San Francisco 49ers

‘Family-type environment’ helped bring Mitchell to 49ers

Houston Texans' Earl Mitchell (92) during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, in Houston.
Houston Texans' Earl Mitchell (92) during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, in Houston. AP

The 49ers' Houston connection helped sway free-agent defensive lineman Earl Mitchell to sign with San Francisco instead of the three other teams that heavily pursued him last week.

When Mitchell visited Santa Clara on Tuesday, he met with defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina, an assistant defensive line coach with the Houston Texans in 2013 and someone who played 17 NFL seasons as a defensive tackle.

Mitchell, 29, also noted the 49ers had hired former linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who played six seasons in Houston, including two when Mitchell was on the team.

"I know the type of player he is. I know how smart of a person he is," Mitchell said on a conference call. "And just the fact that we played together. I could tell they're building a family-type environment there. And that's something I wanted to be a part of."

The 49ers' new head coach, Kyle Shanahan, spent four seasons as an offensive assistant coach with the Texans. He has hired seven assistants who either played for or coached on the Texans squads in that span. (Shanahan left Houston in 2010, the same year the Texans drafted Mitchell in the third round.)

"There were a lot of familiar faces that helped me with my career," Mitchell said. "I was excited to see that."

Of course, it didn't hurt that the 49ers agreed to pay Mitchell $5.5 million this year, which is $1.5 million more than he was due to make in Miami.

The Dolphins cut Mitchell earlier this month, giving him a head-start on free agency. He also visited the Seahawks, Broncos and Falcons -- teams with winning records in 2016 -- and said he had interest from a few other squads as well.

The 49ers, meanwhile, finished with just two wins and had the worst defense in franchise history. Mitchell was signed to help remedy that, especially San Francisco's leaky run defense.

"There's so much promise," said Mitchell, whose Dolphins team beat the 49ers 31-24 in Week 12. "And I'm looking forward to getting over the hump, I guess you could say."

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

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