Since being drafted back in 2016, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was the most promising and consistent player the San Francisco 49ers had.
Every season was abysmal by the Niners, but the one bright spot that always emerged was Buckner. He continued to elevate his level of play and established himself as a leader in the locker room.
It's why he was given the "C' on the chest of his jersey because he was tone-setter.
There was little doubt that the San Francisco 49ers were going to extend Buckner. They wanted him to be with the team for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, the NFL is a business and is ever-changing. All the impressive seasons and the trajectory of Buckner made him too expensive for the 49ers. Because of that, they sent him packing to the Indianapolis Colts.
As a consolation, the 49ers elected to sign Arik Armstead to a five-year, $85 million deal despite Buckner being the better player. The trade of Buckner came out of nowhere as no one, be it fan or media, ever would have considered him as a trade candidate. He was a top-tier player and a leader in the clubhouse, which could send a poor message to the team.
With that said: will the 49ers regret trading DeForest Buckner?
Not at all. I understand the knee-jerk reaction to this. Buckner was a popularized player of the 49ers and continued to grow every season. He is every head coach and general manager's dream of a top draft pick. There is also the risk that by trading such a respected figure in the locker room could leave a bad impression on the rest of the players on the team.
However, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have always been forthcoming to their team. It is why their bond was so strong in 2019. The players on the team know the 49ers brass did not do Buckner wrong. They knew that they could not afford Buckner's price range. Rather than keep Buckner on his rookie and hurt his market, the 49ers sent him to a team that was willing to pay him his well-deserved contract.
Not many teams are willing to take into consideration the players' interest. Of course, there was stellar value in the return of the trade. Nevertheless, moving Buckner was definitely a tough decision to make.
But the reality is that teams cannot sign everyone, no matter how bad they want to.
There is a salary-cap to take into account, which the 49ers were already up against it. Trading Buckner gave the 49ers two significant benefits that made it almost a no-brainer to trade him.
The clear and obvious one is that they attained the Colts' first-round pick at No. 13 overall. That makes the 49ers major players in the draft as they practically didn't even have a first-round pick because of their No. 31 slot. Now they are able to add a good or great player on a rookie contract.
The second benefit of trading Buckner is the added cap space. Before the trade, the San Francisco 49ers were looking at under $13 million in cap space. They were in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of poor cap situations. Something needed to be done so that they could have a chance at retaining some of their players. That something ended being the Buckner trade.
It allowed the 49ers to, not only re-sign Armstead, but bring back safety Jimmie Ward who was believed to be on the way out. Even after the Ward signing the 49ers still managed to retain a few more solid rotational players. Head coach Kyle Shanahan had made it clear that the plan heading into the offseason was to keep most of the team intact.
With the exception of Buckner, the 49ers have done just exactly that.
So the trade of Buckner can never really come back to haunt the 49ers. His body of work was better than Armstead and he was strong in the trenches. However, he still doesn't carry the same value as Armstead. Buckner cannot play inside-and-out of the line like him. It's what makes Armstead's deal such a bargain because he excels both at the interior and on the edge.
Even if Armstead does not replicate his impressive 2019 season, the 49ers still made the right move. They put themselves in an ideal position for long-term success by keeping a core of talented players and keeping the salary-cap in decent standing. It has only been two days so far since free agency tampering began and the 49ers are only making a dent.