Debrief: Winners (and one loser) from Week 8, trade deadline

In February, Jimmy Garoppolo was one throw away from securing immortality in San Francisco. Nine months later, it seems he might not throw another pass for the 49ers again.

The Football Gods have no mercy, especially when Kyle Shanahan is involved. The coach’s tenure with the 49ers has largely been defined by injuries, and Sunday’s double-whammy of Jimmy G. and George Kittle suffering serious setbacks looks fatal for the 2020 squad. Garoppolo’s injury also will cloud an already difficult decision this offseason at quarterback.

Garoppolo’s five-year contract runs through 2022, but the guaranteed money runs out after this season. The team can save at least $24.1 million against the 2021 cap by trading Garoppolo, and there would be likely suitors (hello, Bill Belichick) if he were available at a discount price. The potential quarterback market makes that more likely.

It’s easy to imagine Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan becoming available in trades. NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported back in the day that Shanahan wanted to reunite with Cousins (with whom he worked in Washington) before Garoppolo fell in his lap. Ryan won an MVP award and nearly a title with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in Atlanta, before those pesky Football Gods intervened.

This cursed 49ers season is not on Shanahan or general manager John Lynch. They never truly had a chance, but that doesn’t make their future decisions any easier. Their trade this week of linebacker Kwon Alexander to the Saints for Kiko Alonso and a conditional fifth-round pick was a sign of things to come, an admittance that some of their high-priced, high-risk wheeling and dealing hasn’t paid off. Pass rusher Dee Ford, who is currently on injured reserve, was another big-ticket item acquired in a trade and given a big contract who could be on the way out this offseason after giving the 49ers very little return on investment.

Garoppolo never looked fully comfortable in Shanahan’s offense after tearing his ACL in 2018. It’s an offense where there are right answers on every play, and too often, Jimmy G. didn’t appear to know the question. Shanahan is going to be in San Francisco a long time, and I don’t expect him to settle on his Forever Quarterback until he finds his own John Elway, like dad once did. 

The 49ers had the worst Week 8 of any team. So who were the biggest winners as the 2020 trade deadline came and went Tuesday?

The Seattle Seahawks: No team had a better Week 8. The Seahawks proved they could play in a normal game, decisively beating their biggest division rivals while watching the 49ers’ injury luck go from cataclysmic to comical. If the 49ers end up being a threat to the Seahawks this season, something has gone seriously wrong. 

For three quarters, the Seattle defense also showed some life — for the first time all season. Bobby Wagner had one of the best games of his Hall of Fame career, while the rest of the Seahawks flew around the field. Safety Jamal Adams, out since Week 3 with a groin injury, could return this week in Buffalo, joined by recent trade pickup Carlos Dunlap from the Bengals.

Dunlap was more than worth the minimal price the Seahawks paid for him last week (offensive lineman B.J. Finney and a 2021 seventh-round pick). I love watching Dunlap’s power rush game, and he had one of the most dominant stretches of his underrated career down the stretch late last season. Now 31 years old and in his 11th NFL season, he was not productive this year and clashed with the Bengals coaches, so it’s hard to know which Dunlap the Seahawks are getting. Given what Seattle gave up, though, it was a swing worth taking. The defense only needs to be average for the team to get deep in the playoffs, allowing Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to do the rest. The Seahawks are a test case of how far three men can carry the rest of the 48-man game-day roster each week.

The Titans’ secondary: The Titans are worse at getting off the field on third down than the Jets are at doing anything. Mike Sando of The Athletic notes that the Titans are allowing opponents to convert 62 percent of third downs, the worst number through the first seven weeks of a given season since such data started being recorded in 1991. A problem this big has more than one cause — it’s not all because of the anemic pass rush being provided by Jadeveon Clowney and especially Vic Beasley, who doesn’t have a single QB hit all season. The team’s secondary, which is banged up, and the loss of former defensive coordinator Dean Pees (who retired in January) are also factors. Sunday afternoon’s performance in Cincinnati, where the Titans helped make Joe Burrow look like Patrick Mahomes, was a cry for help. 

