A 49ers defense in search of pass rushers released their best one from last season, Elvis Dumervil, on Friday. The veteran defensive end led the team with 6 1/2 sacks in 2017 but was due a $500,000 option bonus Tuesday, the day before free agency begins.
The 49ers added Dumervil, 34, late in free agency last year – June 5 – with the thought he'd be their best third-down pass rusher. The longtime Raven and Bronco lived up to that expectation, but he played only on third-and-long situations and didn't appear on special teams. The 49ers are hoping holdovers Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, Cassius Marsh and Pita Taumoepenu provide more consistent pressure from the edge this year.
Interior linemen DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas tied for second on the team last year with three sacks apiece. San Francisco finished with 30 sacks total; only five teams had fewer.
“I want to thank Elvis for everything he contributed to our team last year both on the field and throughout our building,” general manager John Lynch said in a statement. “Not only did he bring a great deal of veteran leadership to our locker room at a time of significant change, but he provided a spark to our defense. Although Elvis isn’t in our current plans, we would never close the door on a potential return in the future. As a long-time friend, I wish him and his family well.”
The 49ers on Friday also announced they had picked up the 2018 contract for outside linebacker Dekoda Watson and tendered a one-year contract to running back Raheem Mostert, who was set to be an exclusive rights free agent.
Both were stalwarts on special teams in 2017. Mostert, a gunner on punt coverage, led the team with eight special-teams tackles. Watson played 288 snaps on special teams, more than any other 49er.
Dumervil, meanwhile, was the oldest non-kicker on the roster. That honor now goes to tackle Joe Staley, 33, who is one of seven 30-somethings signed for the upcoming season.
The 49ers added Dumervil in June last year because they had trouble finding a high-end pass rusher in free agency and the draft. They are likely to run into the same issue this year.
At the scouting combine in Indianapolis last week, Lynch said he and his staff last year studied potential free agents like Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul and did the same this year with Ezekiel Ansah. In each case, their teams used the franchise tag, essentially keeping them off the open market.
The best pass rusher in the draft, N.C. State's Bradley Chubb, is likely to be off the board by San Francisco's No. 9 selection. The 49ers must decide whether UT-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport, Boston College's Harold Landry or LSU's Arden Key is worthy of a top-10 pick.
Lynch also is turning to in-house talent like Harold to help fix the problem. Last year Harold played strong-side linebacker and finished with two sacks.
"We think Eli's got some skills," Lynch said. "We felt like he made great progress at the SAM linebacker spot last year, but we do believe he has some rush ability that is untapped. And we need to tap it. And we're going to give him that opportunity."