Buckner thrived in his first season in Indianapolis, earning first-team All-Pro honors. He also learned a valuable lesson along the way.
"It really did teach me a lot about the business side of things," Buckner told reporters, via 49erswebzone.com. "... I feel like I did all the right things on and off the field. And obviously, I wanted to be there long-term. It was the team that drafted me, the organization that drafted me, and everything. When you're drafted to an organization, your initial thoughts are 'I want to be here until I retire.'
"Unfortunately, it didn't shake out that way. That's just the nature of the business, and [those are] the things that kind of suck with the whole salary cap situation. It is what it is. I'm very happy where I'm at."
San Francisco moved Buckner primarily because it had to make a decision on who to pay. With a bevy of high picks along the defensive line, Buckner was deemed expendable, a call that was made easier by his premier value. The 49ers received a first-round pick (13th overall) in exchange for Buckner, then moved back one spot in the draft before spending the pick on South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers' wheeling and dealing netted them a fourth-round pick, which they combined with their own first-round selection (31st overall) to move up to 25th to select receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
In total, Buckner alleviated a cap conflict and landed San Francisco a replacement upfront and a big-bodied receiver the 49ers sorely needed.
The move instantly paid off for the Colts, who received an excellent season from Buckner in 2020 that included 9.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 58 total tackles. Indianapolis reached the postseason, losing to the Bills, 27-24, on Super Wild Card Weekend.
The Colts found a key piece for their defense in the trade and quickly locked him up, signing him to a four-year deal that pays him an average of $21 million per season. Instead of retiring after spending his entire career with San Francisco, Buckner will have mementos from his time in both the Bay Area and central Indiana.
The time for reflection on an entire career is still years away for Buckner, but a date with his former employer is directly in front of him. Indianapolis (2-4) plays San Francisco (2-3) at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night in what is setting up to be a primetime return to Santa Clara for a standout defender who once called it home.
"It's a little personal, if you want to say that," Buckner said of the Sunday night meeting, via FOX59's Mike Chappell.
Buckner will have a chance to reunite with his former teammates before and after the game, and he'll likely have relatives in attendance, as he's from Hawaii and his wife's family lives in nearby Fresno. But once the ball is teed up and kicked off, it will be all business for Buckner.
After all, as Buckner learned a year and a half ago, business matters most in this league. He'll go about his with the goal of savoring the sweet taste of revenge by the time the night is finished.