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SANTA CLARA — Outside linebacker Eli Harold’s tenure with the 49ers was perhaps defined most by his national-anthem protests alongside Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. Now, like them, he’s off the team.

Harold got traded Thursday to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2020, a league source confirmed.

“Life moves at you pretty fast,” Harold posted Wednesday night on his Instagram story.Was Harold’s swift exit Thursday a byproduct of his past protests during the anthem? Not necessarily, and it’s been a moot point this year in that he’s stood for the national anthem at the 49ers’ two exhibitions, and he had a conflicted tone Tuesday when declining to discuss why he changed.

More likely, the 49ers needed more versatility and big-time plays from Harold, who has five career sacks in three seasons as a 2015 third-round draft choice by former general manager Trent Baalke.

The 49ers new regime of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager Trent Baalke have shown no loyalty to Baalke’s personnel choices, and Harold’s departure leaves only a dozen among the 90-man roster. With Herald being in the final year of his rookie contract, he had trade value, albeit minimal and that was reflected with what the Lions paid.

So now what? Shanahan said Mark Nzeocha will start at strong-side linebacker Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, having shown an ability to play all three linebacker spots, and that versatility is key considering Reuben Foster is suspended the first two games of the regular season.

Dekoda Watson and Pita Taumoepenu are other options at SAM linebacker, and another to keep an eye on is rookie Fred Warner, an inside linebacker who’s shown physicality, speed and smarts.

General manager John Lynch thanked Harold in a statement for his contributions to the team and Bay Area, adding: “He always represented the 49ers with class and has been a tremendous teammate. We wish Eli and his wife, Kelsey, nothing but the best in the years to come.”

In 25 starts and 48 games, Harold totaled only five sacks, but he was stout against the run.

“He does set the edge very well and I would love to keep Eli,” Shanahan said. “I would love to have 90 guys on the roster. But we have to make tough decisions. It’s how you balance out the roster.”

“… I know everyone wants a big, simple, easy answer. It’s why it took us to have an idea of what the final 53 was to come to this conclusion.”

Harold knelt alongside Kaepernick and Reid during the national anthem when they were on the team, and Harold wouldn’t say why he changed his mind this season, at least thus far. He didn’t guaranteed he’d not kneel, nor did Reid when the Cincinnati Bengals reportedly approached him in free agency. Kaepernick and Reid are suing the NFL for colluding against them to keep them unemployed in the wake of their social-justice agendas.

“I don’t want to get into that. I want to focus on ‘ball,” Harold said Tuesday about not protesting anymore. “My wife and I had that discussion and we feel it’s best right now that I just don’t answer those questions, and try to focus on ‘ball, if you don’t mind.”

The 49ers starting defense has struggled through two exhibitions, including with the pass rush, so much so that coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed they may consider re-signing 34-year-old Elvis Dumervil, who had a team-high 6 1/2 sacks last season.

Here’s how the 49ers starting defense looked when training camp opened a month ago, and the current status of those projected players:

DE Arik Armstead: Injured (hamstring). Returned to individual drills this week.

DT Solomon Thomas: Injured (concussion). Returned to non-contact practice this week.

DT DeForest Buckner: “He’s our best player,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Wednesday.

NT Earl Mitchell: Facing stiff competition from Sheldon Day, D.J. Jones.

OLB Eli Harold: Traded Thursday to Lions. Replaced by ??? (Fred Warner, Dekoda Watson, Mark Nzeocha, Pita Taumoepenu)

MLB Malcolm Smith: Injured (hamstring). Returned to individual drills this week.

WLB Reuben Foster: “He looks good,” Saleh said. Foster will start the season on a two-game suspension.

LCB Richard Sherman: He plans to make his 49ers debut Saturday at Indianapolis.

RCB Ahkello Witherspoon: Unchallenged starter, unless 49ers throw Jimmie Ward there.

FS Adrian Colbert: Took Ward’s spot and looks entrenched.

SS Jaquiski Tartt: Took Reid’s spot and is entrenched.

 

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