When the free agency negotiating period began, Javon Hargrave was curious as to where he would wind up.
With 11 sacks and in the prime of his career after a big year with the Philadelphia Eagles, Hargrave was secure in the knowledge that he was about to sign a life-changing contract. What he didn’t expect was to be signing with the 49ers.
“I couldn’t believe it myself. I really couldn’t,” Hargrave said Thursday in a video conference. “Sometimes when you’re trying to get the money, you have to go to a team that’s in a rebuild mode. When you get a chance to go a team that was just in the NFC championship it was an easy for choice for me.
“It made me really happy because I was nervous about free agency, where I was going to have to go. I felt this was the perfect situation for me.”
The 49ers officially announced the signings of Hargrave, quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive end Clelin Ferrell and defensive back Isaiah Oliver, with each conducting a video conference with local media.
Hargrave, 30, reportedly received a four-year deal worth a maximum of $84 million that included a $23 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed. The 49ers wanted him badly enough to pay Hargrave the second-largest amount in free agency to a non-quarterback, behind only departed offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Hargrave, whose first name is pronounced “JAY-von,” will be a push-the-pocket presence on the inside at 6-foot-2, 305 pounds. Paired with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, it in theory gives the 49ers the top inside-outside combination in the NFL.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2016 through 2019 and four seasons with the Eagles, Hargrave has joined another team with a no-nonsense, attacking approach to football on the defensive line as taught by line coach Kris Kocurek.
“Violent and upfield,” Hargrave said. “It’s like a D-lineman’s dream to just go be relentless and disrupt everything. That was a big thing, just knowing I could be part of that, being more disruptive than I’ve been. I’ve heard the D-line coach is a great coach, just taking my game to another level.”
Both Bosa and defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who will pair with Hargrave in the middle, wasted no time extending their greetings.
“They both hit me up and congratulated me and told me they couldn’t wait to be a part of this,” Hargrave said. “I’m just ready to put my head down and see how much better I can be.”
A third-round pick out of South Carolina State by Pittsburgh in 2016, Hargrave has parlayed a relentless bull rush and a low center of gravity into being a difficult matchup on the interior.
“I think the Lord blessed me with these legs and I’ve always been able to anchor and get under people with my leverage,” Hargrave said.
Darnold’s first order of business? Learn the playbook
Having joined the 49ers quarterback room along with Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, both of whom are rehabbing injuries, Darnold was deflecting all questions as to where he is in the pecking order once the 2023 season gets underway.
But with a contact which pays him $4.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed) plus playtime incentives that could add millions more, bringing in Darnold isn’t going to stop the speculation.
Lance had a second surgery an his broken ankle but is expected to be good to go by OTAs. Purdy had elbow surgery and likely won’t be full-go until the regular-season approaches.
“There are some unknowns, right?,” Darnold said. “With Brock’s injury and Trey coming back . . . as long as we stick together and we understand we’ve got to work hard and continue to put our best foot forward for each other, then everything is going to work out. I think as long as we’re winning games, that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Asked if coach Kyle Shanahan had told him his role, Darnold said it was too early to be concerned about it.
“I think for me it’s just doing everything I can to learn the playbook, digest everything and have conversation with coach (Brian Griese) on formations, motions . . . there are so many things that go into it the last thing I’m worried about right now is playtime.”
Darnold, 25, has been in less-than-ideal circumstances with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers, with changes in offensive systems and upheaval on the coaching staffs that made the 49ers a preferred option.
“I think being able to find myself in a good organization, from top to bottom, was a priority for me,” Darnold said. “Being with really good coaches and personnel as well.”
Darnold hasn’t spoken in depth with former Carolina teammate Christian McCaffrey or Steve Wilks, who was the interim head coach when he went 4-2 in his last six starts with the Panthers, but looks forward to renewing acquaintances. Wilks is the 49ers’ new defensive coordinator.
“Christian’s a great dude. We became good good friends in Carolina nad I crated a good bond with coach Wilks through the last half of the season,” Darnold said.
Ferrell brushes aside criticism
When Ferrell was coming out of Clemson in 2019, he and Bosa were considered two of the edge players in college football.
“We were like neck and neck in terms of who was `the guy’ in terms of college football D-ends,” Ferrell said.
Bosa is expected to sign a contract that could make him the highest paid non-quarterback in the NFL. The Las Vegas Raiders, who took Ferrell No. 4 overall two picks after Bosa went to the 49ers, declined Ferrell’s fifth year option.
Ferrell came to the 49ers on a one-year deal worth a reported $2.5 million with $1.8 million guaranteed and shrugs off his label as an underachiever as related to his draft spot.
“Criticism, whether it’s fair or not, comes with the territory,” Ferrell said. “People always have whatever opinions they have to say. I think for me, it’s been a blessing. We’re still young guys growing and developing in a high-status job. Going through the ups and downs, the good days, the bad days, I’ve been able to grow and mature into a man.”
Ferrell, at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, is not a quick-twitch pass rusher but the hope is Kocurek can get him jump-started the way he did with former 49er (and former Raider) Arden Key as well as departed free agents Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu.
He is willing to do whatever Kocurek has in mind, which will include playing inside on occasion as he did with the Raiders.
“I’m still a very young player and I’ve got a lot of time to develop and I don’t think I’ve tapped into my potential,” Ferrell said. “I’m coming in with an open mind and I’m excited.”
Oliver is comfortable in the slot
Oliver, who signed a two-year deal for which terms have not been reported, says he’s ready for whatever the 49ers have in mind but he’s the odds-on favorite to replace Jimmie Ward as the slot corner.
With Atlanta, Oliver saw the majority of his snaps in the slot. He has the size (6-foot, 200 pounds) to shed blocks, is a considered a sure tackler, has blitzing skills and enjoys life on the inside.
“I definitely felt much more comfortable in there,” Oliver said. “I was able to lay to my strengths a little more, just being around the ball, being in run fits, doing things I like doing a lot. I thought it was a lot more fun for sure.”
Oliver had a torn ACL in 2021, underwent an arduous rehab and believes he’s now at full strength.
“To go through the offseason rehabbing, go to training camp still rehabbing, and then into the season, it was fun to get back on the field,” Oliver said. “I felt every week I got a little better and more confident in it as time went on. I would say not until December did I feel real good, and that was towards the end of the season.”
The 49ers announced the re-signing of linebacker Demetrius Flangian Fowles and NFL Media reported defensive tackle T.Y. McGill was also back in the fold.