With the SF 49ers rash of injuries early in 2020, the decision by John Lynch to trade DeForest Buckner was the right call.
Coming into the 2020 season, the SF 49ers were considered one of the favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV.
After all, the team that came so close to winning it all last season would be returning all but one starter to the NFL’s eighth-ranked defense in 2019.
That one player, however, was defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, the team’s 2016 first-round NFL Draft pick who was becoming one of the best interior defenders in the league.
With Buckner set for a huge contract extension, and with a host of players set to become free agents, general manager John Lynch made the decision to trade Buckner and keep fellow defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who was also set to hit the open market. The move came as a surprise to many who thought Armstead would be the odd man out, even after coming off a 2019 season that saw him lead the team with 10 sacks.
Few would argue Buckner is the superior player of the two, but the financial considerations obviously played a part in the equation. Armstead eventually signed a six-year, $102 million contract, meaning he will be making $4 million less per year than Buckner.
With the offseason trade of Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, it freed up more than $12 million in cap space and eventually cleared the path for Lynch to parlay that 13th overall pick into two first-round picks instead of just one. The team used those to draft defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw and receiver Brandon Aiyuk, effectively replacing both Buckner and veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who left via free agency.
But Lynch did not stop there, as he used this financial flexibility to bring back safety Jimmie Ward, who was set to hit the open market as well.
And, of course, it paved the way for the record extension signed by all-world tight end George Kittle.
In addition, the front office was able to sign or rework deals for running back Jerick McKinnon, defensive lineman Ronald Blair, center Ben Garland, defensive end Kerry Hyder, and cornerback Jason Verrett just to name a few.
That depth has served the team well to this point, especially with the devastating season-ending ACL injuries to defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas. The team was also without Garland for the first game against Arizona. Blair was ruled out for the first half of the season, as he is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last year. However, he is scheduled to come off the PUP list sometime after Week 6.
The team also has been without Kittle since he suffered an MCL sprain in Week 1.
Add to that the loss of cornerback Richard Sherman through Week 4, as well as defenders Emmanuel Moseley and Dre Greenlaw for a few games, and the injuries just keep piling up.
Now, with all the injuries the SF 49ers have suffered, the roster depth will most assuredly be tested throughout this season.
And therein lies the strength of Lynch’s decision.
While no one could have foreseen the number of injuries the Niners have been hit with, Lynch’s decision to let Buckner go and re-sign and keep intact the depth of a Super Bowl roster looks pretty good right now.
Without that depth, the 2020 season would be looking pretty dim. And while there are no guarantees of the outcome of this season, the roster Lynch has put (and kept) in place is a lot better equipped to handle these injuries.
While losing Buckner was tough to take, the 49ers just may be a better team in the long run without him.