Why a first-round trade down is important for 49ers in NFL draft

Sanders and Buckner are out; how will the 49ers look to fill those spots? (1:06)

Niners reporter Nick Wagoner offers options that San Francisco could push for with its draft picks after losing Emmanuel Sanders and DeForest Buckner this offseason. (1:06)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If all goes according to the current order, the San Francisco 49ers will be busy on the first and third day of the NFL draft, with a one-day vacation in between.

The Niners own pick Nos. 13 and 31 in the first round and wouldn't make another selection until the fifth round at No. 156. That's an exceptionally long stretch between draft choices, especially for a team that has reached the point where replenishing talent through the draft becomes mandatory.

Fortunately for the 49ers, the NFL draft never goes according to original order. In fact, trade-fueled chaos is normal. That is why San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and their respective staffs are planning for everything.

"I've been around long enough that you don't just sit there and look at your draft and say, alright we've got to know 1-31, but then we can just chill until the fourth round or fifth round, whatever we are, take a day off' because things change," Shanahan said. "There's always trades, there's always different draft picks so you've got to still go through the same process, but there's not as much pressure on getting to know all the top guys in the draft."

Assuming they use the No. 13 pick, the Niners must find a way to trade down and out of their spot at No. 31 to acquire more midround picks. There's some room for softening that stance if someone they have rated highly slips to 31st, but short of that, it's imperative that the Niners gather more choices and don't find themselves waiting until the fifth round to turn in another card.

"We don't have as much equity as we've had in years past, so we've got to figure out a way," Lynch said. "We've got to be creative, we've got to be exhaustive in all the avenues we look at to improve our football team. We're committed to doing that."

The arithmetic changed for the Niners during free agency. They traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders left for the New Orleans Saints. Other depth such as tight end Levine Toilolo (Giants), guard Mike Person (released) and defensive tackle Sheldon Day (Colts) also departed.

Those departures have crystallized the Niners' needs. Receiver, defensive tackle, offensive line and cornerback top the list.

Losing Buckner means the Niners can't afford to walk out of the first night of the draft without a difference-maker. He was one of the team's best players and it stands to reason that San Francisco will use the pick it received for him to land the best player available at one of the positions mentioned above, someone who can step in and make an immediate impact.

Knowing that, the 49ers won't pigeonhole themselves into one position but instead look at the best players and determine who has the best combination of short- and long-term potential.

"You've got to evaluate people," Shanahan said. "And you don't just say, all right, we decided we're going for receiver, you've got to take the guy that you believe in, he has got to be there when you pick and you've got to compare him to D-lineman to an offensive lineman to everything. And then you take the best guy. And if there's no one there you like, someone's trading and you trade back and try to take more guys."

For the Niners, adding midround picks isn't just about trying to prevent day-two boredom. All offseason, they have made it clear they want to improve the roster while maintaining as much of last year's NFC championship team as possible. They did that the best they could within the constraints of the salary cap in free agency but find themselves needing another influx of young, cost-effective talent.

That's because, for as many tough decisions as the Niners had this offseason, things are going to get more difficult. While the 49ers will have a lot more cap space to work with next offseason, they're slated to have many key players in need of contract extensions.

Among the starters or major contributors scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after next season are tight end George Kittle, running backs Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, receivers Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor, defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair III, cornerbacks Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Jaquiski Tartt.

That doesn't even account for linebacker Fred Warner and right tackle Mike McGlinchey, both of whom will also be eligible for lucrative extensions for the first time.

Suffice to say, the Niners either can't or won't want to pay all of those players what will be needed to keep them. Which means now is the time to begin reloading with immediate and long-term replacements. The more draft capital they have, the better their chances of keeping their Super Bowl window open longer.

Finding a trade partner is no sure thing, but recent evidence indicates that teams looking to move down can generally find someone willing to move up. The fifth-year option that comes with a first-round pick has made those choices more valuable.

An ideal blueprint for the Niners to follow? The Seattle Seahawks from last year. They entered the draft with just four picks but after eight trades -- including moving defensive end Frank Clark for a first-round pick -- they brought in a whopping 11 players.

When it was over, Seattle had a pick in the first round, two in the second, one in the third, three in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

If the 49ers could pull off something similar, it would go a long way in re-stocking the roster while also providing potential replacements with team-friendly rookie contracts.

"I think the important part right now is that we're prepared for all scenarios," Lynch said. "I think those things will take care of themselves as our plan and our vision for making our team better this year develops further. Right now, the most important part is that we work really hard in trying to assess the talents and the opportunities to improve our team."