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Elvis Dumervil a solid signing, but also puzzling



CLEVELAND — Yes, I’m up in Ohio for the NBA Finals dropping hard hitting analysis on the Warriors-Cavs trilogy. Related Links: Blasting Klay Thompson means you don’t fully understand basketball; Kevin Durant is ripping Cleveland’s heart out.

I’ve found some free time before practice begins on Tuesday to analyze the 49ers’ latest transaction in free agency.

Had Elvis Dumervil been trumpeted out on the red carpets with the other free agents in March, there would be no need to question the move. But the timing of signing him in early June begs the question: what’s wrong with the current pass rushing situation?

Is Arik Armstead not a fit at the LEO? Is the new regime tired of playing games with Aaron Lynch? Judging by the way John Lynch announced the signing on Twitter, somebody is losing playing time. Maybe this: there is so much pressure on a young secondary that the 49ers have to make sure they have a stable of pass rushers to help their refurbished back end? Is Dumervil just insurance? The decision-makers are basically admitting their original scope of what they had in the cupboards at pass rusher was incorrect.

These are the facts: The 49ers have signed several free agents in their 30s, or approaching that age conundrum. Lynch and Kyle Shanahan seem to be okay with trying to win more football games in 2017 rather than developing talent. Dumveril (33), Brian Hoyer (31), Jeremy Zuttah (31), Pierre Garcon (30), Logan Paulsen (30), Earl Mitchell (29), Brandon Fusco (28) are all new editions, and aren’t exactly spring chickens.

I’m not blasting this approach. I think it’s necessary to restock a broken roster with a handful of solid veterans. You can’t turn around a program solely with younger players. Dumervil is as accomplished as they come — five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro nods, 99 career sacks and he’s been on just two different teams, showing those organizations valued him as an asset. There’s a chance someone finally unseats Ahmad Brooks as the team’s top pass rusher.

But the Dumervil signing is where Lynch and Shanahan may be nudging close enough to cross the line in their “win now” approach.

If Dumervil steals Armstead’s reps in September (or even Ronald Blair’s) and isn’t producing as a pass rusher, Lynch and Shanahan will have fallen for the forbidden free agency fruit. They will have panicked in June trying to solve a problem that can really only be solved in the first or second round of the NFL Draft. Elite pass rushers don’t hit the open market. Fostering reps for a 33-year-old — instead of younger players — to try and win seven games instead of five seems to be a little misguided approach.

The Ravens released Dumervil in March after he battled an Achilles injury in 2016, where he produced just three sacks in eight games. What do we know about Ozzie Newsome and Baltimore? They’ll cut a productive player a year early instead of a year too late. If Dumervil isn’t generating pressure or looks like father time has caught up with him, we’ll know Newsome has struck again.

So we can agree that Dumervil is in the twilight of his career. That doesn’t mean he can’t come in and contribute. Lord knows San Francisco has struggled to generate any consistent pass rush since Jim Harbaugh was in his apex. The last time the team had a double-digit sack master on the roster was back in 2012 (Aldon Smith, 19.5 sacks). He won’t be that kind of hallmark edge-setter, but clobbering quarterbacks is how you win football games in the NFL.

It’s not like the new regime traded for Kirk Cousins, signed Alshon Jeffrey or a bunch of other high-priced agents. This roster needed to be gutted and they did an exceptional job at finding bargain players who have a track record for producing. They didn’t have an “all-in” approach. There’s still gobs of cash to spend in 2018 and likely 2019.

And maybe I shouldn’t blame them for wanting to replace Armstead, Lynch, Eli Harold and Tank Carradine — all Trent Baalke picks who have underwhelmed. Armstead is the most daunting athlete on the field, but a source told me he’s having a tough time shedding the “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” label. I for one was actually excited to see how a new coaching staff could develop the 23-year-old, but we may never get to see him fully unleashed now. Lynch’s dedication to football stays in question, so much so, Shanahan might want to use him as an example in a roster cut. It’s hard to find anything that stands out on film from the first two seasons of Harold’s career. It’s actually been Carradine who is having a strong spring filling in for Solomon Thomas while he finishes classes at Stanford.

When you consider all that, adding Dumervil clearly makes sense. It’s not a bad signing by any stretch of the imagination, just puzzling as to why now? My question is if this is such an important position, why wasn’t pass rusher addressed until the sixth round? Pita Taumoepenu is a developmental project who likely starts his career on the practice squad.

The 49ers can argue they addressed as many needs on defense as they could with their first three picks — Thomas, Reuben Foster and Ahkello Witherspoon. Thomas particularly was selected with the premise that he’ll make life hell for quarterbacks. From there, Shanahan got to make his picks — C.J. Beathard, Joe Williams and George Kittle. There’s just only so much you can do in one draft.

While most of the signings were Shanahan’s decisions, this one likely was Lynch’s. He was teammates with Dumveril in Denver back in 2006. His fingerprints are going to be directly tied to this defense. He surveyed the film from OTAs and wanted another pass rusher. He got another familiar face.

One final note: This is another move where the rest of the NFL passed on a player Lynch wanted. In April, it was Foster falling down the draft boards and the 49ers finagling their way back into the first round. Dumervil is less of a risk, but he’s been on the market for three months. Retirement was likely on his mind before the 49ers called.

If it works out, Lynch will be commended. And if it doesn’t, he knows he’ll have some explaining to do in January.