The NFL’s trade deadline is nearly upon us. You know what that means: it’s fake trade season.
Given the structure of the NFL, the deadline is often a nothing affair. Compared to its equivalents in baseball and basketball, it arrives a tick too early for a team to fully declare that it’s out on the year, dumping any spare parts for future draft picks and the hope of tomorrow. Plus, the league’s compensatory draft pick system encourages even bad teams to hold on to costly veterans.
Still: things could be different this year. We are living in an age where draft picks are hoarded and the disparity between the contenders and the obvious rebuilders is stark, which makes the upcoming 2 November deadline fertile ground for deal-making.
Here are five deals that teams should make (but almost certainly won’t).
1) Odell Beckham to New Orleans for Michael Thomas
The chemistry between Odell Beckham and Baker Mayfield has always been iffy. At one point, it felt like a forced narrative. But there’s mounting evidence that there’s something off between the receiver and Cleveland’s quarterback. This is Beckham’s final year under contract with the Browns, and The Athletic reports he is already looking elsewhere – that’s certainly not because the Browns cannot afford him or that the team’s roster isn’t good enough.
Giving up Beckham in the middle of the season for draft picks and future considerations would be pointless for the Browns. They have Super Bowl aspirations. But what if they could sub out Beckham for a star who wants out of another team and who may find a better connection with Mayfield?
How about Michael Thomas? The receiver and the Saints have been locked in a passive-aggressive feud for months. He started the year on the PUP list after ankle surgery late in the offseason. Last week, he was due to be activated, but the Saints opted to keep him off their active roster.
Due to nagging injuries, Thomas may no longer be the same superstar of old. But it would be worth Cleveland’s time to find out.
2) Xavien Howard from Miami to the Bengals for a 2022 first-round pick
Miami have to decide whether they are still in on this season or not. At 1-6, it’s probably time to pull the plug and (once again) start planning for the future.
Xavien Howard will be at the top of deadline wishlists across the league. The Packers, Buccaneers, Titans, Chiefs, 49ers, Seahawks – on and on it goes. You name a team with playoff hopes, and they probably need secondary help.
Miami and Howard had to rework his contract for the 2021 season to get the cornerback on the field this year, and both parties agreed to revisit the deal next offseason. Given his play this year, it’s unlikely the Dolphins will pony up the necessary cash to keep Howard around long-term.
The Bengals should make a splash. Cincy are currently playing above their talent level, thanks in large part to the special connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. The team have also been excellent on defense, despite playing with a sinkhole at one cornerback spot. Upgrade that spot, and the Bengals defense could be a true force.
3) Barnett and Slay to the Chiefs for a bevy of draft picks
The Chiefs’ defense are on their way to a historically awful season. They currently rank 32nd in pass defense success rate – by a long way – and 31st in run defense success rate. Never have a team finished dead stinking last in both efficiency categories. Even bad defenses start to sell out to stop one thing, thereby compromising the other.
Not the Chiefs. They stink at everything. There are no cosmetic fixes to the problem, either. The team need to find a midseason injection of talent. A deal with Philadelphia for a top cover-corner and a solid pass-rusher would be a tidy start.
The Eagles are going nowhere and bringing in future picks while removing the salaries of Barnett and Slay would be a savvy move. Barnett is set to hit free-agency this offseason, while Slay will command a mighty chunk ($22m) of Philly’s cap sheet moving forward – and this for a team that will likely begin a rebuild of their own in 2022.
Such a deal would take some salary-cap chicanery from the Chiefs – they’d probably have to send a player in the other direction – but a deal is doable.
4) Daniel Jones for Tua Tagovailoa
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Tagovailoa. He’s been dealt a raw hand: the poster child of a rebuild that has been a stumbling mess all around him. Now, ownership seems set to pull the ripcord. It’s not that Tagovailoa is bad. It’s that the Dolphins want better. Right now.
Tagovailoa does everything at a plus level, but he’s yet to show he has an elite NFL trait. And it’s hard to learn on the job without being able to default to the one thing that you can do better than anyone on the field, whether that’s improvising, running the ball, or having the arm strength to help mask mistakes.
Miami have tried to replicate some of Tagovailoa’s college structure. The team’s offense is all about quick rhythm throws and RPOs – Tagovailoa ranks 33rd among eligible quarterbacks in his average depth of target. Such an infrastructure requires all the surrounding pieces to be similarly tailored to that style. In Miami, they’re not.
It’s a set-up that would make more sense in New York, where the Giants have all kinds of talent around their quarterback that would indulge a dink and dunk, matchup-based style.
Jones, by contrast, has steadily morphed into an on-the-fly playmaker, in part due to his offensive line, and in part due to the Giants’ offensive scheme. Jones has shown encouraging signs this season but more so as a dual-threat creator than a stand-in-the-pocket-and-rip-it quarterback.
Both quarterbacks have shown flashes of something in their young careers. Yet neither franchise appears sold on their long-term prospects. Miami continues to survey the quarterback landscape; the Giants will most likely move on from the front office that drafted Jones after this year.
How about flip-flopping the two and seeing if a smoother schematic marriage can unlock their potential?
5) Laremy Tunsil to the Ravens for a 2022 second-round draft pick
The Laremy Tunsil trade was the nadir of the Bill O’Brien Experience in Houston. So, it would only be fitting if the team turbocharged their burn-it-to-the-ground project by shipping out Tunsil to acquire draft equity.
The Ravens’ offense have hummed along this season in spite of the offensive line. Lamar Jackson has been pressured on 38% of his dropbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s by far the highest total for any Super Bowl contender.
When the offense can get in front in games and dictate the pace of play, they chug along as well as any in the league. But when Jackson is forced into playing in a more predictable, plodding system, with the Ravens chasing, his line isn’t good enough to give him the time necessary in the pocket.
Tunsil has never developed into the high-end starter the Texans hoped. But he would represent an upgrade on what Baltimore are forced to roll out at the moment.