players originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area