Ex-49ers DE Joins Jaguars in Free Agency on Big-Money Contract: Report

Arden Key

Getty Arden Key celebrates a sack as a San Francisco 49ers player.

The San Francisco 49ers have had a strong defensive line group for the past three seasons, but are watching another member of that group leave.

Through trade or free agency, San Francisco has seen several defensive linemen go elsewhere and get big paydays. The DeForest Buckner trade comes to mind, as does Kerry Hyder Jr. racking up 8.5 sacks in 2020 and going to the Seattle Seahawks on an expensive, short-term deal.

Now, Hyder is back with San Francisco after one season and Arden Key is the new pass-rusher leaving the 49ers. The 25-year-old tested free agency, but now has his new home. The team was able to announce the signing before any reporter, but NFL media insider Mike Garafolo did get the scoop on how much Key is getting from Jacksonville.

“The #Jaguars announced the signing of DL Arden Key,” Garafolo Tweeted on March 30. “Source says it’s a one-year deal that’s worth up to $7 million.”

Key kickstarted his NFL career with the 49ers after three disappointing seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. However, he was on a prove-it deal in San Francisco, so a one-and-done tenure under head coach Kyle Shanahan was always on the table.

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Key Struggles with Raiders, Shines with 49ers

Remember how San Francisco has had a strong defensive line for the better part of three seasons? That’s due to the 49ers amassing talent, but it’s also thanks to defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

Hyder and Key are both proof of Kocurek’s work. Hyder’s best two seasons in the NFL, 2016 (8.0 sacks) and 2020 (8.5 sacks,) both came under Kocurek’s coaching according to Pro Football Reference.

Meanwhile, Key came to San Francisco as a former third-round pick that had only made three sacks in three seasons with the Raiders. In his only season with Kocurek, the new Jaguars edge-rusher put up 6.5 sacks and matched his career-best for pressures with 19.

So, while Key would’ve been a nice tool to have for San Francisco, his price point was always going to be tough for a team with just $1.72 million in cap space at the time of writing, according to Spotrac.

49ers Universe Talk Key as He Leaves for Jaguars

Much of the San Francisco world expressed happiness for the 25-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia after the deal was announced. Many also credited Kocurek, as @Coach_Yac pointed out.

Congrats to Arden Key on his new contract. Kris Kocurek just got that man paid nicely,” the 49ers fan and analyst Tweeted.

Another analyst, Akash Anavarathan of Niners Nation, said that watching Key take on an important role down the stretch was important for the team and fun to watch.

“Arden Key became one of my favorite players for the #49ers’ defense down the stretch of the season,” Anavarathan posted. “Someone that truly got better on tape with each passing week. Good for him.”

Even a Raiders fan was happy for Key, cracking a joke at the expense of former Las Vegas defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

“Fair play to Arden Key, overcame Paul Guenther ruining his early career to go get paid,” @Raider_Ryan1 shared.

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