The 49ers lost a regular-season game for the first time in 51 weeks, on a 10 a.m. West Coast body-clock start, in wet conditions, to a team with probably the best defense the league has seen in years … and of course, the natural franchise and fan reaction must certainly be:
Time to start looking at some trades!
Well, it actually is. Because all teams, especially the ones with their sights set on the Super Bowl, always have to survey their trade options leading up to the Oct. 31 deadline; and Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have proven to be kings of this strategy over the last few years. Heck, they started this process nine days ago by acquiring veteran defensive end Randy Gregory and plopping him into their rotation quite adroitly on Sunday (1 sack, 2 tackles for loss).
So let’s just stipulate that Sunday’s 19-17 defeat in Cleveland probably underlined some issues that Shanahan and Lynch were already evaluating and maybe raised one or two other problem areas that may or may not be properly addressed by adding some new players, either by trade or on the free-agent market.
Even if Jake Moody’s 41-yard field-goal try in the final seconds had snuck inside the right upright to give the 49ers the victory and lift their record to 6-0, I think the 49ers’ leaders would’ve been looking for a potential roster tweak or two over the next few weeks. Even if Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and Trent Williams hadn’t emerged with injuries that could sideline one or all of them for a little while, I think Shanahan and Lynch would’ve perused all interesting available options starting immediately.
But Moody’s kick went wide right, Brock Purdy had the worst game of his career (albeit against a Browns defense that is absolutely destroying opponents so far this season), the 49ers’ offensive line got pushed around and McCaffrey (oblique) and Deebo (shoulder) couldn’t finish the game.
All that occurred. Yes, there was some pretty shaky officiating by John Hussey’s crew throughout this game. But that happens. You get calls that go against you, you get calls that go your way. The 49ers still had a chance to win this, and they didn’t actually win.
And now the 49ers are 5-1. They’re still one of the best teams in the league, but it never hurts to do some upgrading. They know from their midseason trade for McCaffrey just last year just how transformative October surprises can be.
Which leaves me — and maybe Shanahan and Lynch — wondering: Hey, who’s the best available Panther this year? Just kidding/sort-of-not-kidding, Carolina fans!
OK, before we start naming names and circling potential hot spots, some context:
• The 49ers play the Vikings in Minnesota next Monday night (Oct. 23), then come back to Levi’s Stadium for a daytime kickoff on Oct. 29 against Cincinnati.
Two days after the Bengals game comes the trade deadline, which this year is occurring during the 49ers’ bye week, providing a little extra time to get a potential new player up to speed for the stretch run.
We’ll see how long Deebo and McCaffrey are out with these injuries, and obviously, we don’t know who else might get dinged up or seriously hurt between now and Oct. 31. We can also guess that the 49ers might be fairly cautious with Deebo and McCaffrey on Minnesota’s artificial surface.
• The 49ers’ total of 215 yards on Sunday was the lowest regular-season offensive production of the Shanahan era. Previously, the lowest total was 219, which came in his first game as 49ers’ coach, Week 1 of the 2017 season in a loss to Carolina, when Brian Hoyer was the starting quarterback. The lowest overall total in the Shanahan era came in last January’s NFC Championship Game, when Purdy and backup Josh Johnson were both hurt, the 49ers played without a QB in the second half and put up only 164 yards.
The lowest 49ers total this season had been 365 yards vs. the Rams in Week 2. Their lowest scoring total had been the 30 points they scored in each of the first three games.
But wait: The Browns are doing this to almost everybody this season. They held Tennessee to only 94 total yards two weeks ago and held Cincinnati to 142 yards in Week 1.
• Purdy had by far the worst statistical game of his NFL career: 12 of 27 passing for 125 yards (4.6 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, 1 interception (his first of the season), for a passer rating of 55.3. We knew it had to happen eventually, and it’s no surprise that it came against this great Browns defense.
This performance might fire up the bad-faith Purdy Discourse, and he definitely had several more misfires than usual, but he also brought the 49ers to the brink of winning this game after Deebo and McCaffrey had been knocked out. He’s a good QB. He had a rough day. Unless he has four or five more of these in the next few months, Purdy is and will remain a plus-player for the 49ers at QB.
• The 49ers remain quite good. But they could be better. And they could be healthier. This is true of every team in league history, of course, but you have to think aggressively in October when you’re aiming for February. Let’s explore what’s on the 49ers’ docket right now:
I still don’t think Shanahan and Lynch want to go down this path. They invested the 99th pick in this year’s draft on Moody and they stuck with him through a shaky preseason and then a minor injury right before the regular season partly because they were more than ready to move on from Gould, who remains out of the NFL and presumably waiting on a call.
