Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Two things happened the first day of the legal tampering period that many people thought would never happen: the San Francisco 49ers signed Arik Armstead to a long term contract (a five year deal worth up to $85M with $48.5M guaranteed) and the team traded their cornerstone defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick in the upcoming draft. Although the Buckner trade was and still is quite emotional for 49ers fans, both moves were well orchestrated and should be signals on how the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan 49ers will be run from now on.
Everyone knew that there was no way to pay Buckner, Armstead, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner Jr. (the latter two will be in a year or two) the type of money they would need to in order to keep the band together. They cut their losses (and created even more gains) with trading Buckner for a top 15 pick, where they could be in position to pick his replacement (Javon Kinlaw, Derrick Brown, or with their 31st pick, Neville Gallimore) or choose one of the top three wide receiver with the 13th pick (CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, or Henry Ruggs III).
It’s most likely that Buckner’s replacement is already on the roster. Buckner’s snap count will probably be replaced by sometime of combination of D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor, and Solomon Thomas. Like Armstead, Buckner wasn’t used strictly as a defensive tackle or defensive end, but rather a hybrid of the two, although his natural position was at DT. Since he was drafted, scouts, fans, and coaches alike have said that Thomas should be played in the middle of the defensive line, while his own coaches continue to line him up at defensive end. He isn’t a speed rusher from the end. That just isn’t his strength.
A good bet on what we might see from the defensive line next year on base downs is Armstead and Bosa at the two ends, with D.J. Jones and Taylor or Thomas on the inside. Then, on passing downs, Armstead will kick inside with Bosa and Ford on the ends. The team has shown that they like to move their defensive lineman around, trying to keep fresh rushers in the game for all four quarters. With the depth they have, even with Buckner no longer on the team, this is something they will continue to do.
The 49ers also re-signed Ronald Blair to a one-year contract. Even though he is coming off of an ACL injury, he is a player who has shown he can create pressure as a spot rusher. Kentavius Street should be in line to play more snaps in his third season since being drafted. Kevin Givens, in his second season in the league, could also eat up some snaps. So the depth and athleticism is still there for the defensive line. The question is, how many of those pressures and sacks off the edge were created by Buckner being double-teamed, which opened up one-on-one matchups for Armstead, Bosa, and Ford?
The sack total may dip a little bit, but the run defense shouldn’t falter and facing double teams won’t be new to Armstead, Bosa, and Ford as all three have seen them their whole pro and or collegiate careers. An offensive line won’t be able to double-team all three, and if Thomas takes a step in the right direction (a big “if” in some minds), the defensive line could be just as dynamic as it was last year.
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