It will be a spooky NFL trade deadline next week, and it’s not because the San Francisco 49ers are threatening to enter deadline day on its first three-game losing streak since 2021. No, it’s because the annual final day to make a trade falls on the spookiest of all holidays this year: Halloween.
The 49ers will look to avoid the tricks and acquire a treat at the deadline, with a few question marks popping up over the last few weeks. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch will have some spots that need addressing - like on both sides of the trenches and at cornerback - if the 49ers want to make another deep playoff run.
So what better way to look at potential targets than to compare them to what candy one might yearn for in their younger years during the festivities of Halloween. Allow me to lay out the types of players the 49ers may hope to find in its candy buck this year:
(Note: this is not about the candy. If you disagree with my assessment of Halloween candy, use what candy you prefer to fit each category)
King-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: The best but maybe the rarest find. You might not get the king-sized every Halloween, but once every few years, you get lucky, and that one house had the four-pack of peanut butter cups.
These are the players that every team dreams of acquiring but rarely do, like Christian McCaffrey last season.
Snickers: Outstanding value but in small doses. If you eat too many in one sitting, you get a stomach ache and ask friends if they want some of your extra Snickers.
Think of this like a true rental, like the 2019 trade for Emmanuel Sanders.
Whoppers: A good candy that you can’t just have one when you get the taste. You start to eat one pack, two, then three, and before you know it, you’ve had the same quarterback for six years after a five-game sample size.
The Jimmy Garoppolo trade would be an example. His small sample with the 49ers played him into an extension. Five games turned into six years, like how one pack of Whoppers turns into 10 in the blink of an eye.
Tootsie Pops: Not my first choice or my second. Probably not even my third. But when you get to the end of the (Halloween) season and run out of Reese’s, Snickers, and all the other goodies, all that’s left is Tootsie Pops, and that’s a solid choice in the clutch.
When the 49ers traded for Jordan Willis from the Jets at the 2020 deadline, it didn’t turn too many heads, but came up clutch when needed, blocking a punt at Lambeau Field to send the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. For baseball fans, think of the Giants acquiring Marco Scutaro in 2012.
Now that the categories have been set, let’s start with the top-tier candies the 49ers hope to receive when trick-or-treating with the other 31 teams at the deadline:
Edge rusher Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers
The 49ers added Randy Gregory last month, but it’s still in the market for a pass rusher. There is no better option out there than Brian Burns.
Burns has recorded four sacks this season on only 15 pressures, with a forced fumble in six games. He established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the league last season with a career-high 12.5 sacks after consecutive seasons with nine.
While Burns would be a great addition to a pass-rush that’s not living up to expectations through seven games, the price would be too steep to scare John Lynch and company away.
Carolina reportedly rejected an offer last season from the Los Angeles Rams that included two first-round picks and a third. The asking price can’t possibly be that high this season as we’re a year later and a year less on Burns’ contract, but the Panthers will expect at least one first-round selection for the 2019 draft pick. The 49ers could meet that asking price, but the actual cost of Burns would be in his future extension.
The 49ers have plenty of cap space and could make a possible extension work - at least for now - but it extended Bosa to a massive deal just a couple of months ago. Spotrac has Burns’ market value at $23.4 million annually, which would make him the fourth-highest-paid pass rusher in the league. With other extensions to worry about in the future - like Brandon Aiyuk - it might not be sustainable to add such a big contract to a position that already has a record-breaking contract.
In a 2023 sense, Burns would be a slam dunk. But would the 49ers be willing to sacrifice so much of the future for a better chance of a championship this season?
CB Pat Surtain II, Denver Broncos
The Broncos have absolutely no reason to trade Surtain. He’s 23 years old, fantastic at football, and under team control through at least next season.
If Denver so chooses to make that mistake, the 49ers should be all over him.
The cornerback was named an All-Pro in his second season last year with a pair of interceptions and ten pass deflections, with quarterbacks having an 84.0 passer rating when targeting Surtain. He already has an interception and seven pass deflections in six games this season but has already allowed 315 yards and two touchdowns after allowing only 417 yards and four touchdowns in 2022.
