Armstead, Ward want to stay 49ers before free agency

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The history of Super Bowl losers is not pretty. Since the Buffalo Bills went four straight times in the early 1990s, only the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII have turned a loss into a return trip the following year. In history, only eight teams in history have made it back, and only four of those have won it.

More likely, the Super Bowl hangover provides a throbbing headache that keeps the loser out of the playoffs the next season.

On paper, the San Francisco 49ers seem like a squad destined to destroy any hangover talk early. Of course, most likely said similarly of the L.A. Rams the previous year. The Niners were the best team for the balance of the 2019 campaign. Their biggest hiccup was the final nine minutes of the Super Bowl -- a bad time for your worst stretch.

In order to run it back again, the Niners will have to make some tough decisions ahead of free agency. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders will get plenty of attention this offseason as perhaps the flashiest among the 49ers' players headed to the open market. Others would have just as big an impact on how San Francisco is made up in 2020, however.

Arik Armstead, the long, powering defensive lineman, is slated to be the first of the Niners D-line first-rounders to head to the open market. During locker cleanout Wednesday, Armstead said he'd be fine if the Niners used the franchise tag to keep him in town.

"Been here my whole career," Armstead said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "It would be weird to be somewhere else. ... I mean I would love being here and trying to go back to the Super Bowl, so however that's seen or whoever that has to get done. It's not really my decision what they want to do with me, so at that point I'll make a decision, when everything is laid out on the table."

The franchise tag is currently estimated to land around $15-$17 million for defensive ends. For a 49ers team on the low end of the salary cap space heading into the offseason, it would be a tough move given all the other assets they've spent on the D-line.

Armstead was an important piece for the 49ers getting to the Super Bowl, his length makes it difficult on offensive lines, and he was able to win one-on-one matchups with O-lines focused elsewhere. With Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford, however, Armstead might be more of a luxury than one the Niners can responsibly keep.

"This year was amazing," Armstead said. "Best year of my career, best team I've played on but there's more to be done, more work to do and somebody's got to do it. I'm just excited that I'm entering this year and grown as a player and excited for the rest of my career. I'm from Northern California. I would love to be here and continue my career here. I feel like we have a special team that I want to be a part of and try to get back to the Super Bowl."

Likewise, free safety Jimmie Ward plays a crucial role for the Niners. If he moves on, it would pluck a vital member who was a consistent force on the back end. He too hopes something can get worked out.

"The 49ers have the upper hand right now," Ward said. "This is where I would like to be. I like to continue playing for this great organization."

With San Francisco needing to pay the likes of George Kittle and Buckner, there won't be money for everyone to stay. This is what happens to good teams.

One player who knows he could be on the chopping block is running back Jerick McKinnon, who hasn't played a game since signing in San Francisco in 2018 due to injuries.

"I'm willing to do whatever," McKinnon said. "My teammates know I want to be a part of this team. The organization knows I want to be a part of this team. So, when that time comes, there will be a talk between both parties."

The Niners would save $4.55 million in cap space with $4 million in dead money by cutting McKinnon this offseason.

Tough decisions sit ahead for GM John Lynch this offseason. Having to make hard choices and perhaps lose some good players, however, is better than the alternative: losing team with no talent.

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