The 49ers liked center Daniel Kilgore.
Unfortunately for their starting center, they fell in love with center Weston Richburg.
On Thursday, a day after signing Richburg to a lucrative five-year deal and a month after signing Kilgore to a contract extension, the 49ers traded Kilgore to the Dolphins. The teams exchanged seventh-round picks that are just four spots apart.
Kilgore, 30, was the team’s second-longest-tenured player. He started their past 32 games at center. However, his future with the 49ers became murky this week after they signed Richburg, 26, to a five-year deal worth up to $47.5 million, with $16.5 million fully guaranteed.
“This situation with Dan was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through as a coach,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’ve got the utmost respect for Dan. I think he’s a good player and he’s even a better person. That’s why this is so tough. But when we had an opportunity to add a center of Weston’s caliber, and improve our interior like that …”
In February, Kilgore had signed a three-year extension, but even he had termed it “team-friendly.” It has a maximum value of $11.7 million, with $4.8 million fully guaranteed. Miami will assume Kilgore’s contract.
For the 49ers, the trade clearly wasn’t about receiving compensation, but shedding the salary of a player who no longer was in their plans. In other words, their extension with Kilgore, a seven-year veteran, served as an insurance policy if they failed to upgrade this offseason.
General manager John Lynch said the 49ers signed Kilgore to an extension last month because they didn’t know if they could land Richburg in free agency. Lynch noted it wasn’t easy to secure the player the 49ers rated as the top interior offensive lineman in free agency. After the 49ers bid against several teams, Richburg landed the fourth-most guaranteed money among centers.
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski, Getty Images
After Kilgore’s recent extension, Lynch termed him a “leader” and cited his “hard work and commitment.” Last season, Kilgore was named the winner of the team’s Bobb McKittrick Award, which is given annually to the offensive lineman who best represents courage, intensity and sacrifice.
“We like Daniel Kilgore a lot,” Lynch said. “We like what he was as a player. We love what he was for us in the locker room as part of setting the tone. That’s one of the tough things about this job.”
Last year, the 49ers brought in competition for Kilgore — trading for Jeremy Zuttah and signing Tim Barnes — but both were released before the season opener after Kilgore beat them out.
The center position is one Shanahan emphasizes. In 2016, before Shanahan’s second season as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, Atlanta signed Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a five-year deal that made him the league’s highest paid at his position at the time.
“It helps solidify the entire O-line,” Shanahan said. “That’s usually where it starts. There are a lot of good players, but when you have a difference-maker at that position, I’ve found in my career that it’s been a lot easier to run an offense.”
Kilgore presumably didn’t see a job change in his future shortly after signing an extension.
However, the 2011 fifth-round pick has been around long enough to understand the business of the NFL, In November, shortly after the NFL’s trade deadline had passed, Kilgore expressed relief.
“I’m just glad I’m still dressing up in a 49ers uniform,” Kilgore said. “You just never know.”