A day after signing free-agent center Weston Richburg to a rich, five-year contract, the 49ers traded their incumbent center, Daniel Kilgore, to the Miami Dolphins.
The teams will swap seventh-round draft picks – the 49ers move up four spots in the round, from No. 227 to No. 223 – and the trade also will save San Francisco some money on their salary cap.
Kilgore, 30, signed a three year, $11.75 million contract with the 49ers in February. Part of that deal included a $2.3 million roster bonus, which was due to become fully guaranteed Friday. The Dolphins, meanwhile, needed a center after veteran Mike Pouncey requested and was granted his release.
Kyle Shanahan on Thursday said parting ways with Kilgore, the second-longest tenured player on the 49ers and a favorite in the locker room, was "one of the hardest things I've gone through as a coach." Creating the right locker-room atmosphere has been paramount for the new 49ers regime, and Kilgore was an excellent fit in that regard.
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"We wanted to do very right for Dan and his wife, and Miami is something that they were interested in, too, and something we were communicating with him and his agents on," Shanahan said. "I think it was a tough situation, but I think we all respect each other a lot and I think we all feel the same about each other. And even though it was a tough few days, I think he’s in a very good situation for himself where he’s going in and he’s very needed and I know he’s going to a team, just talking to (Dolphins coach) Adam (Gase) earlier today, that wants him badly. I think it ended up right for both sides in the long run.”
General manager John Lynch said the 49ers were eying Richburg last month when they completed their deal for Kilgore. But they knew there would plenty of competition for Richburg, 26, who was considered the top center on the market.
"That’s one of the tough things about this job," said Lynch, who was an NFL safety for 15 seasons. "When I took it I had to ask myself, and it’s something that Kyle addressed with me, ‘Are you going to be able to make these tough decisions?’ And so I’ve been on the other side of being told by a team that you care greatly for that you’re not a part of it anymore. And that’s something I had to accept in taking this job. And like Kyle said, it’s one of the hardest things because of what he stood for and how important this place was to him."
Lynch said the team debated keeping Kilgore at center and asking Richburg to play guard.
"But ultimately his best position is center -- both those guys’ best position is center," Lynch said. "Once we felt as strongly there we said you know what this is going to be awfully difficult, but it’s something we have to do. It’s in our organization’s best interest. And we did accordingly.”
Kilgore was a fifth-round draft pick to the 49ers in 2011. Only tackle Joe Staley has been with the team longer. Last year he beat out veterans Jeremy Zuttah and Tim Barnes and started all 16 games for San Francisco.
On Wednesday, however, the 49ers signed Richburg to a five-year, $47.5 million deal that makes him the second-highest-paid center in the NFL. That move drew questions as to which player the team was eyeing at center and the 49ers initially listed Richburg as a center and guard.
Richburg and Kilgore are represented by the same agent, and a trade scenario likely was in the works all along.
Furthermore, the agency that represents those two linemen also represents Staley, the de facto captain of the offensive line. Richburg will earn more this season than Staley, whose current contract was front-loaded, but Shanahan indicated recently that the team will consider adjusting his contract.
With Richburg at center and Staley and Trent Brown at tackle, the 49ers' offensive-line competition this offseason will occur at guard. Laken Tomlinson, Joshua Garnett and Erik Magnuson will compete there along with anyone else the team adds in the offseason.