Good pass rushers are hard to find in the NFL and come at a premium when they hit the open market. Before the 2018 season, Aaron Donald signed a six-year, $135 million dollar contract with $87 million guaranteed. Khalil Mack also cashed in with a six-year $141 million deal that included a $90 million guarantee. Those mega deals will set the market for the new league year in 2019.
Here is a list of the top pass rushers that the 49ers might consider if they do come available and are not extended or franchised by their respective teams.
DE Demarcus Lawrence (26)
Lawrence was franchised by the Dallas Cowboys last off season; his projected franchise tag number for 2019 is $17,291,000. He currently has 9.5 sacks this season, but had 14.5 sacks just last year. According to overthecap.com the Cowboys will have $54,881,688 in cap space for 2019, but they’ll need that money to secure other stars as well.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has already stated publicly that he intends on giving Dak Prescott a new deal. In addition, they will also need to extend receiver Amari Cooper, who they acquired from the Raiders during the trade deadline. The Cowboys can afford to re-sign their Pro Bowl defensive end, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that Lawrence will come back. I would expect John Lynch to be very aggressive in acquiring him if he makes it to free agency.
DE Trey Flowers (25)
With about $25 million in cap space, the New England Patriots should be able to keep Flowers, whether it’s with a new multi-year contract, or by using the franchise tag. With that said, Flowers has never had more than 7 sacks in a season, this year he has 6.5. That’s not a lot of production to advocate the franchise tag, and judging from New England’s past, they won’t brake the bank for Flowers either.
More than likely Flowers will get a chance to test free agency. It does beg the question, however; does he fit into the 49ers’ defensive scheme and is he really that much better than what they already have? Never the less, the 49ers should at least bring him in for an interview if he does become available.
OLB Jadeveon Clowney (25)
Clowney was selected first overall by the Houston Texans in the 2014 draft. His health has been a concern since being drafted, but he has been a beast when he’s on the field. More than likely, the Texans will have to tag Clowney, as they will probably be unable to sign him to a long-term deal.
If by some chance he does become available, whether it’s through free agency or a trade, John Lynch needs to go all out and make the move. He’s already learned the hard way that edge rushers don’t grow on trees.
OLB Dee Ford (27)
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Ford 23rd overall in the 2014 Draft. In his fourth season with the Chiefs, Ford has 12 sacks and 52 combined tackles. He also has six forced fumbles for the season, and is proving to be one of the best players on the Chief’s defense. Ford is having a career year by all accounts.
Like the others mentioned on this list, Ford will probably be retained either by an extension or the franchise tag. Regardless, Dee Ford is about to become a very rich man and the 49ers would be lucky to have him.
DE Frank Clark (26)
Clark was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft (63rd overall). This season Clark has posted career highs in both sacks (12) and quarterback hits (24). Back in October, Clark told local media that there’s no place he’d rather be than Seattle. Head coach Pete Carroll also chimed in while joining ESPN 710 Seattle on Christmas Eve. “He is a Seahawk, he ain’t going anywhere. We aren’t losing him.”
However, don’t expect negotiations to be as rosy for the Seahawks’ front office. More than likely, Clark will have to be tagged, which would give him a one-year salary worth some $19 million. Obviously, the 49ers should go after the young defensive end if he walks, but the odds of that happening are very slim, so don’t get your hopes up.
DE Ezekiel Ansah (29)
Ansah was franchised by the Detroit Lions before the start of the 2018 season. He posted 12 sacks and 39 tackles last season, but was limited to just seven games in 2018, posting just 4 sacks and 11 combined tackles. After dislocating his shoulder against Arizona in week 14, the Lions placed Ansah on injured reserve, ending his season.
There’s a very strong possibility that Ansah will be allowed to walk in free agency. If that’s the case, I’d expect 49ers’ Senior Personnel Executive Martin Mayhew to be a strong factor in bringing him in. Mayhew was the Lion’s general manager when Ansah was drafted. But at his age, it’s also likely that John Lynch will want to add a younger edge rusher in the draft, even if Ansah does sign with the 49ers.