The Real Reason the 49ers Re-Signed Arik Armstead and not DeForest Buckner
The 49ers say they wanted to re-sign DeForest Buckner, but couldn’t because he’s too expensive, so they re-signed Arik Armstead, who is cheaper.
That’s their story. But it’s not the full one.
Technically, Armstead is cheaper than Buckner. The 49ers pay Armstead $17 million per season on average, and the Colts pay Buckner $21 million per season on average. But the Colts front loaded Buckner’s deal, while the 49ers’ backloaded Armstead’s. So Armstead actually will become more expensive than Buckner after 2021.
Here’s how much Armstead will count against the 49ers’ salary cap the next five years:
2020: $6 million.
2021: $12.5 million.
2022: $20 million.
2023: $21.7 million.
2024 $23.2 million.
Here’s how much Buckner will count against the Colts’ salary cap the next five years.
2020: $23.3 million.
2021: $17 million.
2022: $16 million.
2023: $19.7 million.
2024: $20.2 million.
Buckner will become a bargain relative to his level of performance after 2020. And after 2021, the Colts can cut him or trade him for zero cap penalty, not that they’d want to get rid of him.
Compare Buckner to Armstead, who will become quite expensive after 2021. And if the 49ers want to cut or trade him at any point, they’d have to pay a big cap penalty. They’re committed to Armstead for the long haul.
Meaning Buckner’s contract is more team-friendly than Armstead’s.
So why did the 49ers sign Armstead and not Buckner?
Simple: The 49ers wanted to bring back as much of their 2019 team as possible for one more run at the Super Bowl, and Buckner will cost $17 million more than Armstead in 2020. But the 49ers will have to reload their roster soon -- it’s getting expensive and many key players will be free agents next year and the year after. The 49ers can’t keep this exact team together much longer.
If they win the Super Bowl during the next two seasons, signing Armstead and keeping the team intact was the right move, and the 49ers won’t care how expensive he’ll get when he’s older.
If they don’t win the Super Bowl during the next two seasons, signing Armstead was the wrong move. Because they’ll have to retool their roster while paying him roughly $21.5 million per season from 2022 to 2024, when they could have had Buckner, a younger, superior player, for roughly $18.5 million per season from 2022 to 2024. And the 49ers will regret the day they decided to keep Armstead over Buckner.
Because they absolutely could have kept Buckner. He was not too expensive. He simply would have cost big bucks for one season.
That’s the full story.