Being a below .500 team has put the San Francisco 49ers under a microscope.
Anytime a team is not winning, every prior move the team made entering the season or during the season gets heavily questioned.
The one move that is being brought up again that the 49ers made was the DeForest Buckner trade. San Francisco sent the All Pro defensive tackle to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange of the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The trade caught everyone off guard because there was no inclination of this becoming a reality.
Trading Buckner to the Colts allowed the 49ers to free up a ton of salary cap space that lead them to re-sign Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward. The 49ers ended up trading down from No. 13 to No. 14 in the draft and selected Javon Kinlaw. So the 49ers ended up converting Buckner into three players and bit of spare change in salary cap relief.
At the time, I called this trade a tough, but justifiable move. It is never easy to send elite homegrown talent away, especially someone as beloved as Buckner.
Eight months later since the trade occurred, the 49ers STILL made the right decision to trade Buckner away.
Look, I know each of the three players I listed that the 49ers essentially chose over Buckner have been underperforming through nine games of the season so far. But the reality is, the 49ers saw a chance to keep most of their championship caliber roster intact. They were far and beyond better than almost every team in the NFL and went toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Continuity is a major factor in continued success in the NFL, especially with offseason programs shutdown to COVID-19.
The impatient takes that have been spewing regarding the Buckner trade sounds a lot like those people just want attention.
When it comes to Ward, clearly he is a player that benefits with a productive pass rush, but then again so does a majority of defensive backs in the league. You could argue the 49ers overvalued Ward in this sense with Tarvarius Moore in the wings, I'll entertain that.
As for Kinlaw, he was always going to be underwhelming this season because he is technically replacing Buckner, an All Pro defensive tackle. So of course he is not going to pop off on the field regardless. Not to mention that the loss of offseason programs and preseason hurts Kinlaw and the rest of the rookies significantly. Sure, there are some rookies who are performing well, but how many of them are in great situations?
Kinlaw is not in a great situation right now with Nick Bosa and Dee Ford out. Remember how exciting it was supposed to be with Kinlaw being the fourth player that opposing offense's were going to worry about? He does not have that luxury right now and isn't getting easy matchups.
The thing with Kinlaw is that he is never going to fill in Buckner's shoes, so lets stop mentioning these two in the same breath. The 49ers' defense, especially pass rush, was always going to take a hit this season. Now that Bosa and Ford are sidelined, it makes their pass rush non-existent.
The same can be said for Armstead who needs talent around him to succeed. When the 49ers re-signed Armstead, they didn't see him as a player who will consistently dominate. They saw him as the player that fits as a critical puzzle piece to the defensive line. It was supposed to be Armstead, Bosa, and Ford leading the way. As much as I do not like to fall back on the injury excuse, it is very valid in this instance.
Lets not forget how reliant the 49ers' pass rush is with a productive edge rush. When Ford missed the final six games of the season, San Francisco only tallied nine sacks with five of them coming from the Week 12 game against the Green Bay Packers. So losing Ford and Bosa delivered a massive drop off to the pass rush that not even Buckner would have made a difference.
In fact, the Buckner trade isn't even a major factor as to why the 49ers are underachieving this season. The offense has been the root cause of the failures this season along with injuries, so the fact the Buckner trade is being brought up is simply a red herring fallacy.