Surtain would solve most, if not all, of the 49ers’ secondary issues. Charvarius Ward is the obvious number-one cornerback, with Deommodore Lenoir second. The issue comes at the third spot. Isaiah Oliver has struggled out of the slot, but Lenoir can’t be kicked inside without Ambry Thomas getting snaps - who’s had his own issues. Acquiring Surtain would slide everybody down a slot and shore up the back half of the 49ers defense.
He’s likely not getting traded, but Surtain would make about as big of a splash as Lynch could make.
Edge rusher Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings
Hunter felt like the perfect fit for the 49ers entering Week 7.
The key word there would be felt because with Minnesota’s Monday night win over the 49ers, Minnesota might not feel so inclined to trade the pass rusher now only two games out of the NFC North and just outside of the playoff picture.
Hunter recorded his league-leading ninth sack of the season with a third-quarter sack of Brock Purdy on Monday night. While the 49ers have plenty of talent on its defensive line, sacks have been an issue for San Francisco, who are tied with three other teams for 17th-most with just 15.
The pass rusher will hit free agency at the end of the season, likely making him a rental, but he would provide a much-needed boost for a struggling 49ers pass rush.
CB Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears
Everything I said about Surtain regarding the 49ers’ depth at cornerback can be said about Johnson. He’s not the quality of player that Surtain is, but Johnson would add some stability to a position needing it.
Johnson, like Hunter, will be entering free agent and likely be in line for a good payday when he hits that open market. He’s played himself into that contract with a solid first three seasons with the Bears and has taken an even more significant step through his first five games of 2023. He’s already set a new career-high with two interceptions - including a pick-six last week against the Raiders - quarterbacks have a 22.2 passer rating when targeting Johnson this season, the best in the league out of qualified cornerbacks (167 pass coverage snaps).
Johnson would also be a young option - only 24 years old - but he would also likely be a rental wanting to hit the open for the first time in his career.
WR Kendrick Bourne, New England Patriots
A familiar face could be just the depth the 49ers receiving corp could use. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have been solid this season, and Jauan Jennings is averaging just over 15 yards per reception in his limited targets. But there’s a need for more depth in a situation like the 49ers currently face with Samuel out a couple of weeks.
Bourne was solid in his first two years with New England, totaling 90 receptions for over 1,200 yards in 33 games. 2023 has been even better for Bourne, who’s on pace to set career highs in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. A potential reunion with the 49ers would give Shanahan another ideal option as a rotational receiver with Jennings.
DE Montez Sweat/DE Chase Young, Washington Commanders
Either would be an improvement for the 49ers, but both come with their pros and cons.
Sweat is in his fifth season with Washington and has missed only seven games over his career. He has 34.5 sacks, with his 5.5 sacks in through seven games this season is on pace to set a new career-high. However, Sweat might be more of a rental as he’s scheduled to hit free agency after this season, and according to Spotrac, his market value is at $16.6 million annually. Like Burns and Hunter, that could be a little too rich for the 49ers to be able to extend.
Young is off to a solid start this season with five sacks and six tackles for loss, but what’s been important for him is that he’s been able to stay on the field. Unlike Sweat, Young has had issues remaining healthy, playing only 18 games in the three seasons since playing 15 games and winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. The 49ers acquiring Young would be high-risk/high-reward with the injury history, which could be enough to prefer Sweat.
OL Daniel Brunskill, Tennessee Titans
Brunskill left the 49ers this past offseason to sign with Tennessee, but with the Titans seemingly open for business, re-acquiring Brunskill should be the priority for Shanahan and Lynch.
If Shanahan and Brunskill wore matching costumes this Halloween, the 49ers head coach would be Linus from The Peanuts, and Brunskill would be his blanket. Anytime there was turmoil or an injury on the offensive line over the last four seasons, Shanahan could rely on Brunskill to play at a starting-caliber level at any spot on the line.
With issues on the right side of the 49ers line, Brunskill will at least give some flexibility, if not even slide into a starting spot.
RG Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota Vikings
From a former 49ers offensive lineman to one the team heavily flirted with before the 2020 draft. Cleveland has missed one game over the last three seasons - which happened to be Monday night against the 49ers - and has experience at guard on both sides of the offensive line.
He’s shown improvement in pass blocking this season, and he’s always been solid at run blocking, making him a candidate to play the Brunskill rotation role. However, Aaron Banks has been solid on the left side of the line. Would the 49ers feel comfortable moving Cleveland to a side he hasn’t played since his rookie season down the road when games only get more and more important?