Why 49ers decided to trade DeForest Buckner, re-sign Arik Armstead

Why 49ers decided to trade DeForest Buckner, re-sign Arik Armstead

The Indianapolis Colts got themselves one heck of a player Monday.

At the end of the season, the 49ers coaches got together to select the team MVP, known as the Bill Walsh Award. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was the choice.

Even on a team with George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Richard Sherman, the call to honor Buckner spurred very little debate or second-guessing.

In short, Buckner is everything a team wants. To use the oft-used barometer of the day, he checks all the boxes.

That is why the events of Monday were so shocking.

Buckner was traded to Indianapolis in exchange for the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports Bay Area.

In Year 1, 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan decided to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the middle of the season.

This had to be an even-more difficult decision because Buckner was such a good player over the past three seasons and big reason the 49ers won the NFC and advanced to the Super Bowl. When the offseason began, he was seen as sharing the distinction of being the 49ers’ top long-term priority with Kittle. Buckner was a centerpiece of the team.

But things changed.

Once the 49ers signed Armstead on Monday to a five-year extension worth up to $85 million, it became obvious Buckner did not have a long-term future with the club. As it turned out, he did not have a short-term future, either.

Armstead is not as consistent as Buckner. He has not been a top-line NFL player for as long as Buckner, even though he entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick from Oregon one year ahead of Buckner.

But, arguably, Armstead is more versatile along the defensive line. And, inarguably, the 49ers had a better chance to lock up Armstead on a multi-year contract that came in at a cost of $4 million a year less than the deal the Colts reached with Buckner to finalize the trade.

The 49ers were not going to be able to keep both players. The 49ers could have tagged Armstead as their franchise player and traded him. But, at best, the 49ers would have been able to get a second-round pick for Armstead. And they still would have faced the difficulty of working out a long-term deal with Buckner.

Perhaps, the 49ers worked behind the scenes to see which deal they could get done first and that would dictate their next move. Or maybe they just decided that signing Armstead at a lower cost than Buckner and picking up another first-round draft pick would give the team what it needed. The 49ers need to re-load and re-stock the roster after falling tantalizingly close of finishing the job in Super Bowl LIV.

Armstead, 26, had his breakout season in 2019. He registered 12 sacks in 19 games, including the postseason. He picked up nine sacks in his first 46 games over four seasons.

Armstead has remained healthy for two consecutive seasons. Armstead, Buckner and Nick Bosa played a large number of snaps last season. How much of Armstead’s production can be attributed to the attention opposing offenses have to give to Buckner and Bosa? That’s difficult to say.

Armstead plays defensive end on base downs and moves to defensive tackle to rush the passer. He will not have Buckner lining up next to him any longer. That’s a big deal.

But it is also a big deal for the 49ers to pick up another first-round draft pick – and, potentially, another immediate starter.

The 49ers can get a top-flight wide receiver. They can bring in a cornerback who can cope with the additional challenge in the NFC West of facing a receiver, such as DeAndre Hopkins, whom the Arizona Cardinals acquired on Monday.

At the end of the first round, the 49ers can address their offensive line. It is not known when they will need to replace left tackle Joe Staley, but it might be best to immediately prepare for that day.

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The Colts will be happy to have Buckner on the field and in their organization.

It was not an easy decision for the 49ers to part ways with Buckner, but it’s one that Lynch and Shanahan obviously believe can help keep the team near the top of the league for a longer period of time.

49ers' Raheem Mostert was NFL's third-most explosive runner in 2019

49ers' Raheem Mostert was NFL's third-most explosive runner in 2019

We know 49ers running back Raheem Mostert is a supreme athlete. How supreme? Well, last season, he was the third-most explosive ball-carrier in the NFL.

NFL.com's Nick Shook has been taking some deep dives into "Next Gen Stats" throughout the last few weeks, and on Wednesday, he delved into the most explosive runners the league has to offer. In order to do so, he had to establish some criteria.

In order to qualify for the top 10 most explosive runners from last season, each player had to attempt a minimum of 100 carries, at least 20 of which went for 10-or-more yards. Then, to determine the hierarchy, the percentage of runs in which they reached 15 mph or faster was the defining factor. Once the numbers were crunched, it painted Mostert in some astonishing light.

Last season, Mostert reached 15 mph or faster on an amazing 28.5 percent of his touches, which was the third-highest rate in the league behind Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. To further that, he reached at least 20 mph on four rush attempts, a benchmark equaled by only seven other players; Mostert accomplished the feat with fewer total carries than any of them.

In fact, Mostert's average speed of 13.75 mph per touch ranked first among all running backs who had at least 100 touches last season. That's blazing fast. If that number is difficult to believe, well, just turn on the tape of the NFC Championship Game, in which Mostert accounted for four touchdowns and 226 yards from scrimmage on 31 total touches. I guarantee you the Green Bay Packers believe it.

[RELATED: 49ers' Mostert looks forward to running behind Williams]

Mostert seemed to pick up momentum as the season wore on, and projects to have a much bigger role in San Francisco's offense in 2020. His explosiveness is a tremendous fit for coach Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, and there is every reason to believe the 49ers will be even more potent on that side of the ball in the season ahead.

If he stays healthy, Mostert should blow his previous career-high for touches in a season out of the water. If that's the case, well, good luck catching up to him.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' Charlie Woerner draws Rob Gronkowski comparison from high school coach

49ers' Charlie Woerner draws Rob Gronkowski comparison from high school coach

Charlie Woerner didn't catch the ball much at Georgia, but the rookie tight end could have a lot more passes come his way with the 49ers.

The Athletic's David Lombardi examined Woerner's potential fit within coach Kyle Shanahan's offense in a feature story Monday, noting that the 2020 sixth-round pick's athleticism could allow him to benefit from the attention opposing defenses pay to the 49ers' other weapons on offense. Woerner caught just 34 passes for 376 yards (and one touchdown) in four years at Georgia, but his high school coach said the tight end is capable of reaching much higher heights as a pro.

“Charlie is a tremendous athlete,” former Raburn County High School coach Lee Shaw told Lombardi. “He’s a diamond in the rough when it comes to developing into what I feel like can be another (Rob) Gronkowski-type player for somebody in the league, which looks like it’s gonna be the 49ers.”

Gronkowski, who came out of retirement this offseason to join former New England Patriots teammate Tom Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a far more prolific collegiate pass-catcher than Woerner. He caught 75 passes for 1,197 yards in two seasons at Arizona, scoring 16 touchdowns during that time and earning third-team AP All-American honors in 2008.

Woerner's limited involvement in Georgia's passing game wasn't for a lack of skill, according to his quarterback. Buffalo Bills draftee Jake Fromm played with Woerner for three seasons, and he told Lombardi the Bulldogs chose to mostly rely on Woerner's blocking prowess.

“I would say Charlie, he definitely got used more as a blocker, but that wasn’t because of anything Charlie couldn’t do,” Fromm said. “That was a lot more because of scheme and the way we were approaching the games. Charlie’s definitely more than capable of going out and making plays, running routes, catching balls -- whatever you need to do, he’s more than capable.”

[RELATED: Why Warner, Greenlaw are so important to 49ers' elite defense]

George Kittle didn't have extensive pass-catching experience at Iowa, but he has become one of the NFL's best tight ends under Shanahan's tutelage. Lombardi noted that Woerner isn't as explosive as Kittle, but the 49ers can utilize the rookie's athleticism.

If Woerner's high school coach is to be believed, they could potentially rely on the rookie for more than that.