With the NFL trade deadline approaching, each Super Bowl hopeful has a missing piece. Here’s a look at them

When Kyle Shanahan leaned into the microphones Sunday — after a 31-17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals — the natural inclination was to address the mounting anxiety. It was the 49ers’ third straight loss of the season, leaving the franchise tumbling into Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline. All of this led to a shared curiosity staring at Shanahan during his postgame news conference, wondering how broken parts could be fixed and whether some kind of deadline deal could be a part of it.

That 42-10 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 8? It was starting to feel like ancient history. And some frightening questions have been spiraling of late.

Is the Brock Purdy Party over?

Is the running game mediocre without offensive tackle Trent Williams and a few dashes of wideout Deebo Samuel?

What on Earth is going on with the suddenly average play of reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa?

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These aren’t the things anyone wants swirling around their team heading into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. It can make a franchise seem desperate to change momentum and needy in trade talks. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have been active traders in-season. They know that the best leverage in most any trade is not needing to make a deal at all. That’s why the strong, well-built teams always have an advantage at the negotiating table.

So it was no surprise when Shanahan’s response to a trade deadline question was to project strength rather than weakness, patience rather than urgency.

“None of this changes anything with the trade deadline — how we played today, or how we played these last three weeks,” Shanahan said. “… I do believe we have the answers in our building.”

“I believe we have good players. I believe we have good coaches. It’s up to me to get them to do better.”

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Levi's Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers is searching for answers heading into the bye week after losing three straight. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

That might be true, but there’s nothing stopping the 49ers from addressing a missing link on the roster. And in terms of adding talent, depth and experience, there are a few. But that also puts them in the same boat with a multitude of high-end teams this season. Indeed, essentially every Super Bowl contender has showcased issues over the past few weeks, if not on Sunday.

They all have additions they could make that would add a significant dimension to the locker room, depth chart and scheme. With that in mind, we focused on nine contenders and picked one player each could add at the deadline who would have a sizable positive impact the remainder of the season.

Starting with …

The Titans don’t “intend” to trade Henry. I think a second-round draft pick from the Ravens would change that intent. And I think Tennessee would have to consider it, even with Will Levis lighting it up and feeling good about Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, which saw Henry go for 122 yards from scrimmage on 26 touches.

The three-touchdown performance by Baltimore’s Gus Edwards in Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals is going to convince people that Henry isn’t a must-have player for the Ravens right now. But with running back attrition and Edwards’ injury history, that’s short-sighted thinking. He would also be a devastating 1-2 combo with Henry if both players are sharing the load and staying fresh while they pummel defenses. Some think Henry necessitates a lot of touches to be effective. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the same big-play effect will present itself in the second half of games with the combination, simply though the wear and tear of getting thrashed by a pair of brutally physical players.

Williams is expensive in a few different ways. He’d likely cost the Bills at least their 2024 second-round draft pick (and maybe more), plus salary restructuring on their roster to fit the remainder of Williams’ $18 million base salary. And that would be to acquire Williams just as a rental the rest of the season. It would be a monstrous rental at that, particularly next to Ed Oliver on the defensive line.

The Bills badly need another impact player up front, especially facing AFC quarterbacks in the postseason. This would be a move similar to the one the Los Angeles Rams made when they acquired Von Miller as a rental for a second- and third-round picks in 2021. He became a massive part of that Super Bowl-winning defense. Williams would have the same impact for the Bills.

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) celebrates as he walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Chicago. The Broncos won 31-28. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Dallas Cowboys: Garett Bolles, LT, Denver Broncos

This isn’t supposed to be a need spot, but the Cowboys are playing with fire with Tyron Smith’s health. He’s not reliable anymore. He might return and play the rest of the season … or he might play five or six games the rest of the year. Who knows given the past several seasons of constant issues.

Bolles was an All-Pro in 2020. He needs a change of scenery, although it will be interesting to see how the Broncos’ massive exhale win over the Kansas City Chiefs changes the dynamic for Denver and its multitude of trade targets.

Smith is not going to be a Cowboy next season. There is going to be a need at that left tackle spot. Bolles’ salary is a manageable $16 million in 2024, and that’s if the Broncos don’t eat any of it to help massage a trade. For a solid draft pick, maybe a second- or third-rounder, they might think about it. As much as Dallas fans want to talk about the running back spot and the need for a power option (which is real), I’m more worried about what happens if Smith goes down for the rest of the season at some point.

The Panthers have been telling teams they intend to keep Burns as a long-term building block. I get the sense that teams are hearing the message “try harder” when they hear that from the Panthers.

Part of the problem here is that the Los Angeles Rams offered the house for Burns last year in the form of two first-round picks and one third. It’s hard for an owner like David Tepper to get that out of his head now, even if Burns has burned into his last season of contract control with the team.

