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Top 6 midseason trades in 49ers history

Marc Adams
Nov 2, 2023 at 11:58 AM--


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The San Francisco 49ers have made two midseason trades in 2023. One was a nice addition. The other was an even bigger addition.

The 49ers traded for Denver Broncos edge rusher Randy Gregory on October 6 and a little over one week later, Gregory was on the field for the defense. He made an immediate impact, with one sack and three tackles, including two tackles for loss, and three QB hits. Gregory has also cut into the playing time of second-year edge rusher Drake Jackson.

Gregory was a nice pickup, but the 49ers are 0-3 since Gregory arrived. Interestingly, Gregory was 1-3 with the Broncos this season. So he's probably hungry for some wins.

The acquisition of Gregory is small compared to the player the 49ers added at the trade deadline on Tuesday—star edge rusher, Chase Young. The 49ers acquired Young from the Washington Commanders for a 2024 3rd-round draft pick. Since the 49ers are on a bye, Young has time to get acclimated before practice begins with his new team.

The 49ers hope the two midseason trades will help a pass rush that has underperformed so far. But more importantly, the team hopes the trades will help a struggling secondary. The past two opposing quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow, have picked the 49ers defense apart.

Sometimes midseason acquisitions make a great impact. Sometimes they don't. But which ones are the best in franchise history? Here are the 49ers' top six midseason trades:

1. Fred Dean- 1981-1985


With all due respect to those who are stunned that Christian McCaffrey isn't at the top of this list, the number one spot goes to one of the two players on the list who helped bring a Super Bowl title to San Francisco. The 49ers acquired Fred Dean in a trade with the San Diego Chargers in October 1981. In his first game, the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 45-14 and sent a message to the NFL that they were for real.

Dean brought a much-needed pass rush to a 49ers team that greatly needed help getting after the passer. The former Charger had 12 sacks for the 49ers in the 1981 regular season and was named first-team All-Pro. Dean would add another sack in the 49ers Super XVI win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He finished fifth in voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season, as well.

Not only did Dean help bring the 49ers' very first Super Bowl, but he is also number one on this list because he played with the team for another four seasons. 1983 was perhaps his biggest season when he finished with 17.5 sacks. Then in 1984, he had four sacks in the regular season, as well as another four sacks in the postseason, helping the 49ers win their second Super Bowl, and was one of the key pass rushers who made life miserable for Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino in a 38-16 romp in Super Bowl XIX.

2. Gary "Big Hands" Johnson- 1984-1985


Three seasons after the 49ers struck gold by trading for Dean, they did it again by making a September trade for another Chargers player, Gary Johnson. Nicknamed, "Big Hands," Johnson was a nine-year veteran, and former All-Pro, who came to San Francisco in 1984 and played 12 regular season games with the eventual Super Bowl Champs. Johnson helped the 49ers finish the regular season 15-1, impacting the run defense and getting after opposing QBs, as well. Johnson had five sacks, recovered three fumbles, scored a touchdown, and had a safety—in only 12 games. Talk about impacting his new team.

Then in the playoffs, Johnson added three more sacks, two in the NFC Championship Game, and one in Super Bowl XIX. Though he wasn't with the 49ers very long, Johnson made a huge impact and helped bring a second championship to the team. That's why he's number two on the list.

3. Christian McCaffrey- 2022-present


Christian McCaffrey was acquired in October of 2022 in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. Surprisingly, there were some fans who hated the trade at the time, saying the 49ers gave up too much to acquire a running back. In the NFL, running backs are not as highly valued as they used to be. But McCaffrey is not your typical running back. He brings things to a team that few other running backs do.

In 2022, McCaffrey played in 11 regular season games with the 49ers. He rushed for 746 yards, had 464 yards receiving, and added 10 touchdowns. He even threw for a touchdown in a game against the Los Angeles Rams.

