SANTA CLARA — Nick Bosa went so far as to call Kwon Alexander "probably the MVP" of the 49ers prior to last season's playoffs.
Truth is, Alexander's play tailed off since a pectoral tear on Halloween 2019 at Arizona. More injuries and missed tackles mounted as he became unreliable, overpaid and replaceable. His 1 1/2-season tenure with the 49ers is done.
The 49ers are dealing Alexander to the New Orleans Saints, a league source confirmed Monday. This move comes one day before the NFL's trade deadline and less than two weeks before the NFC rivals meet at the Superdome with potential playoff ramifications.
In return, the 49ers are acquiring Los Gatos native Kiko Alonso (an injury-prone linebacker, himself) and a conditional fifth-round draft pick, the NFL Network reported. Both linebackers must clear COVID-19 protocol and physical exams before the trade can be ratified next week, so the 49ers won't officially confirm it until then.
Alexander's 49ers career will go down as an expensive misfire from 2019 free agency. The 49ers, however, can spin it with positivity in terms of salary cap savings, and they can anoint Dre Greenlaw as the long-term sidekick for Fred Warner as this decade's version of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
"I wouldn't be half the player I am without 56," Warner said in an Instagram post invoking Alexander by jersey number. "I'm forever in debt. When it's all said an done, you really a legend. That's my brother 4L. I already know how you comin."
Plus, Alexander's influence on a young locker room last year will be hailed in retrospect. "Legendary," Alexander always responded when asked how he was. And he made enough plays early in his 49ers' term that it stoked his credibility.
Bosa said before the playoffs that Alexander was "probably the MVP of our team. He's the energy, all the time."
Alexander missed the past three games with an ankle injury, although he returned to practice last week. He sustained a pectoral tear one year ago in a Halloween win at Arizona and missed the final eight games of the regular season. He returned for the 49ers' playoff games, although as the strong-side linebacker while Greenlaw remained the weak-side linebacker.
Alonso, a Los Gatos native, is coming off an anterior cruciate ligament tear from last season's playoffs, and although he hasn't played this season, the Saints activated his playoff window two weeks ago.
Alonso, 30, has overcome multiple knee injuries in a career that's taken him to now five teams, starting with the Buffalo Bills (2014-15), Philadelphia Eagles (2016), Miami Dolphins (2017-18) and Saints (2019-20). He is making $1.7 million in base salary this year and is slated to become a free agent next spring.
Alonso was traded to every team he's gone since the Bills drafted him with a second-round pick out of Oregon. He attended Los Gatos High, a neighboring rival of Saratoga High, where 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan attended as a freshman in 1994-95.
The 49ers signed Alexander as a free agent last year, luring him with a massive contract (four years, $54 million) as he came off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his fourth and final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 49ers will save some $2.5 million of Alexander's salary off this year's books, although Alonso will count for about $900,000 of that. Alexander's exit means the 49ers will endure a $6.9 million hit on next year's salary cap, according to overthecap.com.
Alexander restructured that contract last November, and although he's making $5 million in base salary this year, he likely would have been cut after the season rather than get paid $12.6 million in salary each of the next two seasons.
His biggest impact with the 49ers came as a vocal leader, and he hawked T-shirts last season celebrating the linebacker crew's "Hot Boyzz" nickname.
Ejected from his 49ers debut for a hit on then-Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston in last season's opener, Alexander went on to total 1 1/2 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles in 13 regular-season games. He had just three tackles in three playoff games last season, and he had biceps surgery afterward.
His tackling efficiency and assignment execution weren't the same since his earlyl 2019 games.
With the Saints, Alexander reunites with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the 49ers' big get ahead of last year's trade deadline. Sanders welcomed Aleander via an Instagram story post, captioned: "It'z up!! Let's ride!"
Several 49ers reacted with surprise on Twitter to news of Monday's trade, including a "Wtf" from Jerick McKinnon, whose locker neighbored Alexander's.
Alexander was introduced as a 49er alongside fellow Aniston, Alabama native Dee Ford at the start of March 2019 free agency.
"Speed and violence affect the quarterback and make people do stupid things before they want to," Shanahan said at that march 14, 2019 press conference. "Both of these guys have a lot of speed, and they both play very violent."
Reliability became a major issue for both, however. Ford has not played since the season opener because of a back injury. Ford also restructured his contract to months ago and is due $15 million in salary next season. Cutting him next year would create a $14 million dead-money cap hit, overthecap.com reported.
Neither Ford nor Alexander could prevent the Arizona Cardinals from rallying to upset the 49ers in this year's opener. Afterward, Shanahan said of Alexander: "Last year, the way he came out, he played at such a high level right away. I think yesterday, with the space that their quarterback creates, some of the edges that we weren't very good with and the D-Line, he put them in some situations that aren't the easiest.
"... He still runs around and wants to hit, but I don't think it was his best game. I think he'll have some better ones coming forward, but I'm not concerned."
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