49ers may regret this offseason move the most once 2024 rolls around

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead (91)
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead (91) / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The 49ers couldn't make it work with Arik Armstead, but his absence might have a lengthy trickle-down effect that isn't good.

The San Francisco 49ers asked their longest-tenured player, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, to take a pay cut.

He refused.

The Niners subsequently released Armstead with a post-June 1 designation, generating $18 million in much-needed cap space that'll go a long way toward paying off an expensive roster while helping extend star players like wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and quarterback Brock Purdy, whenever that time comes.

By betting on himself as a newfound free agent, Armstead subsequently signed a quality three-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but his departure from the only team he knew up to that point leaves a notable void.

San Francisco tried to address this by signing former Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, then trading with the Houston Texans for another tackle, Maliek Collins.

Both players are younger and cheaper, and both don't have the injury reputation that Armstead unfortunately carried over his final two years in the Bay Area.

Still, the decision to part ways with Armstead might easily come back to haunt the 49ers this season.

Why parting ways with Arik Armstead could hurt 49ers in more ways than one

If the Niners defense had a liability last season, it was against the run, particularly when those runs went up the middle. Despite boasting an otherwise elite defense, San Francisco's run defense was in the middle of the pack, allowing opponents to average 4.1 yards per carry.

It was clearly worse in games where Armstead was absent, five total in 2023.

Granted, the best ability is availability, and Armstead's injuries hindered things over the last two seasons. But, when healthy, he certainly made a massive difference against both the run and pass.

Hinging improvements upon either Collins or Elliott might be a stretch.

Beyond that, Armstead was also a longtime 49ers team captain, a locker room leader whose presence was respected. While the Niners are an older, veteran group with plenty of playoff-experienced stars, removing leadership isn't always the best way to ensure a locker room's health.

Even if transactions like these happen across the league for all teams all the time.

Either way, San Francisco can only hope Armstead's departure doesn't significantly impact the defense and team overall, both in terms of stats and unit cohesion.

If it does, that post-June 1 release could be more regrettable than originally anticipated.

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