The Associated Press San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif. (Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco 49ers pick up fifth-year option on DeForest Buckner

Fifth-year option on Pro Bowl defensive tackle could provide pathway to extension

The San Francisco 49ers have exercised their fifth-year option on former first-round NFL Draft pick DeForest Buckner, the team announced on Wednesday morning.

The former Oregon defensive lineman and No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 draft earned his first Pro Bowl selection this year after initially being named an alternate, racking up the most sacks by a 49er (12) since Aldon Smith tallied 19.5 in 2012.

The 6-foot-7, 300-pounder has started in all 47 games he has appeared in throughout his three-year career, tallying 215 tackles, 21.0 sacks, eight passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

Last season, he made 67 tackles, set his career high in sacks, added three passes defensed and had one fumble recovery. His sack total ranked tied for eighth in the NFC, tied for 14th in the NFL, and were and the fifth-most in a single season by a 49ers defender since 2000.

A focal point of the defense, Buckner is one of the best young defenders in the league and arguably the best player on the 49ers. Heading into his fourth season, the move to retain Buckner is expected, and is likely the lead-in to a long-term extension.

The 49ers currently have $34.63 million in available cap space, and the option allows San Francisco to keep a bit more cap money for the upcoming Draft (expected to take up about $10 million in cap space) and for moves during the season. It also gives San Francisco more time to negotiate a full-blown extension.

Currently, Buckner’s $4.55 million average annual salary is 15th in the NFL among 4-3 defensive tackles, so it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see him eventually sign an extension that puts him somewhere in the $18-$19 million range, just above Philadelphia Eagles tackle Fletcher Cox ($17.1 million) and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Geno Atkins ($16.3 million). Atkins — a seven-time Pro Bowler — signed a four-year, $65.2 million extension on August 28, 2018.

It’s expected that Buckner will be even more effective this season, with new acquisition Dee Ford providing an edge rush presence and inside linebacker Kwon Alexander set to help out in the middle.

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