SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When Earl Mitchell got a head start on free agency after being released last week by the Miami Dolphins, the San Francisco 49ers managed to sell him on familiarity with coaches rather than past success for the team.
After mostly sitting out free agency last offseason, the Niners beat out Atlanta, Seattle and Denver for Mitchell’s services by officially signing him to a four-year $16 million contract on Saturday. Mitchell will be paid $5.5 million in 2017, a person familiar with the deal said on condition of anonymity because terms were not released.
The 49ers were allowed to sign Mitchell before full free agency begins March 9 because Mitchell had been released by Miami.
Mitchell said he wasn’t deterred by the fact that San Francisco won just two games a year ago, saying he believed in the new direction the franchise is headed in under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
“I’m not one of those types of guys who looks into the past,” Mitchell said. “I’m always looking ahead. Every year is different in this league, that’s one thing I know about playing in this league. When it comes to thinking like that, that’s not the way to think.”
Mitchell was attracted to San Francisco in part because he played one season under new 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina in Houston and was a teammate with the Texans with another 49ers defensive assistant, DeMeco Ryans.
The 49ers need help on the interior defensive line as they are expected to switch from a three-man to a four-man front under new coordinator Robert Saleh. San Francisco allowed a league-worst 165.9 yards rushing per game last season.
“As soon as Earl hit the open market, he became a priority for us to sign,” Lynch said. “A man of high character, he represents everything we want to be as a football team. Earl is a tone setter who plays the game with a tremendous passion and the effort necessary to win in this league. We believe those qualities are contagious and will help to make our team stronger. We look forward to the impact Earl will have on the field, in the locker room and in our community.”
Under general manager Trent Baalke last season, the Niners mostly were quiet in free agency, with offensive lineman Zane Beadles the most prominent addition.
Mitchell was drafted by Houston in the third round in 2010 and played four seasons for the Texans. He then signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Dolphins but got released with one year remaining on the contract. Mitchell was limited to just nine games last season because of a calf injury.
“I was able to finish the season strong, which was important for me,” he said. “Obviously I had that injury and that issue, but once I came back I was fine.”
In 100 career games, Mitchell has 5 1/2 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.