Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

DeForest Buckner: ‘I was hoping the 49ers would at least meet me in the middle’

Nov 11, 2020 at 6:19 AM--

As the San Francisco 49ers struggle to find a pass rush due to several injuries along the defensive line, fans have to wonder what might have been had the team opted to keep defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Of course, that would probably mean no Arik Armstead. It would certainly mean no Javon Kinlaw. And it might also mean no Brandon Aiyuk. Buckner's trade to the Indianapolis Colts facilitated the signing of Armstead and the drafting of the other two.

Armstead has 1.5 sacks this season, following a 2019 campaign during which he led the 49ers with 10. San Francisco signed him to a five-year, $85 million deal this offseason.

Kinlaw, Buckner's replacement, has yet to earn his first sack. He has 19 tackles, a quarterback hit, and three passes defensed through nine games. That's not to say he won't develop into an excellent player. Kinlaw appears to have all the tools. However, Buckner has 2.5 sacks, 34 tackles, 13 quarterback hits, a safety, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble through eight games this season.

Zak Keefer of The Athletic recently wrote a feature about Buckner, who has quickly helped transform the Colts defense. The defensive lineman remembers the 49ers, the team that drafted him No. 7 overall in 2016, telling him and his agent to explore their options after contract negotiations stalled. There were just too many teammates who needed to be paid — guys like Armstead, George Kittle, and Jimmie Ward.

So that's what they did.

That's when they found the Colts, who were willing to sign Buckner to a four-year, $84 million extension while sending the No. 13 overall pick to the 49ers to acquire the Pro Bowl defender. Buckner felt it would be a good bargaining chip with San Francisco and clung to hope that he would remain with the team that drafted him.

"I was hoping the 49ers would at least meet me in the middle," Buckner told Keefer. "I definitely didn't expect them to trade me. I poured my heart and soul into that organization … to go from 2-14 my first year to build a culture and get to a Super Bowl?

"You just don't expect to be traded."

Then he got the call on March 15. The next day, the trade was made official, leaving many of his now-former teammates shocked.

"I didn't have any knowledge of it, so I kind of signed, and then I heard of that," Armstead, Buckner's close friend, said in April. "It was a shock to me. ... It's a huge loss. He's an irreplaceable player."

While Buckner's Colts sit at 5-3, a game back in the AFC South but entrenched in the conference's playoff picture, an injury-ravaged San Francisco team sits at 4-5, which is bad enough for last place in a strong NFC West.

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