In his three postseason games with the 49ers, he added 238 yards on the ground, 61 yards on 12 catches, and three touchdowns. But his statistics alone don't tell the story of his impact. His value to the 49ers was far greater than his numbers. It's what he brought to the team as a matchup problem for defenses, being a running back who could line up all over the field. All of a sudden, defenses couldn't just focus on stopping Deebo Samuel. Now they had to pay more attention to McCaffrey, as a runner and receiver, which opened things up for the other offensive weapons like Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk.

In 2023, McCaffrey has picked up where he left off last season and is currently one of the frontrunners for Offensive Player of the Year, and even perhaps, NFL MVP. He currently has 652 yards rushing, with 292 yards receiving, and an incredible 13 total touchdowns. McCaffrey has scored a touchdown in 17 consecutive games, including the playoffs. That ties an NFL record that the running back has a chance to break after the bye week in Jacksonville.

The only question is whether he can help his team win the Super Bowl. They came close last year. We'll have to see how this season unfolds.

4. Jimmy Garoppolo- 2017-2022


On Halloween 2017, the 49ers traded for QB, Jimmy Garoppolo. After spending three seasons as Tom Brady's backup with the New England Patriots, the 49ers hoped some of Brady's magic had rubbed off on Garoppolo. And it looked as if it had when Garoppolo led the 49ers to five straight wins to finish what had been a dreadful 2017 season.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, having now completed their first season leading the 49ers, decided to make Garoppolo their new franchise quarterback, signing him to, what was at the time, the largest contract in the NFL, with a five-year, $137.5 million deal. Garoppolo won a lot of games with the 49ers, in the regular season and in the postseason. He led the team to multiple NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.

But injuries were a problem for the quarterback, in every season with the 49ers, except 2017 and 2019. And Garoppolo had a habit of making critical mistakes in big moments. As such, the fanbase always seemed to be divided on him.

You can make the case that Garoppolo should be listed higher on the list than McCaffrey. After all, he was in San Francisco for six seasons and helped bring the franchise back from some horrible seasons. But ultimately Garoppolo landed below McCaffrey due to injuries, ill-timed mistakes, and the fact that McCaffrey is a generational talent who can impact a game as much as a quarterback can.

5. Jordan Willis- 2020-2022


In October 2020, the 49ers traded for defensive end Jordan Willis, giving up a 2022 6th-round draft pick for him. Although he wasn't a starter, and only had 7.5 sacks in his three seasons with the 49ers, Willis is on this list because of his legendary special teams play in the 2021 NFC Divisional Playoff Game in Green Bay.

With 4:50 left in the game, as snow was blowing all over a slippery field, the Packers set up to punt the ball with their backs to their own endzone. Willis somehow managed to get a hand up and block the punt. Rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga recovered and scored a touchdown that tied the game. The 49ers would get the ball back with 3:20 left in the game, and drive 44 yards to set up the game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould.

It's possible that the game would have been lost if not for the blocked punt by Willis. That play alone gets him on this list.

6. Emmanuel Sanders- 2019


Emmanuel Sanders came to the 49ers by way of the Denver Broncos, in a trade for two 2020 draft picks (a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder). In his time with the 49ers, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns. But his greatest accomplishment was teaching the 49ers' young receivers, specifically Samuel, how to be a professional wide receiver.

Sanders was also part of the team that made it to Super Bowl LIV, which helps his case in being on this list. And who could forget the deep route, on which Sanders had his man beat, only to be overthrown by Garoppolo? If the QB put a little less on that ball, Sanders may have scored, and the 49ers might have won that game. If that had happened, Sanders would have been higher on this list (as would Garoppolo). Sanders finds himself last on this list, however, primarily because he only played one season with the 49ers.

If Young and Gregory can have the type of impact that Dean and Johnson had, even if only for one season, and help the 49ers win a sixth championship, they will add their names to the list of legendary 49ers players. But there is a lot of season left, and for now, the 49ers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. What impact will the trade deadline additions make?

That remains to be seen.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.



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