Titans coach Mike Vrabel needed something or someone. Giving up a sixth-round pick to acquire slot cornerback Desmond King from the Chargers qualifies, even if the fourth-year veteran is in a contract year. Vrabel is well suited to take better advantage of King’s versatility than Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. King can’t fix Tennessee’s potentially fatal flaw by himself, but it’s a start. 

Avery Williamson: The linebacker went from the winless Jets to the undefeated Steelers and had the social-media savvy to take advantage. Even though Robert Spillane has filled in capably for Devin Bush in the middle of the Steelers’ defense, Pittsburgh is vulnerable at the second level. The 28-year-old Williamson has been up and down since leaving Tennessee in 2018, partly because of injuries, but the Steelers coaches have a way of getting the best out of smart, imported veterans.

This is a Pittsburgh team that is undefeated, yet hasn’t put together a complete game together, outside of the Browns win in Week 6. That’s not a bad thing …

Six teams winning despite not being at their best

The Steelers were completely manhandled in the first half against Baltimore, but they continue to show an ability to make crucial plays in the fourth quarter. That’s a learned trait that should continue to come in handy. 

The Eagles looked shockingly equal with the Cowboys on both sides of the ball Sunday night, but they should continue to get much healthier after their Week 9 bye and now have an extra cushion in the pillowy NFC East. Tight end Dallas Goedert, cornerback Avonte Maddox, linebacker T.J. Edwards, receiver Jalen Reagor and left tackle Jason Peters are already back. Right tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz and running back Miles Sanders are on the way. Philadelphia looks to be as safe a pick to win its division as any team except Kansas City in the AFC West, which is remarkable, considering how poorly the Eagles have played this season. 

Tampa’s offense showed Monday night that it is still a week-to-week proposition, especially when Chris Godwin is out of the lineup. But the Bucs’ defense did enough to set up Tom Brady with great field position, and Tampa escaped with a 25-23 win over the Giants. If nothing else, the game underscored why the Bucs were interested in adding Antonio Brown. They aren’t the same team when Godwin is off the field, and Brown’s presence should ensure Jaydon Mickens doesn’t lead the team in targets again. (Brady targeted Mickens eight times for 36 yards.) At 6-2, the Bucs have played even better than their record shows for much of the season. They are essentially a new team, unused to winning, which needs experience in all sorts of game situations. The ability to win ugly is a necessary trait! 

Bills coach Sean McDermott admitted that he was emotional after finally toppling Bill Belichick, noting how much it meant for the city of Buffalo. In one sense, barely beating a badly depleted Patriots team isn’t such an accomplishment. But the Bills are 6-2, knowing they can and should play a lot better on both sides of the ball. I generally like teams like that. Their defense has too many pieces and is too well-coached to be this far below average. Their offense isn’t as good as it looked in September, nor is it as limited as it’s looked since. McDermott knows that another wild-card round exit is not the goal — but that’s what awaits if his team continues to play like it did over the last month. 

The Raiders’ win in Cleveland, with wind, rain and snow blowing and the temperature at 49 degrees at kickoff, was proof they are playing in the wrong city. Despite Derek Carr‘s previous struggles in cold weather, the Raiders are built like a 1980s East Coast team. Ugly weather helps to cover up Las Vegas’ poor pass defense and allows their offensive line to take over. All 4-3 records are not created equal. The Raiders have played one of the toughest schedules in football, and it eases up considerably down the stretch. They are in position to return to the playoffs, where that old-school approach could pay dividends on the road.

Drew Brees and the Saints, on the other hand, are not built for the coming winter. The Brees arm strength truthers can show the tape from Sunday’s win over Chicago anytime they want to point out the limitations of Brees in cold weather. Saints coach Sean Payton did a terrific job scheming around those limitations, escaping with a victory.

It is crucial for the Saints to win the NFC South so that they can play indoors in the playoffs, which makes this week’s matchup against the Bucs so vital. Expect a game that comes down to the last drive. The Saints’ offensive style and poor red-zone defense invite long drives and close games. They remain a top-10 team, but their margin for error is a lot thinner than in past years, when they had plenty of blowouts.  

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