Injuries plagued Arik Armstead for much of 2022, yet the 49ers will need him to stay healthy in 2023 in tandem with a hefty boost to his salary.
Welcome back to Niner Noise's annual "Who Is?" series on each player from the San Francisco 49ers' offseason roster. And in the wake of the Niners bidding farewell to veteran safety Jimmie Ward via free agency this offseason, the focus for this piece is now on San Francisco's new longest-tenured player, defensive tackle Arik Armstead.
Armstead, the 2015 first-round NFL Draft pick out of Oregon, took a few years to finally come into his own, and there were some cases of injuries that got in the way.
Now, and despite the stats not always showcasing it, Armstead is one of the more valuable components to the 49ers roster. True, he might not always be up there in sacks and quarterback hits.
But he does an awful lot for the Niners defensive line. Watch some game tape, and you'll get the idea.
Yet there's potentially some trouble for Armstead heading into 2023, and it has to do with a number of key factors, some of which aren't necessarily within his control.
Let's take a look at those and more in this installment of Niner Noise's "Who Is?" series.
If healthy, Arik Armstead is a potent and versatile piece for 49ers D-line
Armstead hasn't truly been a sack specialist, although that 2019 campaign in which he led a Super Bowl San Francisco squad in that department is pretty special.
That said, San Francisco's use of a wide-9 alignment has often pegged Armstead on the interioir, and the 49ers prefer their top pass-rushers to be from the outside.
Nevertheless, Armstead should get plenty of hat tips from edge rushers like All-Pro Nick Bosa for locking up two or sometimes even three blockers at once.
Yet the Niners, already boasting a strong defensive line, elected to make it stronger by adding former Philadelphia Eagles star defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
A front-four deployment consisting of Hargrave, Bosa, Armstead and another outside pass-rusher should be lethal.
Provided one thing, though.
49ers need Arik Armstead to stay healthy and avoid injuries
There was a nice stretch between 2018 and 2021 in which Armstead shook off the injury association and appeared in every regular-season game San Francisco had.
However, last year, Armstead suffered a foot injury that forced him to miss eight games. Plantar Fasciitis can be detrimental to a player's career, particularly if it's chronic, and Armstead also revealed he suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle, too.
For a player who is a massive 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, the stress on his lower body could mean more seasons like 2022 in which he's unavailable due to injury than the ones he enjoyed prior.
How much are 49ers going to pay Arik Armstead this season?
Rehashing that old argument about how the 49ers should have kept now-Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner instead of Armstead entering the 2020 season, yet the relatable part of this conversation is how Armstead inked a five-year, $85 million contact that offseason while Buckner was traded away.
For the most part, the first three years of that extension were relatively affordable, but his 2023 cap hit jumps up significantly, as Spotrac points out:
Armstead counted $9.576 million against the cap in 2022. This year, that number will be up to $23.949 million.
Granted, the Niners having two quarterbacks (Trey Lance and Brock Purdy) on affordable rookie contracts allows some splurging on players like Armstead and Hargrave, but it won't stay that way forever.
San Francisco likely won't think about making Armstead a cap casualty until 2024, but it's pretty obvious that it'll want him to justify the hefty portion of his deal by actually being on the field and not dealing with what could be a lingering injury.
If anything, the 49ers simply want Armstead on the field as much as possible.