This time, the Niners are sending linebacker Eli Harold to the Lions in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick, a league source confirmed.
An official announcement is expected soon. MLive.com was first to report news of the trade.
Harold heads to Detroit after three mostly disappointing seasons in San Francisco. A 2015 third-round pick out of Virginia, Harold has played in all 48 games the past three seasons, including 23 as a starter over the past two.
Initially expected to provide edge rush help, Harold was unable to make much of an impact there, with five sacks in three years. Last season, Harold stepped into a different role as the Sam linebacker. Though he had just two sacks, he was solid in the run game, particularly as an edge setter in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s attacking 4-3 scheme.
With Harold’s departure, all three 49ers who initially knelt in protest of social injustice during the national anthem are now gone from the team. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract before the 2017 season, and safety Eric Reid became a free agent this offseason. Neither has signed with another team.
Before the Niners’ first two preseason games, Harold has stood for the anthem. Asked about that decision Tuesday, Harold, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, declined to speak about it.
“I understand why everyone would want to ask the questions, but I just don’t want to get into that right now,” Harold said. “I’m trying to focus on ball. Me and my wife had a discussion, and we feel it’s best right now that I just don’t answer those questions and try to stick to ball, if you don’t mind.”
Harold’s departure means the 49ers will be installing a new starter at their Sam linebacker position. Among the options are returnees Dekoda Watson, Mark Nzeocha and Pita Taumoepenu. Rookie Fred Warner, who was a third-round pick, could also factor into the mix. He has played primarily inside during the preseason but has the coverage ability and physicality to play Sam if needed.
In 2016, Lions general manager Bob Quinn traded Jeremy Kerley for offensive lineman Brandon Thomas. Kerley had 64 catches for 667 yards and three touchdowns that year. Thomas was mostly on the practice squad and is no longer with the Lions.
Last season, the Lions traded Laken Tomlinson to San Francisco for a 2019 fifth-round pick. While Tomlinson didn’t work out in Detroit, the former first-round pick did well enough for the Niners to sign a three-year, $18 million extension this offseason after starting 15 games at left guard in 2017.
This time, the Lions are the team giving up a pick for a player at a position of need. Detroit’s pass rush has been poor this preseason, not recording a sack. While Harold hasn’t had much success in that regard, the team is hoping to jump-start his production.
The Lions also lost key linebacker reserve Steve Longa to a season-ending right ACL injury last week. Harold could compete for a starting spot in Detroit as, other than Devon Kennard and Jarrad Davis, no player has solidified a role within the linebacker corps. At worst, Harold could be a pass-rushing backup to Kennard — a spot currently pretty open with two weeks to go in the preseason.
ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.