The San Francisco 49ers continue to prep for the NFL Draft, now just nine days away, but that does not mean they have ceased searching the league for already established talent to improve the team through free agency.
Ian Rapoport, of the NFL Network, reported that the 49ers planned to host Las Vegas Raiders pass-rush specialist Arden Key on Tuesday, April 20.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 20, 2021
Key joined former New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman and former Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens strong safety Tony Jefferson on the list of free agents most recently tied to the 49ers.
Key is Leaving Las Vegas and Happy About It
The defensive end took to Instagram on Friday, April 16, where he released a seven-minute video discussing his release by the Raiders.
Among other things, Key said being released by the team was “the best thing that could have happened to me” and that his “rejuvenation for football is back.”
“I love football, I love my community, and I will prove to the world that Arden Key is here to be an example and role model for what’s possible when you have the mindset of impact over everything!” Key continued in his Instagram post. “I will not only impact the next team I play for in a positive way, but I will impact the community that looks up to me in a bigger way!”
Key Contributions Could be Coming the 49ers Way
Key is a three-year veteran and has spent the entirety of his career with the Raiders, drafted by the team out of Louisiana State University.
The pass rusher played in all 16 games during his rookie season in the NFL, starting 10 of those. Over the following two seasons, he saw action in 21 of 32 contests, though he did not start in one game.
He has only three career sacks and eight tackles for loss, though he has hit opposing quarterbacks 26 times, according to statistics compiled by Pro Football Reference.
Were the 49ers to sign Key, he would join a defensive front that struggled mightily in 2020. The San Francisco pass rush was ranked 29th of 32 teams in the league last season, per Pro Football Focus. The article notes that the 49ers team pressure rate dropped 10 percentage points from 39% to 28.4% and that no individual player rated out above 70.0 as a pass rusher.
Some of that struggle, however, is owed to injury. Standout edge rusher Nick Bosa went down with an ACL tear in Week 2 against the New York Jets. Recent video posted to Instagram just two weeks ago shows that the defensive end is poised to return to the game in a big way.
Dee Ford, another key contributor to the 49ers pass rush, played only 46 snaps the entire year after a back injury kept him off the field for the final 15 games of the season. Unlike Bosa, however, Ford’s return may not be imminent.
49ers general manager John Lynch spoke publicly to NinersWire (USA Today Sports) in January about the notion that Ford may not be ready to return to the field by the time Week 1 rolls around in September.
Regardless of Ford’s health, the 49ers can use all the help they can get on the defensive line — a unit that was largely responsible for the team’s trip to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. If signed, Key could be a part of rejuvenating the vital defensive unit.