Should he stay or should he go? Travis LaBoy

The 49ers will place a premium on edge pass rushers in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 system, and that's what Travis LaBoy does best. LaBoy was one of the top pass rushers in the NFC West last year in production per snap, and while he's mostly a situational player, he still has defined value. Should the 49ers make an effort to bring him back or let him go? We take a look at both sides.

LaBoy joined the 49ers as a free agent last year on a one-year, $1.6 million deal, and he pretty much delivered for that price tag, despite missing the final two games of the season after being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

That's one of the knocks on LaBoy, who has battled injuries the past three years, and it could be a reason to make the 49ers wary of actively pursuing him as an unrestricted free agent once the bell rings on the open market later this season.

After being released by the Arizona Cardinals months after their 2008 Super Bowl season, LaBoy missed the entire 2009 season with a foot injury, then missed a large chunk of 49ers training camp last summer with a concussion. But LaBoy was ready for San Francisco's season opener, delivering four tackles and a sack in his 49ers debut at Seattle, and he remained a contributing member of the Niners' edge rotation until going down in Week 15 at San Diego.

Playing 329 snaps before his season-ending injury, LaBoy finished the year with 30 tackles, but more significantly tied for third on the team with five sacks. He also produced 28 quarterback pressures and 18 quarterback hits, which also tied for third on the team.

According to a formula used by Pro Football Focus, which uses in-depth statistical analysis to produce its results, LaBoy ranked as the NFC West's most effective pass rusher in production per snap from outside linebacker. LaBoy also ranked as one of the best all-around OLBs combining effectiveness in pass rushing, pass coverage and against the run.

LaBoy contributed in a rotation that included Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks to give San Francisco the most effective mix of pass-rushing OLBs in the division. He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble, and now has 28.5 career sacks to show for his six NFL seasons.

The LaBoy breakdown

Age: 29 (turns 30 in August)

2010 performance: Finished season with 30 tackles – 19 of them solo stops – while tying for third on team with five sacks. Was a regular in the edge rotation on pass-rushing downs, producing 28 quarterback pressures and 18 quarterback hits, which also tied for third on the team. Completed the OLB trifecta during a Week 14 game against Seattle, sacking quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, stripping him of the ball and recovering the ensuing fumble.

2010 season grade: B

Why he's worth keeping: LaBoy showed in 2010 that he has put the foot injury that wiped out his 2009 season behind him, and he was a steady pass rusher for a team that needs pass rushers at his position. LaBoy was a solid veteran presence throughout his first season with the 49ers and is a proven contributor in a situational role.

Why he's not worth keeping: LaBoy's game might be somewhat one-dimensional, and the 49ers were not comfortable with him on the field in pass-coverage situations. His ability to consistently stop the run at the point of attack also is suspect, and LaBoy might attract an offer on the open market that is more than the Niners want to play for his role on the team.

Where he would fit with the 2011 49ers: LaBoy would challenge for playing time at OLB and in defensive sub-packages while also being in the regular rotation on pass-rushing downs, very similar to the role he played for the Niners in 2010.

How he would be replaced: If they don't re-sign LaBoy, the 49ers probably would look for a veteran with similar skills in free agency to join to an OLB mix that will include holdover Ahmad Brooks and youngsters Thaddeus Gibson and Aldon Smith, San Francisco's 2011 first-round draft pick.

Market interest level: Moderate. There always is a market for proven veteran performers at OLB who have legitimate pass-rushing skills, but there also figures to be several players out there who are similar to LaBoy in makeup and skill.

49ers interest level: Attentive. With their uncertain situation at OLB, the Niners need to keep their options open with LaBoy, whose value to the team increases if San Francisco loses Manny Lawson in free agency, which is expected. With Smith an unknown quantity, the Niners also need veteran depth as insurance at the position.

The verdict

The biggest question the 49ers have to answer regarding LaBoy is how well he'll fit into Fangio's system. Since Fangio will turn up the heat in pass-rushing situations more than his San Francisco predecessors, there is a need for a veteran such as LaBoy, even if it remains just in a situational role. If the 49ers lose LaBoy in free agency, they will have to replace him with another veteran presence, so it might be wise for the team to strike first. LaBoy should stay, and the 49ers should work to make that happen, even if it requires a deal longer than the one-year pact LaBoy signed last year. Something like a two-year, $4.5 million contract – similar to the deal the Niners gave Brooks last year – seems to be in order here.

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