With the NFL trade deadline looming last year, the 49ers pulled the trigger on a major trade to bring in accomplished veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, providing San Francisco with a final piece for its offensive puzzle in a move that transformed a rising, undefeated team from ascending playoff contender into Super Bowl favorite in the NFC.
Flash forward to the league’s trade deadline this year, when San Francisco traded away veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander, another key piece both on and off the field that joined the 49ers in 2019 and helped transform them into a championship operation, instantly becoming instrumental in their quick climb back to elite status.
What a difference a deadline makes.
And, as is often true in the NFL, what a difference in outlook and perspective that a year can make for virtually any team. Particularly a team such as the 49ers, a well-built outfit that appeared to have it all last season as a rising powerhouse stocked with talent and star performers that provided plenty of evidence it was built for the long haul.
Until maybe it wasn’t.
Nobody could have foreseen the practically apocalyptic surge of injuries that have swept over the San Francisco roster this season, a battlefield rout that has seen the 49ers have an astounding 23 players go on the injured reserve list through the middle of November and several other key starters and vital performers also miss one or more games — often more — with injuries.
With a 4-4 record at the league’s Nov. 3 deadline this year, still fighting valiantly to remain in playoff contention in the ultra-tough NFC West despite taking a numbing assault of body blows from every direction, the 49ers found themselves facing an unexpected dilemma that had them teetering on both sides of the deadline fence.
Should they be buyers or sellers this time around?
To be sure, the 49ers still had a chance to both save and resurrect their season. To do that, certainly the logical approach with a decimated roster would be to bring in reinforcements rather than send away a player such as Alexander, a leader in the locker room and difference-maker on the field when he’s at the top of his game.
But at the same time, the 49ers also had to keep an eye on the future and keep it real about what direction the team really is headed in 2020.
So the 49ers sent Alexander, one of the early keys to their rapid development into a defensive juggernaut last season, packing to New Orleans in exchange for veteran linebacker Kiki Alonso and a conditional fifth-round draft pick, sending away a player with potential to be a defensive force to one of San Francisco’s top rivals for NFC supremacy.
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STOCK UP STOCK DOWN
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Fred Warner vaulted to stardom with a spectacular 2020 season — and the 49ers rewarded him this summer with a $95.225 million deal that makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. By today’s standards, Warner’s performance last year was worth the money as he posted an Approximate Value of 19 — matching the highest score ever recorded by a San Francisco defender according to a Pro Football Reference formula that puts a single number on each player-season across all positions since 1960. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (twice) also had seasons with an AV of 19 as they dominate this list of the greatest individual seasons by a linebacker in 49ers history.
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