In his first season with the 49ers in 2014, safety Antoine Bethea was selected by coaches for the Bill Walsh Award, given to the team’s most valuable player.
Said then-head coach Jim Harbaugh: “He’s a pro’s pro. Great with the young guys, great on the field, great in the meeting rooms.”
Sounds like the perfect player to have on the team in 2016 under new head coach Chip Kelly for a franchise making a big transition, right?
Well, maybe not.
Bethea, 31, is coming off an injury that cost him a good chunk of the 2015 season, and is on tap to make more than $5 million in 2016. Those two factors – along with the rise of young safety Jaquiski Tartt – apparently are spurring 49ers general manager Trent Baalke to consider trading Bethea, possibly before this month’s draft, which begins with the first round on the 28th, according to longtime NFL writer Peter King of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback.
King, citing a source, wrote that the 49ers want to trade both Bethea and offensive tackle Anthony Davis, who retired after the 2014 season but has made statements that he’d like to return for 2016 – but hasn’t applied for reinstatement.
The 49ers already have a dozen picks set aside for this year’s draft, so by trading Bethea and the rights to Davis, Baalke could land a few more to help him re-stock a roster that has been depleted so much the past two seasons by free agency, or allow him more ammunition to move up in the first or following rounds. As Darin Gantt of NBC’s Pro Football Talk wrote Monday, “Honestly, dealing away older players for more picks might simply be good business, as the 49ers aren’t close to contending and need all the cheap labor they can get for the Chip Kelly re-build.”
The loss of Bethea, however, seems as if it would be costly. Bethea is smart and a leader, just the kind of player Kelly would need at the back end of a defense likely to be on the field quite a bit in 2016 because of the head coach’s fast-paced spread offense.
Plus, until last season when he missed nine games because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bethea had been extremely durable. He had last missed a start in 2007, his second NFL season.
He’s still young by safety standards and signed through 2017.
Said Baalke, after acquiring Bethea in 2014: “Antoine is a durable, experienced player who has competed at a high level throughout his career.”