After trading away Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner, the San Francisco 49ers made a less-heralded but necessary move by bringing back Ronald Blair on a one-year deal before he hit NFL free agency.
On initial observation, the San Francisco 49ers didn’t make an upgrade by going with reserve defensive lineman Ronald Blair over 2018 Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner by retaining the former on a one-year deal and trading the latter to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Yet that’s the route general manager John Lynch took, keeping Blair around for at least another season while clearing up some much-needed cap space by moving Buckner and getting compensation in return.
San Francisco’s defensive line depth was a key strength for much of 2019, yet it took a hit when Blair suffered a torn ACL during the team’s Week 10 Monday Night Football loss to the Seattle Seahawks. And while Blair wasn’t a featured member of a Niners D-line, he was awfully important to the rotation.
Just ask the Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman:
Buckner’s departure ultimately put more pressure on the 49ers to retain Blair, who has been a regular and flexible depth piece for the defense ever since being selected the same year as Buckner, only in Round 5 of the 2016 draft.
And while there were multiple components behind why the Niners struggled to generate sacks late in the regular season, losing Blair was surely a part of the many reasons.
One of the things his injury forced was San Francisco relying more on its defensive starters, including Buckner, as well as defensive ends Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. Blair is capable of playing multiple spots along the defensive line, which is something a number of the team’s other D-line backups aren’t quite as adept at doing.
With Buckner out of the picture, considering he played nearly 80 percent of the defense’s snaps last season, retaining Blair for at least another season seemed like a no-brainer.
Granted, there’s going to be a concern whether or not Blair can be fully recovered from his ACL tear by the time training camp rolls around. It’s far from automatic he’ll be asked to return from the injury and contribute in a similar fashion to what was seen over the first half of 2019, especially if he’s asked to play a multitude of roles.
This probably explains why San Francisco offered him just a one-year deal, as it’ll essentially be little more than a prove-it contract.
Still, the move was one the Niners had to make, and the defense will be better off because of it.