Scary thought: There are those who believe the San Francisco 49ers can become “more lethal” in the defensive line room — their biggest strength on defense and the area they addressed aggressively at the start of the 2023 free agency period.
Even after signing Pro Bowler Javon Hargrave to a four-year $84 million deal after playing in the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles, or giving former No. 4 overall pick with the Las Vegas Raiders Clelin Ferrell a chance at rejuvenation, there’s the belief from analysts that the 49ers can still use more.
That’s where Zachary Knerr of Pro Football Network on Sunday, March 19 believes free agent Robert Quinn can really solidify this unit. The same Quinn who teamed with Hargrave last season and has a past as a All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler.
“This may seem like an odd fit at first, but San Francisco’s front line, specifically the depth on the outside, is going through a reshuffle this offseason. Contracts for DT Javon Hargrave and DE Clelin Ferrell have already been put on the books, but the 49ers only have four DEs on the roster now. Kyle Shanahan still has a highly competitive roster, especially in a comparatively weak NFC, and the team is ready for another Super Bowl push,” Knerr began.
He still believes that at 32, Quinn can be a force — especially with being around the talent S.F. has and have added.
“Playing for two franchises last season did him no favors, but it’s clear Quinn can still be a force to be reckoned with when rushing the passer. The 49ers were a top-ten team in the NFL at sacking the quarterback, racking up 44 in 2022. With their current signings and the talent they’ve retained, bringing Quinn in as a pass rusher could only make that unit more lethal,” Knerr said.
Would There be Room for Quinn?
Unfortunately for Quinn, he found himself lost in the shuffle of deep pass rushers in Philly last season — as he found himself in a room featuring Hargrave, Hasson Reddick, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Ndamukong Suh. The end result was zero sacks in a Philly uniform.
But it wasn’t that long ago Quinn was relentless off the edge. In 2021, he delivered his last Pro Bowl appearance by posting 18.5 sacks — and he did that while playing at 31 years old. Perhaps his next NFL suitor could become convinced he can deliver that type of production still. Or, given the fact he’s entering season 13, he may be willing to accept a more rotational role. In this case, he’d be perfect for the 49ers’ building.
Even with the Ferrell signing, the 49ers are still facing a thin edge rush room. He’s joining Nick Bosa and Drake Jackson as true defensive ends. Arik Armstead is another edge option, but he’s spent a bulk of his time as a “B” gap defensive tackle. Jordan Willis is another DE but like Armstead, has slid inside.
The team has already lost Charles Omenihu (Kansas City Chiefs) and Samson Ebukam (Indianapolis Colts) to free agency. Kerry Hyder is also an unrestricted free agent and his status is unknown.
Quinn, meanwhile, is his own UFA and has 102 career sacks according to Pro Football Reference.
If Not Quinn, There are Draft Options
Say the 49ers want to remain young in the edge rush room. The 2023 NFL Draft has a pool of options to choose from per Tom Jensen of Sports Illustrated on March 19.
Jensen believes the remaining free agents left on the market are out of the 49ers’ price range. But as he wrote, “Fortunately, this draft class is deep and fast, the Niners could double up here.”
His listed two options who delivered a stout NFL Combine Performance back on March 2.
“Tennessee’s Byron Young ran 4.43 at Indy but he may drop to the late third due to age, he just turned 25. YaYa Diaby of Louisville has traits Kris Kocurek likes, fast burst off the line (a 1.56 10), strong punch, good balance and counters, high motor. He’s projected for mid-4th, maybe in a trade back from the 3rd,” Jensen said.
Regardless, the 49ers can either get more younger or “more lethal” depending on which route they take to solidify their pass rush.