We are two weeks and a day away from the NFL’s trade deadline. As injuries continue to mount for the San Francisco 49ers, they could very well be in the market to add an edge rusher, center, or another position they feel is of need. On Monday, head coach Kyle Shanahan addressed if the team would make any deals at the deadline. Here’s what he said:
The trade deadline is coming up and just wondering whether you take a look at a position where you might’ve taken some hits, like defensive end? This year with a salary cap situation is trading for somebody a nonstarter for your team?
“Well, I mean [general manager] John [Lynch] and his group, they’re always looking into all possibilities on that stuff. They’re watching film on the whole league day in and day out. They’re always on the phone and stuff, whether it’s John or other guys, some of the scouts or whoever. They’re always having that dialogue to see where people are at, but action doesn’t always happen. I know we’re not in the mood to just giving up a bunch of our draft picks either. We had to do that last year to make a number of key moves that I think helped us, but we don’t want another draft to where we don’t have too many picks. So, it’s real important for us to keep our draft picks, but if we find any situation where the right guy’s there who we think can help us this year and without risking hurting us in the future, that’s something I don’t think we’d ever hesitate at and we’d look forward to doing it, but those things don’t always come up.”
Ben Garland is headed to the injured reserve after he sustained a calf strain. Shanahan said, “Hopefully, Hroniss Grasu holds it down until Weston Richburg gets back.” That made it sound like the team expects Richburg back, who Kyle said wouldn’t return until at least Week 12, before Garland.
Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack is a popular name that has been thrown around. The connection to Shanahan speaks for itself. The Falcons just drafted a center in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Matt Hennessy, so it’d make it easy to move on from Mack—a free agent after this season. Hennessy has played sparingly at left guard for the Falcons this season. Paraage Marathe and the 49ers salary cap team would have to find a way to get creative, as Mack’s base salary is $8 million for ‘20. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers roll with Grasu as the center for the next two months until Richburg or Garland return, especially with their schedule, but, being up against the cap, they might not have much of a choice.
Shanahan was asked how comfortable he is with playing Grasu and if he’s confident in Grasu playing center indefinitely. Here was his answer:
“He was a lucky pickup for us because having Richburg go down, then Ben, I think, had a high ankle sprain in camp. Then we had another center who opted out that we brought in, then another one who retired. Then we were fortunate to find Grasu late there. [Assistant offensive line coach] Chris Foerster had some experience with him in Miami, so he had worked with him before. So, him getting the experience throughout camp, even though I think he got about a week late start, really helped us. Ended up starting that first game for us, which I thought he played a very good game, and he came in last night and filled it in great in a tough situation there in the fourth quarter. Never excited when you’re down to that situation, but we feel pretty fortunate to have him right now because he did a good job in Week 1, and he has played in this league, and he’s going to get the reps because Ben’s going to be gone for a while. He’ll probably be, hopefully, holding down the role until Richburg gets back.”
‘Ben’s going to be gone for a while’ sounds less than ideal. So is starting a fifth-string center, but Grasu showed he was up for the task against Arizona. Against the Cardinals, Grasu didn’t allow a QB hit or sack and only had two blown blocks against the run.
The need for an edge rusher is equally as important. San Francisco failed to register a sack against Jared Goff and the Rams, and they only hit him twice. A couple of pressures up the middle helped, but the defense needs to start bringing quarterbacks to the ground. The 49ers are sacking the quarterback 6.3% of the time, which is good for 18th in the NFL. The defense was second in the league last year with a 9% sack rate, but Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner ain’t walking through that door. Could we see the Niners add edge help?
Bengals veteran edge rusher Carlos Dunlap told the team he’s unhappy with his lack of playing time as he’s had his role reduced to a third-down player. The 31-year-old has two years left on his contract, which is similar to Mack’s. Dunlap’s base salary is $7.8 for the 2020 season, though it’s unclear how much of that the 49ers would be responsible for. On 174 pass rushes this season, Dunlap has one sack and two QB hits. For reference, Arik Armstead has 176 pass rushes this season and has five QB hits and 1.5 sacks.
We’ve discussed acquiring Ryan Kerrigan for Washington. A cheap option would be Takk McKinley from Atlanta, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. He has only played 62 snaps this season. McKinley hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status but could give the Niners some much-needed athleticism on the edge.
Don’t expect a splash move such as Yannick Ngakoue with San Francisco having limited cap space. As much as he’d help the Niners pass rush, the only way a move like that happens is with restructures or a player like Dee Ford retiring. If the team hasn’t made any restructures yet, it’s difficult to imagine them asking a player to do it now. Unless the right player comes along, as Shanahan mentioned.