Professional football players know the NFL is a business. If they don’t perform to expectations, they’re out of a job. The teammate you have today can be gone tomorrow.
For 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, that fact was hammered home – louder and more clear than ever before – when his team recently traded away DeForest Buckner.
Armstead and Buckner were teammates at Oregon before each was selected in the first round by the 49ers, first Armstead in 2015, then Buckner in 2016.
The friends played through disappointing seasons together in the Bay Area until 2019, when each had key roles in helping the 49ers win the NFC West, go 13-3 and earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
But then the Niners traded away Buckner to the Colts for the 13th selection in the first round of the April 23 NFL draft. Indianapolis immediately signed him to a long-term deal.
Armstead was ecstatic when the 49ers signed him to a five-year contract extension worth as much as $48.5 million, but then was stunned by the trade of Buckner.
“It was a shock,” Buckner said in a recent interview on KNBR 680. “You know, I was confused and I didn’t really expect that. Super excited and happy for him. Me and him actually have been working out for a few weeks now, so we’ve been able to hang out and talk about it. God works in mysterious ways and we both believe things happen for a reason.
“It’s going to be weird not playing alongside each other anymore like we have done for about eight years, but I know he’s going to do amazing things up there with the Colts. I’m super happy for him.”
The 49ers are limited this offseason under the NFL salary cap, and believed they couldn’t sign both Armstead and Buckner to long-term deals. So, they were able to trade Buckner for a prized first-round pick while also locking up Armstead.
Armstead had a breakout season in 2019 with career highs in sacks (10), total tackles (54), quarterback hits (18), quarterback pressures (35) and forced fumbles (2).
Plus the 49ers still have a wealth of No. 1 picks on the defensive front, with Armstead, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Dee Ford.
If Armstead can continue playing at the level he did in 2019, and Thomas is able to raise his production with more playing time, the 49ers hope their defensive line can remain a strength in 2020.