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Grading the Buckner trade: Why the 49ers made a smart decision

Now that we’ve had a couple of days, let’s talk about the trade

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

I’ve avoided this topic because when you trade away one of your best players, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think the sky is falling. If you see anyone mention DeForest Buckner is overrated, you have two options: Ignore them or block them. We are going to find out how “overrated” DeFo is in 2020. The San Francisco 49ers received a top-15 draft pick in the deal and knowing how much money Buckner got from the Colts that makes it a bit easier to deal with. Still, the opportunities Buckner created for the rest of the defense cannot be understated. That, and his ability to play 80% of the snaps per game at a high level, will always impress me.

“In a vacuum” doesn’t make sense here

It’s not as simple as “the 49ers chose Buckner over Arik Armstead.” Football is never one or the other, or black and white. There are too many moving parts. The 49ers chose Armstead, Jimmie Ward, and a first-round pick over Buckner and a high compensatory pick (likely in the 100s.) Financially, the 49ers will also save $18 million over three years by choosing the Armstead “package” over the Buckner “package.”

Buckner wanted Aaron Donald money, and he got pretty close. If you’re going to pay a player “Donald money,” he better be a game-wrecker. I’m talking transcendent, top-10 player in the league type of player. DeForest is great, and unquestionably one of the top players at his position. He’s not transcendent, though. The way the 49ers defense is set up, they don’t need a top-five player at defensive tackle to be a great defense. The team has three big investments on the defensive line already. If you can’t get it done with Dee Ford, Armstead, Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, and insert veteran free agent signing/rookie, then you have bigger problems.

Why you do this deal every time

John Lynch will have his hands full when it comes to replacing DeFo. Because he’s not “transcendent” doesn’t mean he’s not a great player.

Signing a veteran—one of the options we mentioned—will lessen the blow. The 49ers already lead the NFL in money allocated toward the defensive line. I believe we’re a year away from Jones taking the leap to become an outstanding player. He’s that good. Taking pressure off Jones by signing a veteran like Ndamukong Suh, Timmy Jernigan, Andrew Billings, or Mike Daniels would be a double off the wall to go baseball on you. We’re not going to see the same production at defensive tackle like we have the last few seasons. We’re just not. Again, that shouldn’t be the goal. Getting competent play where you aren’t exposed up the middle against the run so you can get to obvious passing downs is the goal.

The reason you do this deal every time is the draft pick. Having the No. 13 overall pick allows you to potentially replace Emmanuel Sanders with a receiver on a rookie contract for at least three years before you start talking about extensions. San Francisco will be in a position to draft any receiver they want, especially if there is an early run on quarterbacks. That’s huge, especially considering who calls the plays. You can stay at No. 13 and draft the best player available, whether it’s a receiver, interior lineman, or defensive tackle, and then you can trade back from No. 31 and pick up a couple of mid-round picks to fill out your roster. When you take a step back and assess the trade, the 49ers come out ahead. The team now has more flexibility both financially and in the draft to improve their team not just for 2020, but for the next few years. Big picture, John Lynch made the smart move.