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When the NFL season comes to an end, I’m left with a small, God-shaped black hole in the pit of my being. That year’s team, for good or ill, will never exist again. Key veterans will retire, stars in their prime may want more money or a trade, and a fresh crop of rookies are a beacon on the black horizon.
My emptiness multiplies and grows deeper once the football talk shows, and Twitter-verse fills itself with flaming trash mountains of speculation on next season’s win totals and final 53-man roster.
Guessing a win total in March is the lowest form of sports conversation, but determining the roster is a fair question. Unfortunately, that topic quickly goes from interesting to resembling a junior high sewing circle babbling on endlessly about who might have been holding hands in the hallway in between third and fourth periods.
On Monday, The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi named San Francisco 49ers’ linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Dee Ford as possible players the team could trade.
There are also rumblings that veteran tackle Joe Staley might retire, but general manager John Lynch seemed to put that rumor to bed in a press conference held on April 20, 2020.
The 49ers find themselves Jungian duality. For a few years, management ran the team on the cheap, allowing the front office to sign players with ease. The results were ugly, but at least player contracts and money were not an issue.
Once Lynch took over, the team finally acquired real talent, ended up in the Super Bowl, and is currently $4.46 million over the salary cap.
Here are three possibilities to keep a fluid roster chock full of talent.
Unlikely: Trade the 13th Pick and Alexander
It pains me to think like this, but the 49ers need to make sacrifices to remain competitive. They need to continue to build and find new talent to weave into the organization.
Alexander had a fantastic season with the 49ers and was able to bounce back from a torn pectoral to participate in the playoff and Super Bowl run. He has fire, work ethic and is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
He was also an excellent complement to linebacker Fred Warner, which makes trading him a jagged little pill to swallow.
Lynch would have to deal with a $14.5 million dead cap hit by trading Alexander, but it might be worth it if he could obtain additional second- and third-round picks this year and possibly a future first-round choice next season.
Likely: Trade the 13th Pick and Ford
For the past few seasons, I’ve hoped the 49ers’ defensive line would be the team’s north star. My hope went unfulfilled until this past fall.
The addition Ford and rookie defensive end Nick Bosa were the speedy, aggressive edge players defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s system needed. Their work allowed defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner to continue their high level of play.
Consider the 2018 49ers’ dismal pass rush tallied a whole 275 quarterback pressures of any kind, resulting in a whopping two interceptions. Now compare that defense to statistics from 2019. The 49ers’ defense had 377 total pressures of any kind, 66 sacks, and 225 hurries. The work from the men up front allowed the secondary to rack up 17 interceptions.
Ford only played 322 snaps over 14 games, but his presence felt heavier. His nagging hamstring kept him on the sidelines during the last quarter of the season, which might make him a better candidate to trade to a needy team.
I would not be shocked if Lynch duped Jacksonville or Las Vegas into trading their mid-first round choices for the 13th pick and Ford. That would provide the opportunity for Lynch again secure future draft choices and fall into position this year to snag edge defender A.J. Espenesa from the University of Iowa.
Though, I cannot imagine the outrage if the 49ers take another defensive lineman in the first round of the draft. It is becoming their thing, though, and maybe it’s just time to embrace it.
Penthouse Forum Fantasy: Restructure Ford’s Contract, Stay at 13, and Draft a Tackle
If Staley does decide to return to Santa Clara for one more season, now is an ideal time to keep the 13th overall draft pick and take a left tackle.
As previously discussed, the current reserve tackles on the roster are not Staley’s replacement.
The 2020 college tackle class is rich with talent and possibilities. Taking a tackle like Ezra Cleveland, Jedrick Willis, Jr., or Tristian Wirfs on April 23 allows one of these lucky young men a chance to learn from both Staley and tackle Mike McGlinchey this season. There is almost no pressure to perform at a high level immediately and allows for Shanahan’s system to sink in over a full season.
This year’s draft could not come at a better time for sports fans, not because we’re stuck at home, but we’re starved for sports conversation with teeth and substance. No matter what the 49ers do on Thursday evening, we will be talking about it for weeks to come.
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