No. 1: Defensive Tackle Arik Armstead
The last player likely to be cut before the 2019 season is a bit tougher to analyze. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead is another Trent Baalke selection, which doesn’t bode well. Neither do some of the various injuries Armstead has sustained during his 49ers tenure.
That said, Armstead has put together a quietly solid season in his fourth year as a pro. He’s already set a career high in sacks (3.0), but Armstead’s value for San Francisco’s defense has been against the run.
Despite this, there are reasons for the Niners to move on. First, the 49ers were without Armstead for the majority of 2017 and seemed to fine against the run without him, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry. Plus, parting ways with Armstead this offseason would give second-year defensive end Solomon Thomas a bona fide role on the inside as a strong-side defensive tackle in sub packages and a big-end 5-technique on base downs.
The Niners have far more invested in Thomas at this point than Armstead.
San Francisco picked up Armstead’s fifth-year option for 2019. But, barring injury, it won’t become fully guaranteed until the start of the league’s new year in March. Cutting him early next year would save over $9 million in cap space too — a lot of money to pay for a primarily run-stopping defensive lineman.
So don’t be shocked if that’s the direction the Niners choose to take.