Sakamoto: Why 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick For All-Pro DE Muhammad Wilkerson Trade Makes Sense



During the end of the 2015 season, I started playing the role of San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke by formulating my free-agent targets. Players whom I believe would not only be a scheme fit but a cultural fit. Then came the coaching changes. A new head coach, new coaching staff, but same football philosophy. “I think we [Trent Baalke] see the game the same way. I think we have a philosophy that’s similar,” HC Chip Kelly said during his introductory press conference.

Baalke then echoed that message during last week’s annual pre-draft meeting where he briefly discussed defensive personnel (specifically four-technique defensive end).

“Our philosophies on personnel match up very well. If you look at the defense he tried to build in Oregon with the big 4-techniques and the bigger-bodied, longer-armed guys. A lot of the things that we have done here from a personnel standpoint and an evaluation standpoint fit very well into what he’s looking for in building his teams.”

Sounds like the team appears set on selecting Oregon DE DeForest Buckner if he’s sitting there at No. 7. However, we have been here before.

Last year, then HC Jim Tomsula threw the 49ers beat writers a huge smoke-screen in regards to preparing life without All-Pro DE Justin Smith during our annual pre-draft off-camera interview.

“For four years you’ve seen the D-linemen we’ve brought in. We’ve been making preparations. This isn’t a this year thing for us,” Tomsula told beat writers. “We’ve been making preparations. The guy gets to 12 years in the National Football League and he’s about a 92 percent rep count playing defensive line. You better start making preparations. So that started a while ago.”

Three weeks later came the selection of first-round pick (No. 17) DE Arik Armstead. Can you say smoke-screen?

Fast forward to today, and Baalke made a bold statement during our annual pre-draft off camera interview when asked if QB Colin Kaepernick was off the trade market come draft day. “I’m not looking at it that way – packaging one of our quarterbacks.” I disagree.

The 49ers have a clear need from a pass-rushing standpoint specifically the four-technique. The 49ers defense hasn’t been the same since Smith retired, which is why I believe the 49ers will be in play for disgruntled New York Jets All-Pro DE Muhammad Wilkerson.

Back in December, I wrote an article as to why the 49ers should target the soon to be unrestricted free-agent. For one, the two sides have been trying to hammer out a long-term deal for over two years now but to no avail. Secondly, the team added an insurance policy in case Wilkerson departs, with the addition of last year’s first-round pick (No. 6) DE Leonard Williams. And now, the team just announced they have exercised their fifth-year option on 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2014 Pro Bowl DE Sheldon Richardson.

So where does that leave Wilkerson, who has yet to sign his franchise tender? I think a 49ers-Jets trade is a likely possibility come draft day for a number of reasons.

The Jets have a dire need at quarterback after being unable to strike a long-term deal with 12-year veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 49ers have trade bait with QB Colin Kaepernick who has already requested a trade.

The 49ers have a need at defensive end and Wilkerson is the best 3-4 defensive end not named DE J.J. Watt. Simply put, a huge upgrade at the defensive end position over my Buckner pick.

The Jets need an elite pass-rusher at the outside linebacker position and can draft their choice of the litter at No. 7. I see that player being Georgia’s OLB Leonard Floyd. The 49ers would then move back to No. 20 as they swap first-round picks while having their choice at wide-receiver, I see that player being either WR Josh Doctson (TCU) and WR Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss).

In addition, the 49ers would likely also have to give up a mid-round pick in return, which is not bad considering they get an All-Pro defensive end and a top wide-receiver on day one of the draft. And while Ian Rapoport of NFL Network just reported today that Mo Wilkerson trade talks have died down, I see them picking right back up tomorrow starting with the 49ers, so don’t be surprised because I’m not buying it.

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.