49ers Encouraged to Take ‘Big Swing’ and Trade for Former 1st-Round DT

Daron Payne

Getty The 49ers could take a "big swing" and trade for a former 1st-rd pick at defensive tackle.

There isn’t much wrong with the San Francisco 49ers defense five games into the 2022 NFL season. In fact, coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ unit has been close to flawless and is setting a pace on a par with some of the stingiest defenses in league history:

If there’s one worry it concerns injuries. Ryans is already working without a few key players at both ends of his defense, but the most glaring miss could be in the middle, with a pair of linchpins on the shelf.

The 49ers could solve the problem by engineering a trade with a struggling NFC East team for a former first-round pick. This beefy defensive tackle is in the final year of his rookie contract and has the skill-set to suit the Niners’ scheme.

2018 Top-15 Pick Worth ‘Big Swing’ from 49ers

In a list of teams desperately in need of a trade before the deadline on November 1, Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine named a top-15 pick from 2018 for the 49ers: “At defensive tackle, the Niners could take a big swing by trading for Daron Payne.”

General manager John Lynch putting together a deal for the Washington Commanders defensive tackle would be a boost for Ryans. The latter is dealing with injuries to interior disruptors Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead.

They both missed Week 5’s 37-15 win over the struggling Carolina Panthers, with Armstead a candidate for a lengthy absence, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic:

Armstead’s presence is sorely missed at the heart of a marauding line. The 6’7″, 290-pounder is somebody who demands and commands double teams across the trenches.

His power, quickness and versatility are essential to the way the 49ers play defense. It’s a system built on getting relentless pressure from the front four.

Armstead can generate the heat from various spots. He split a double team on the inside to pressure Aaron Rodgers when the Niners beat the Green Bay Packers 13-10 in last season’s playoffs:

Armstead’s swift takeoff, raw power and flexibility also make him a threat from the edge. That’s where he was when No. 91 got to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford in the NFC Championship Game, a play highlighted by Jordan Elliott of SB Nation’s Niners Nation:

Payne, drafted 13th overall by Washington four years ago, is similarly versatile and disruptive. He’s also younger than Armstead and would give the Niners a possible out from the latter’s lucrative contract, as well as some insurance against Kinlaw suffering further injuries.

Payne Would Offset Armstead, Kinlaw Risks

As good as Armstead is, he’ll be 29 in November and not everybody is convinced he’s worth what the 49ers are paying him. One of the doubters is Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated‘s All 49ers:

As Cohn pointed out, the 49ers wouldn’t save much by moving on from Armstead next year, but any saving at all might help. It’s also true the Niners can’t trust Kinlaw to stay healthy, since the team’s first-round pick in 2020 has missed 16 games since entering the pros.

Kinlaw’s injury history, along with the possibility of Armstead landing on IR, no doubt prompted the 49ers to sign former Minnesota Vikings nose tackle T.Y. McGill. He was added to the roster after a workout on Tuesday, October 11, according to David Lombardi of The Athletic:

McGill impressed for the Vikings during preseason, but he’s not an interior D-lineman with Payne’s talent and pedigree. The 25-year-old has been allowed to enter a contract year after the Commanders paid his ex-Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen this offseason.

Allen is still dominant at the heart of the Commanders’ defensive front, but Payne is no weak link. Instead, he’s a player who can line up over the center, head-up on guards and even be shifted to the edge.

No matter where he lines up, Payne is a force against both the run and the pass. He showcased his ability to wreck a run on this play, highlighted by Mark Tyler of SB Nation’s Hogs Haven, against Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans in Week 5:

As Tyler alluded to, Payne is set to be a free agent, but he could be available before for the right offer. The floundering Commanders need help in multiple spots, including offensive line, cornerback and linebacker.

Any help would be welcome this year, but draft capital would also make sense for a franchise fated to undergo another major rebuilding effort next offseason. The 49ers could offer that help to acquire a nose tackle who is also able to collapse the pocket, the way he did regularly against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post:

Pass-rush help would be welcomed by Ryans now premier rush end Nick Bosa is dealing with a groin injury. Injuries are decimating the backbone of the 49ers, but a deal for Payne would ease the wounds and grant Ryans even more freedom to get creative up front.

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