49ers shake up defensive line, keeping Arik Armstead and trading DeForest Buckner
SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers locked up one star defensive lineman with a long-term contract and made plans to deal another to add a needed draft pick and salary cap room.
The defending NFC champion Niners signed defensive lineman Arik Armstead to a five-year contract worth up to $85 million on Monday to keep him off the open market and then immediately agreed to a deal to send defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis.
A person familiar with the trade said the 49ers will acquire the No. 13 overall pick in this year’s draft in the deal. Buckner will receive a new contract worth an average of $21 million a year, the person said on condition of anonymity because neither the trade nor the contract can become official until the start of the league year on Wednesday.
It was a dramatic series of moves for a Niners team that rode the strength of the defensive line all the way to the Super Bowl. But with Armstead needing a new contract as a potential free agent, it proved too difficult to keep both him and Buckner.
Buckner was owed about $12.4 million this season on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract and was seeking a long-term deal that would make him the second-highest-paid defensive tackle to the Rams’ Aaron Donald.
That led to the trade that will give San Francisco another first-round pick to go with their own at No. 31. The Niners currently have no picks in the second, third or fourth rounds thanks to previous trades and could look to trade down with one of their picks to fill those voids.
It came at a heavy cost as the Niners dealt away the player the coaches voted as team MVP last season. Buckner was picked seventh overall in 2016 and was one of the few bright spots on a losing team his first three years.
He has been extremely durable, missing only one game in four seasons and having the third-most defensive snaps among linemen since 2016. His 143 quarterback pressures are the fifth most among all interior linemen over the past four years, according to NFL NextGen stats.
Buckner had a career-high 12 sacks in 2018 and then had 7½ last season as part of perhaps the league’s top defensive line with Armstead and edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.
Now Buckner will try to bolster an Indianapolis defense in bad need of help at defensive tackle after recording the third-lowest pressure rate from the interior last season, according to NextGen stats.
“We need to get more interior pressure,” general manager Chris Ballard said in January. “The three-technique drives this thing. Everywhere I’ve been that’s the case. If a team goes 80 on us, dinking and dunking down the field, I can live with that. What burns me is giving up shots. Giving up explosive plays.”
The Colts were so convinced Buckner fit the role that Ballard gave up a chance to potentially select a quarterback in April.
Ballard locked up left tackle Anthony Castonzo to a new two-year contract Sunday, giving him flexibility to do other things.
The Colts then released defensive tackle Margus Hunt just one year after re-signing him. That decision cleared about $4 million in salary cap room.
Armstead had a breakthrough season in 2019, leading to his new contract. He was a first-round pick for San Francisco in 2015 but didn’t make a big impact in his first four seasons in the league, as he dealt with injuries that limited his playing time in 2016-17 and finding the right fit for his skills.
It all came together last season under a simpler scheme put in place by new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Armstead led the Niners with 10 sacks after getting only nine in 46 games over his first four seasons. Armstead also ranked second on the team with 35 quarterback pressures despite playing significant time on the inside. He also was a force against the run.
“Arik’s physical tools and versatility have allowed him to be highly productive in our style of defense, and we look forward to watching him take his game to an even higher level as he grows within our scheme,” general manager John Lynch said. “Arik has been an impact player on the field and a difference-maker in our community, and we are excited for what the future holds for him.”
Later Monday, free-agent safety Jimmie Ward signed a three-year contract to return to San Francisco, and backup tackle Shon Coleman agreed to a one-year extension. Ward’s deal was not yet official, according to a source.