SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Trading linebacker Michael Wilhoite makes sense. Not only for the 49ers, but for Wilhoite himself.
According to the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco is shopping Wilhoite, a restricted free agent, for a sixth or seventh-round draft pick with the start of free agency coming March 10.
Inside linebacker will be the 49ers' deepest position this summer if Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman make their healthy returns from injury as expected. Former third-round pick Chris Borland quickly became one of the most productive defensive rookies in the league last season when he was forced into the starting lineup when Willis went down with his toe injury, making Wilhoite expendable.
Reserve Nick Moody is entering his third year after seeing his first significant playing time of his career late last season. Rookie Shayne Skov spent most of 2014 on the practice squad and was signed to a reserve/future contract this offseason.
San Francisco has typically kept four inside linebackers on the 53-man roster in recent years. And given Wilhoite has spent four years in the league, he would be a more expensive player than both Moody and Borland, who are still on their rookie contracts.
If the 49ers can identify a trade partner needing experience and a player to compete for a starting job, then moving Wilhoite for compensation makes sense. In fact, trading him wouldn't be much different than another team signing him to an offer sheet in free agency and the 49ers declining to match. If Wilhoite were to leave that way, San Francisco would get a late-round pick as compensation for his loss, like they would in a trade.
The prospect of trade means a better chance at playing time for Wilhoite than he would get with the 49ers, particularly with Borland earmarked to become the team's No. 3 inside linebacker next season behind Willis and Bowman.
Wilhoite became a valuable member of the 49ers' defense over the last two seasons filling in for Willis and Bowman, who combined to miss 28 starts. Wilhoite started 18 games, notching 100 tackles and two interceptions, both coming last season.
San Francisco is entering free agency next week with salary cap space at a premium. They have $6.523 million in space, according to Overthecap.com, and must allocate over $5 million for their incoming rookie class this summer.