The 49ers have traded linebacker Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions for a draft pick, the team announced Thursday.
San Francisco will receive a conditional late-round pick in the 2020 draft, according to Mlive.com, which first reported the deal.
Harold, 25, started 24 games over the last two seasons and spent the majority of the training camp working as the starting “Sam” linebacker in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense.
The move, contingent on Harold passing a physical in Detroit, comes as a surprise given the team’s lack of established talent at the position. The 49ers failed to log a sack in their second preseason game Saturday against the Texans, and Harold, a third-round pick in 2015, was expected to play heavily in his third campaign.
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And despite an apparent need at the position, San Francisco decided not to address an edge rusher in the recent NFL draft.
“We have some pretty good players. Yeah, we’d love to add whoever the best pass rusher is on the outside in the draft,” Kyle Shanahan said in April. “We’d love to get a Von Miller, but you only get eight up on game day and you only get nine on our roster.”
The move signals Harold might not have survived final roster cuts before the start of the regular season. He was entering the final year on his rookie contract, and the team decided to get something for him in a trade rather than release him for nothing in return.
The trade is also a vote of confidence for reserve linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who has been Harold’s backup throughout the offseason program and training camp. Nzeocha was a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys in 2015. The 49ers plucked him from Dallas’ practice squad last September, and he appeared in 10 games for San Francisco.
The 49ers haven’t ruled out bringing back free agent Elvis Dumervil, who led the team in sacks with 6.5 last season before the club declined to pick up the option on his contract for 2018.
“We want to upgrade everything,” Shanahan said Sunday. “If there is something at the end of this situation that we feel will help us and make us better and it makes sense contractually to where we think it helps our team this year and going forward in the future, that’s something that we won’t hesitate to do at every position. We have a responsibility to do that at every position, not just pass rusher.
“Elvis is a guy I have a lot of confidence in. He did a great job for us last year. If we felt that was the right opportunity at the end of this, Elvis is a guy John (Lynch) and I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to.”
With Harold gone, only nine of the 89 players on the roster were drafted by former general manager Trent Baalke: defensive back Jimmie Ward, defensive lineman Arik Armstead, safety Jaquiski Tartt, receiver Aaron Burbridge, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, guard Joshua Garnett, offensive lineman Mike Person, defensive lineman Ronald Blair and punter Bradley Pinion.
Cassius Marsh, special-teams standout Dekoda Watson and 2017 sixth-round pick Pita Taumoepenu are the favorites to round out the position.