After the preseason wobbles, Moody had been perfect on field goals and extra points in the first five regular-season games. Until Sunday, when he missed a 54-yarder wide left late in the first quarter (understandably in the conditions) and then pushed that last try wide right. It does seem like if Moody misses a long one early, he can get wayward the rest of the way, which is also what happened in the Las Vegas preseason game.
But I think it’s going to take another big miss — or a bunch of middling ones — for Lynch and Shanahan to bail on Moody quite yet. He’s got a strong leg. He seems like a very solid guy who, once again, didn’t duck the media on Sunday. And if the 49ers have to go back to Gould, it’s very likely that he’s not going to come cheap.
So I think they’ll wait. Gould would be the call to make if Moody can’t get this straightened out, but I think this one has a while to go.
After Sunday’s injuries, do the 49ers need another offensive playmaker?
It looked a little dismal at times on Sunday without Deebo or McCaffrey. Purdy definitely sometimes was just throwing and hoping somebody would get open. But then he put together that last drive, when Jauan Jennings started it by drawing a pass-interference penalty and then Purdy found Brandon Aiyuk twice and finally threw a short one to Jennings to set up the field-goal try.
The 49ers still have solid weapons if you count Aiyuk, George Kittle, Jennings, Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason.
But if McCaffrey and/or Deebo miss a few weeks, or if one of them gets hurt again for a longer period, yes, the 49ers could probably use one more receiving playmaker.
And I’ve got a suggestion: What about old friend Kendrick Bourne, who isn’t exactly flourishing with the Patriots these days? He probably wouldn’t cost the 49ers much more than a fifth-round pick and could jump right into splitting time with Jennings as WR3 and would be a pretty decent option as a replacement WR2 if Deebo misses a lot of time.
Or what about calling the Raiders and asking about Hunter Renfrow, who had 103 receptions in 2021 but is out of the picture these days? Both Bourne and Renfrow have pretty chunky salaries for their extremely limited production this season, but the 49ers have plenty of cap space and probably would be able to use either one of these guys much more efficiently than they’re being used now.
How about a solid offensive lineman?
Here’s another potential trade sweet spot for the 49ers, who are happy with right tackle Colton McKivitz but also are frozen in momentary anguish every time they see Trent Williams down on the ground and in pain. Williams hurt his ankle in Sunday’s game, came back in quickly, but clearly looked like he was suffering through it.
What the 49ers could use is a failsafe right tackle if they need to sub out McKivitz and also a plausible left tackle if Williams ever needs to miss time. There might be somebody available who fits this unique description: New England’s Trent Brown, who actually was discarded by Shanahan and Lynch back in 2018 (after they drafted Mike McGlinchey).
I’m not saying that Brown is close to what he was in his prime with the Raiders and Patriots (a while ago). But he’s still only 30 and might actually fit into a part-time/depth role these days. And because Tampa Bay and Houston are both surprising playoff contenders so far, I don’t think either Tristan Wirfs or Laremy Tunsil, respectively, are going to come available.
The 49ers are always looking for another pass rusher, right?
You can never count Shanahan and Lynch out of the market for any interesting defensive lineman. This is true. And I do think there’s evidence that they haven’t been thrilled with what they’ve been getting from the rotation of Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell at the defensive end spot opposite of Nick Bosa so far this season.
That’s what led them to Gregory. And while the 49ers could always take a look at other options, I think Gregory is a nice answer.
Could they go back to the Panthers and ask about star DE Brian Burns? I just don’t think the 49ers are shopping in this price range at this position right now. I think Burns, if the Panthers look to trade him, would cost at least a first-round pick (remember, Carolina turned down the Rams’ offer of two first-round picks at last year’s deadline) and that’s probably too much for the 49ers to spend at that spot. Plus, Burns is coming up on a new contract, which would be awfully tough to squeeze alongside all those other huge 49ers DL contracts into the future.
I think the best-fitting adds for the 49ers are at OT and WR3. I think Lynch and Shanahan probably agree. And I don’t think Sunday’s loss specifically is a motivator, but it could certainly add some energy to this whole October process.
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NFL Week 6 takeaways: 49ers finally falter; time for QB changes in New England, Atlanta?
(Photo of the Patriots’ Kendrick Bourne: Chris Unger / Getty Images)