Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

A dark-horse trade candidate for the 49ers ahead of the 2022 season

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jun 23, 2022 at 11:15 AM--

For much of the offseason, many 49ers fans have believed the team will move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, either via trade or release. However, three months after the beginning of the 2022 league year, the veteran signal-caller still remains a member of the franchise as he rehabs from shoulder surgery.

Additionally, at the linebacker position, many have clamored for the 49ers to trade Dre Greenlaw, given that he's a free agent in 2023 and currently carries a cap hit of $2.54 million after signing his tender as a restricted free agent. Fellow linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair broke out last season while Greenlaw missed 14 games due to multiple injuries, creating a formidable duo at the position with former All-Pro Fred Warner.

However, there's a dark horse trade candidate for the 49ers ahead of the 2022 season at the same position: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.

Flannigan-Fowles, 25, is entering his third NFL season and will be a restricted free agent in 2023, meaning the 49ers will have to place a tender on him, which will amount to $2.59 million.

While Flannigan-Fowles has flourished with a special-teams role during his two seasons with the 49ers, having played 64% of the special-teams snaps in 2020 and 75% of the special-teams snaps in 2021, and missing just two tackles across both seasons, the undrafted linebacker has not been a regular player on defense, having played just 9% and 15% of the defensive snaps in his first two seasons, respectively.

Meanwhile, after struggling at safety during the early years of his career, Marcell Harris experienced a position change to linebacker in 2021 and immediately took more snaps than Flannigan-Fowles, earning 36% of the defensive snaps in 2021 as the fourth linebacker on the depth chart.

While Harris signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets earlier this offseason, the 49ers signed 25-year-old linebacker Oren Burks to a two-year deal, who, like Flannigan-Fowles, has been a special-teams ace during the early years of his career.

Earlier last week, during the annual State of the Franchise event, head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke on the Burks addition, believing that he can contribute as a linebacker should one of the starters get hurt, similarly to Harris last season, in addition to his special-teams role.

"Everyone really likes our three starters," Shanahan said. "Now we've got a guy behind them who if one of those guys gets hurt, he can come in and play good starting linebacker football. But while he's not doing that, we think we've got one of the best special teams players in the league."

Shanahan's words, and Burks's two-year, $5 million contract, indicate that the former Green Bay Packer is likely the fourth linebacker on the depth chart, placing Flannigan-Fowles in a similar role to last year as purely a special-teams ace.

Prior to the beginning of last season, the 49ers did make a trade involving a linebacker, sending Jonas Griffith and a 2022 seventh-round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2022 sixth-round pick and a 2023 seventh-rounder.

The 49ers also tried keeping one of their undrafted free agent linebackers, Justin Hilliard, on the practice squad, but he was claimed on waivers by the New York Giants.

This season, the 49ers have a number of valuable undrafted free agent linebackers, with San Diego State's Segun Olubi and UNC's Jeremiah Gemmel as my favorites to potentially make the roster from the bunch.

Olubi, a safety/linebacker hybrid in college, has the ability to make plays in coverage, but also the range, athleticism, and tackling ability to be a good player as a pure linebacker in the NFL, as well as experience as a special-teams contributor in college.

Gemmel possesses the instinctual ability and tackling prowess that the 49ers value from their linebackers, and can also fill the special-teams role.

With multiple younger, cheaper, and higher potential options on the roster, the 49ers could look to cash in on Flannigan-Fowles's special-teams ability, similar to what they did with Griffith last season, and roster one of the undrafted free agents as their fifth linebacker in 2022.
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