49ers will need Javon Hargrave to perform at a higher level in 2024

Javon Hargrave will need to provide a Pro Bowl-like effort for the Niners in 2024 after some serious shakeups to the defensive line.
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (98)
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (98) / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Javon Hargrave had a fine season with the 49ers in 2023, but he'll need to go bigger after the team lost Arik Armstead.

Veteran defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was something of a surprise free-agent signing by the San Francisco 49ers in 2023, especially considering the slew of investments made along the line in years prior.

That said, after being a wrecking ball for the Philadelphia Eagles prior to signing, including a 2022 campaign in which he boasted a career-high 11 sacks, Hargrave truly "made the rich richer" by joining the Niners.

While his sack totals were certainly down during his first year with the red and gold, tallying seven over the course of 2023, his overall impact was surely felt, and he secured his second Pro Bowl nod as part of San Francisco's vaunted defensive front.

That front, though, underwent plenty of changes during the offseason. And those will put even more pressure on Hargrave to be a true interior cornerstone moving forward.

Offseason changes to 49ers D-line place Javon Hargrave in the spotlight

Hargrave was intended to deliver a lethal one-two interior punch alongside veteran defensive tackle Arik Armstead, but that never truly came to fruition with the latter dealing with foot and knee injuries while missing five regular-season games in 2023.

Armstead is gone now, released in a cap-saving move. Additionally, backup defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw left in free agency to join the New York Jets. And while the 49ers acquired two other interior defensive linemen during the offseason, Maliek Collins and Jordan Elliott, Hargrave now stands alone as the big-name star.

True, much of the attention here focuses on the crop of Niners outside pass-rushers, namely Nick Bosa and Leonard Floyd. But, the quickest way to the quarterback is up the middle, and that's an area in which Hargrave has historically thrived.

At 31 years old, it's fair to wonder if Hargrave will begin the inevitable decline sooner than later.

On top of all that, one of San Francisco's few defensive weaknesses in 2023 was against the run, especially in the interior. According to Pro Football Focus, Hargrave's run defense last season wasn't particularly good, him grading out at a lowly 49.0.

With Armstead gone, much of the interior run-stuffing duties will fall on Hargrave, who'll need to show improvement in this particular area.

Could 2024 be Javon Hargrave's last season with 49ers?

Originally signing a four-year, $81 million deal with the 49ers a year ago, Hargrave will cost up to $9.27 million in 2024, which is an affordable number for a player of his caliber.

That said, Hargrave's potential cost in 2025 could be as much as $28.1 million. For a Niners squad that's already projected by Over the Cap to be nearly $39 million above the cap in 2025 and has yet to include extensions for players like quarterback Brock Purdy, it's easy to see why Hargrave could end up being a cap casualty next year.

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Should San Francisco execute a post-June 1 release, as it did with Armstead, it would still cost $7.375 million in dead money per year from 2025 through 2027, but it would generate more than $20 million in cap savings in both 2025 and 2026, making that route a possibility.

But the 49ers will want to leverage that decision against just how impactful Hargrave is this year, knowing the talent level behind him on the interior is a far drop from what's needed to replace him.

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