It's already been a busy offseason for the San Francisco 49ers, with GM John Lynch trading away Pro Bowl defensive lineman DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick last month.
Now it appears Lynch is ready to completely overhaul the team' vaunted defense that had them one quarter away from winning the Super Bowl last year, as The Athletic's Michael Lombardi reports they have several of their other top players on the trade block ahead of this Thursday's NFL Draft.
While this may seem crazy given how important those players were to the 49ers' success last year, in today's NFL, it actually makes sense.
The 49ers currently only have $11.9 million in cap space, 20th-most in the NFL, and a big chunk of that will go to draft picks. That's especially true now that they have two first-rounders after landing the No. 13 pick from Indianapolis in the Buckner trade. But these moves seem aimed at opening up cap space in the future rather than trying to relieve the immediate cap pressure.
The 49ers signed Alexander to a $54 million contract before last season because of the talent he showed as a member of the Bucs, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2017. Then this past season he came back to play in the playoffs and Super Bowl after tearing his pec midway through the year, solidifying his leadership status and building respect with his teammates.
However, his cap hit in 2021 and 2022 is over $16 million each season, and his contract makes him the fifth-highest paid inside linebacker in the league. While he's a talented player and clearly an emotional leader on the Niners, that's too much money for a guy who's played 14 total games in the last two years and only played one full season in his five-year career so far.
A similar issue rests with Ford. The 49ers not only traded away a second-round pick to acquire Ford from the Chiefs, they also signed him to a five-year, $85.5 million contract. His cap hit this year is $15.8 million and in the next three years it's $17.6, $18.6 and $18.6 million respectively, though there is an out after this season that would count for only $4.8 million in dead cap space. He missed time both last year and in 2017, is now 29-years old and notched only 6.5 sacks last year. Not exactly what a team is looking for at that price point.
Lynch ultimately offered those contracts and made those moves to put the 49ers in a win-now position last year, and it nearly worked. Now he has to attempt to clean up his own mess by trying to get anything of value for two talented players whose contributions on the field could be substantial if they stay healthy, but whose contracts would hinder the 49ers this season and beyond.
Like Bill Belichick and the Patriots, Lynch is looking to the future and figuring out who he can spare in the near term to keep the 49ers in a winning position for a decade, not just next season. He already started doing this with the Buckner trade because he was also due for a new contract, which he got from the Colts. Now Lynch is ready to completely overhaul the 49ers roster so he can rebuild it into a winner once again.
It might not make sense from a team-building and cohesion standpoint, but from a winning standpoint, it does.