SF 49ers should re-sign Takkarist McKinley in 2021

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

The SF 49ers recently acquired former Falcons EDGE Takkarist McKinley off waivers, but re-signing him in 2021 makes sense, too.

The SF 49ers bolstered an anemic pass rush by claiming former Atlanta Falcons EDGE Takkarist McKinley off waivers.

McKinley was initially claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals after the Falcons waived him. But McKinley failed his physical there, ultimately leading to San Francisco getting a second shot at claiming him.

According to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, however, McKinley failed the following physical, yet that didn’t rule out the Niners bringing him back once he’s healthy from an apparent groin injury:

Let’s assume the SF 49ers want him back. If so, and he somehow winds up with the Niners in one form another for the rest of the season, they should strongly consider re-signing him in 2021.

Granted, there’s a lot of moving parts between now and when McKinley’s contract expires at the beginning of the league’s new year this upcoming spring. San Francisco currently has a projected $23.2 million in cap space next season, according to Over the Cap, although there’s no shortage of moves the SF 49ers could make to free up space. Parting ways with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would be one of them.

So would moving on from oft-injured EDGE Dee Ford, provided it’s after June 1 of 2021, too.

The good news for the Niners here is they don’t have to re-sign the Falcons’ Round 1 pick from the 2017 NFL Draft. If the Northern California native and former UCLA pass-rusher plays to his first-round pedigree and enjoys the same kind of sack prowess he had in his first two seasons at the NFL level over these final six games, it’s likely McKinley winds up inking a pretty lucrative free-agent deal elsewhere.

One that would probably be out of San Francisco’s financial comfort range, yet that would likely net the team a 2022 compensatory draft pick in return.

Not bad on that front.

But if the SF 49ers are somehow able to manage McKinley’s asking price next season, and he proves some long-term worth after wrapping up his rookie contract, general manager John Lynch and Co. should definitely bite.

The key factor here is Ford, who appeared on just 22 percent of defensive snaps in 2019 and has played just one game this season before being sidelined indefinitely with a back injury. Things look so bad, Lynch isn’t sure whether or not Ford will even return this season.

Not exactly a great return on the Niners’ five-year, $85 million investment they placed on Ford after acquiring him a little more than a year ago.

Ford might be the more prolific pass-rusher when lined up next to McKinley. But the former’s availability has been scant. Granted, McKinley hasn’t exactly been healthy either. Yet if those two factors offset, McKinley’s contract value in 2021 is still going to be substantially less than that of Ford.

If San Francisco can make it work and part ways with Ford after June 1, it would generate $16 million in cap savings against a sizable-but-absorbable $4.78 million in dead money next season.

According to Spotrac.com’s market-value tool, McKinley’s average-annual value is $8.4 million. Ford’s potential 2021 earnings could be more than $20 million.

A substantial difference.

Takkarst McKinley wouldn’t have to be ‘the guy’ with SF 49ers

Unlike his 2020 campaign in Atlanta, McKinley wouldn’t be asked to be the SF 49ers’ primary pass-rusher once the defense is fully healthy next season. The Niners are anticipating getting EDGE Nick Bosa back from a torn ACL, and the second-year maturation of defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw could make the outside edge-rushing tandem of Bosa and McKinley much more potent.

Plus, opponents’ pass blockers are going to focus their attention on Bosa anyway, leaving a would-be re-signed McKinley facing more one-on-one matchups, hopefully adding to his 17.5 career sacks generated during his three-plus years with the Falcons.

There’s also the hope San Francisco’s defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, would be able to squeeze the maximum out of the No. 26 overall pick from the 2017 draft. At 25 years old, McKinley still has plenty of room for improvement, meaning a would-be mid-level investment for the long run could pay off in droves over the coming seasons.

Hopefully more than Ford, especially if his back injury is that serious.

Granted, McKinley will have to overcome some of the negatives associated with his game from the last two seasons. But going to an environment where, defensively, the D-line come first is about the best scenario he could ask for.

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And if the SF 49ers retain him for the right price, the end rewards could be outstanding.