The Real Reason the 49ers Re-Signed Arik Armstead and not DeForest Buckner

Grant Cohn

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.

Comments (16)
No. 1-9

grant - it doesn't make sense to make things up just so you can write an article that day. I understand that you must have an article quota, but please don't just make garbage up, throw together some opinionated paragraphs and call it 49er reporting.....look at what does, they breakdown each player over 90 days (approximately) - that, or virtually any other idea, is better than writing an article about this one and virtually every other one you write.

Mitchell Alan
Mitchell Alan

Grant usually nails it. But the above story is BS.

Buckner would have been hyper-expensive for the NEXT TWO seasons. Armstead has the more team-friendly contract, by a mile.

Nobody lasts for 100 years or even 10 years in the NFL. Buckner could be toast tomorrow morning, and worthless to the Colts who have jeopardized their franchise to acquire him. The Colts are desperate. The 49ers are not.

So the very-good Armstead is going to cost the Niners only $6M and 12.5M over the next two years. The highly-regarded Armstead signed a team-friendly contract. But Buckner -- Buckner wanted immediate money from the 49ers that only a Pharoah could produce.

The Niners made their choice quickly -- Buckner's demands made it so easy to decide.

The 49er front office went with the younger, cheaper Armstead. And they made the right kind of deal with him. And the 49ers can always cut Armstead in 2022 if he ain't worth it.

The HYPER-NOSEBLEED price the Niners were being asked to pay Buckner over the next two years (40+ mil) was FAR out of the question. No defensive tackle in history is worth that much.


We have a win now roster with a plan for the future and that's all you can ask for in sports. With our head coach and young cornerstones (Bosa,Kittle,Warner,Greenlaw,Deebo,(maybe,Aiyuk, and kinslaw) we are at an enviable position. But you are absolutely right about the superbowl. We want to win now, but we also want a team that competes every year for a title and that really falls on jimmy G at the moment. If he takes the next step that mostly all Shanahan qbs do we'll be fine.


Haha, such an ignorant take. Par for the course though.

Supreme Niner
Supreme Niner

You might want to consider a lobotomy Grant.


All I’m saying is Armstead better produce now that he got paid. He’s only had 1 good season out of 5 to justify that big contract.


This really is just a ridiculous article. You say it's the full story like you were able to go behind the scenes and figure out exactly why they chose Player A over Player B. However, your reasoning is after the fact and based solely on contract structure. Anybody with a basic idea of contracts would know that a contract is based on player, team and the timing of the contract. Take Jimmy G for example. Most of the money was upfront, which would be similar to Buckner's. Why you may ask? Because at the time of the signing, 49ers had one of the largest cap space in the NFL, they weren't playoff contenders yet, and no other players were due for a massive extension. They chose to pay him early so they weren't hamstrung later on and could still field a decent team. At the time of Armstead's deal, they were tight on cap space, are super bowl contenders and still need to extend some key players. Mr. Cohn, please get feedback from multiple people before publishing an article. This wasn't a good article by any standard.


Very lazy reporting and opinionated.
As bangbangninergang mentioned, he brought back the 13th pick in the draft. I highly doubt anyone would give up a 1st Round pick for Armstead.


You’re leaving out the fact that trading Buckner garnered a 13th overall draft pick. Armstead obv would not have. That played such a huge role in the decision that it seems crazy that a writer would talk about the “full story” yet leave that factor out..