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It’s not of the earth-shattering variety, but the 49ers have poached talent from a division opponent. According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the 49ers are signing linebacker Joe Walker from the Arizona Cardinals. A former 2016 sixth-round pick out of Oregon, Walker beat out Haason Reddick, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2017 (13th overall) for the starting inside linebacker job.
The #49ers are signing LB Joe Walker to a one-year deal, source said. Walker took a first-round pick’s job last year, started 11 games and had 65 tackles for the #Cardinals. Now, he stays in the NFC West.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 23, 2020
He started the final 10 games of the season for the Cardinals, and had 10 tackles, including one for a loss, against the 49ers in Week 9. He began his career as a special-teamer, and could provide competition for the 30-year-old Mark Nzeocha, who is due $1.5 million this season (cutting him would save the 49ers about $750k). The 49ers also declined to tender restricted free agent Elijah Lee, so they are in immediate need of an extra body to replace him.
When ESPN did a breakdown of one player from each NFL team who “leveled up,” the pick for the Cardinals was Walker. From the article:
The 2016 seventh-round pick made significant strides in 2019 after being relied upon more this season than he has in his NFL career. Walker started 11 of 16 games this season, including the final 10. He had 58 tackles and a forced fumble while making strides in coverage. He was already an athletic linebacker in coordinator Vance Joseph’s system, but 2019 showed his on-field improvement.