Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Jimmie Ward calls Buckner trade ‘bittersweet,’ questions how division rival keeps pulling off big roster moves

Oct 18, 2021 at 1:44 PM--

Sunday night will be a reunion for many San Francisco 49ers players. All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner will return to Levi's Stadium for the first time since being traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2020.

"He was the heart and soul when he was here, man," safety Jimmie Ward said of Buckner after today's practice. "I wasn't happy about [the trade], but I understand the business side. I'm pretty sure you all knew something was going to happen, just like I did. I just didn't know what was going to happen.

"When that happened, like I said, it was bittersweet. We ended up getting [Javon] Kinlaw, and we ended up getting Brandon Aiyuk. But we lost a leader, especially a leader on the defense. Really, a leader on this team, in this building. But he's still my brother, and I still love him."

Many fans questioned the trade. One could argue that Buckner was irreplaceable, and the talented defensive lineman has continued to show why in Indianapolis, racking up 9.5 sacks last season and earning All-Pro honors.

Another area of frustration for fans is the 49ers' seemingly conservative approach to offseasons. The team has a very methodical approach to improving, which is sometimes difficult to watch when teams like the division-rival Los Angeles Rams make splashy moves to acquire top talent.

One example is going all-in to trade for Matthew Stafford this offseason, beating out the too-slow-to-react 49ers for the veteran quarterback. Head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that he was trying to get involved in the negotiations for Stafford. However, he thought he had more time before the Rams quickly closed the deal.

"That was frustrating," Shanahan said.

The 49ers probably could have figured out a way to retain Buckner. And discussing his former teammate made Ward question how other teams, like the Rams, always seem to find the money needed to pull off big moves.

"[The 49ers] couldn't keep everyone," Ward said. "Maybe — I don't know — they probably could have made it work somehow [with Buckner]. The Rams keep doing it. I don't know how. Do you know where they're getting all this money from? Like I said, it's the business side of it."

Added Ward of Buckner: "He was unique in some of the stuff he did, how aggressive he was in his mindset. And the players that we've got now, they're the same type of players, but they're them. You can't be Buck, you know? He's a totally different person. He thinks different. He's built different. So, I feel like John [Lynch] and Kyle did a great job in replacing him ... but at the end of the day, he's still Buck."

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