No. 1: 49ers going with Arik Armstead and not DeForest Buckner
This was easily the toughest decision the Niners had to face during the offseason. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who led the team with 10 sacks in 2019, was a pending free agent. Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the team’s best player on that side of the ball, was entering his fifth-year option and was set to command a lot of money in future seasons.
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San Francisco elected to re-sign Armstead, giving him a five-year, $85 million contract worth $17 million annually. Shortly after the deal was announced, the 49ers traded Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick in the draft.
Buckner subsequently signed a new deal with Indianapolis worth $21 million annually.
True, there was no way the Niners could have afforded both players. And both players were essential to San Francisco’s defensive success in 2019, prompting the tough decision. Yet one could argue Buckner was easily the more consistent and important player out of the two, while Armstead’s 2019 campaign was a career-best year following seasons in which he never had more than three sacks.
The hope for the 49ers is their top-drafted rookie, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, steps into the void left by Buckner and picks up where the latter left off.
But Buckner was well-respected in the locker room, and his presence on the field can’t be underestimated. Simply put, San Francisco’s defense is worse now than it was before the blockbuster trade.
As a result, both Armstead and Kinlaw have some massive shoes to fill moving forward.