Burns can still be had. But he’s going to be expensive, even with him having only the remainder of this year left on his deal. If the Lions really believe Jameson Williams is capable of growing into a quality No. 1 or No. 2 wideout, they should deal for Burns with the intent of placing the franchise tag on him if they can’t get an extension done. He’s a good locker room guy and never complained about it all falling apart in Carolina. He plays hard. He’s not a character issue off the field. He would fit in the culture the Lions are building. If they’d be willing to offer a monster — maybe two firsts — it could get it done. And with Aidan Hutchinson and Burns, the Lions would have two premium pass rushers that few teams could handle.

Kansas City Chiefs: Marquise Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals

After what DeAndre Hopkins showcased with the strong arm of Will Levis throwing him bombs, he’d make an intriguing match with Patrick Mahomes. But I have to believe the Titans are going to lean into the Levis momentum, and that means keeping Hopkins around to help Levis’ development and confidence. That leaves Brown as the most intriguing wideout aside from guys like the Denver Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, who would never be dealt to Denver’s hated rival anyway.

Brown’s speed makes him an ideal fit for the Chiefs, not to mention his productivity in lesser offenses, with lesser quarterbacks than Mahomes, and lesser schemes. He’s also a rental, which I think makes sense with where the Chiefs are going anyway with some of their younger wideouts. Brown won’t be standing in the way in 2024 if Kansas City doesn’t want him in the plans.

I think KC’s defense is going to be fine, and I’m not putting any stock into Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, knowing Mahomes was sick with flu. But they need to keep flooding him with options as they continue to make up Tyreek Hill in the aggregate.

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 29: Defensive end Chase Young #99 of the Washington Commanders in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField on October 29, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chase Young was the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Jacksonville’s offense will continue to get better as the season goes along. But the Jaguars need another potent edge.

Counting on Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers — which included three combined sacks from Josh Allen and Travon Walker — to be more of the norm would be a mistake. I’d buy it as more realistically consistent if the Jaguars add another high-end pressure player. That is Young.

His talent isn’t the only fit I like for the Jaguars. Young’s upside is undeniable, but his injury history makes him a sizable risk. That’s part of why he fits with this Jacksonville coaching staff and front office. They have not been risk-averse with talent on offense, and it has paid off with the likes of Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram. They take risk on high ceilings.

Thus far, teams have been calling on Young, but also been reticent to lay out a decent draft pick for him, knowing that he’s going to be angling for a big contract extension in a few months. This is a chance for the Jaguars to make an addition now that can become a force multiplier on defense for other players up front, and have the potential of signing Young as a long-term cornerstone in 2024 and beyond.

I know, it’s a trade inside the division. And to a team the Jets would be chasing to win the AFC East, no less. For that reason alone, I’d qualify this one as a snowball’s chance in hell. That said, if the Jets could get a draft asset out of a player they signed and who has not seemed to be a fit from the jump, there’s some value in that, especially when the other team that was vying for Cook (albeit very noncommittally) was these very Dolphins.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas could take some pride in wrangling a player who would have been useful to Miami, then dealing that player to the Dolphins just a few months later. And I also get the sneaking suspicion that the Jets wouldn’t exactly be afraid of Cook now that they’ve seen him. He doesn’t have the juice of Breece Hall, and you could argue that he’d eventually be a third wheel in Miami once De’Von Achane makes his way back. That limits some of the downside of the trade for the Jets. Conversely, Miami is probably the last and best fit for Cook if he can pick up all the details of what head coach Mike McDaniel likes to do with his run schemes.

Cook has the versatility to be another good player for Miami, in a group that McDaniels can and will use to spread around the ball.

Philadelphia Eagles: Josey Jewell, LB, Denver Broncos

Here is another Bronco who might not be as available to the open market following Sunday’s win over the Chiefs. That said, Jewell is a very solid veteran tackling machine when he’s healthy. He would fit in with the Eagles instantly, not to mention be elevated/invigorated by some of the surrounding speed and talent on their defense. He might not be the best turn-and-run linebacker against the pass, but still has some playmaking ability, evidenced by Jewell forcing a second-quarter fumble after a Chiefs completion on Sunday. That very likely took away at least a field goal opportunity for Kansas City at a juncture when momentum appeared to be turning.

It’s probably not as exciting a veteran acquisition as safety Kevin Byard, but it’s certainly a potentially helpful one. And it might keep Jewell away from the linebacker-needy Dallas Cowboys, too.

San Francisco 49ers: Donte Jackson, CB, Carolina Panthers

The 49ers need corner help more than they need pass rush capital. And they need someone who can step in with some kind of familiarity to get all the way on track for the remainder of the season. Jackson, who was coached by 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks in Carolina last season, makes sense. He also has starting experience and is just starting to get back to his prior level of play after suffering a torn Achilles nearly one year ago.

I know fans would love to see the corner addition be a player on par with the Broncos’ Pat Surtain II or the Bears’ Jaylon Johnson, but one isn’t available at all (Surtain), while the other (Johnson) would cost some assets and necessitate a very big contract extension at the end of the season. Jackson, who still has one year left on his deal after 2023, requires neither.

Like Kyle Shanahan said, he believes the answers to the 49ers’ problems are on the roster. If everyone gets back on the field, he’s probably right. But even if that happens, the 49ers could use another experienced veteran cornerback who has scheme familiarity and has showcased past success.

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