San Francisco 49ers

49ers to sign DT Earl Mitchell to four-year deal

In this Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 file photo, New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) tries to avoid Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (90) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J.
In this Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 file photo, New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) tries to avoid Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (90) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J. AP

The 49ers found a big body to plug the center of their new defense on Friday when Earl Mitchell agreed to a four-year deal worth $16 million.

The 49ers beat out three other teams – Seattle, Atlanta and Denver – in landing Mitchell, who is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds and will play the run-stuffing defensive tackle role in the team’s 4-3 defense. Seattle and Atlanta play a similar defense to the one new coordinator Robert Saleh will install this year in San Francisco.

Saleh, 38, spent time as a Seattle defensive assistant before following ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to Jacksonville for three seasons. Mitchell’s deal is not yet official – he was in Atlanta on Friday – but a source with knowledge of the situation who is unauthorized to speak on the record, said he will make $5.5 million in the first year of the contract.

The 49ers merely dipped their toe in free agency a year ago with guard Zane Beadles the only Week 1 starter the team signed in March 2016. New general manager John Lynch already has acquired three players –cornerback K’Waun Williams, wide receiver DeAndre Carter (Sacramento State) and Mitchell – and free agency doesn’t begin until March 9.

Mitchell, 29, got a head start on the open-market period when the Dolphins released him last week. He is expected to help a 49ers run defense that not only finished last in the NFL in 2016 but sent a franchise record in allowing 2,654 yards on the ground to go with a league-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed. Miami’s run defense finished 30th last year.

San Francisco’s top interior defensive lineman from a year ago, Glenn Dorsey, will be a free agent next month, and the 49ers have not been eager to re-sign him because he has missed big chunks of recent seasons with a torn biceps and an ACL injury. Quinton Dial and Mike Purcell are other options, but neither is perfectly suited for the role Mitchell will play.

In addition to a run-stuffing defensive tackle, the 49ers could stand to add an elite pass rusher and another inside linebacker or two to provide depth and competition to NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong. The 49ers are contemplating moving Jimmie Ward from cornerback to safety, the position Pro Bowl player Earl Thomas plays for the Seahawks.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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