The NFL trade deadline is fast approaching. Teams have until Oct. 30 to negotiate deals, and as we saw last year with the Cleveland Browns‘ bungled attempt to trade for AJ McCarron, they’ll use every last second of that time to try to make moves. The league has gotten far more trade-happy over the past few years, with teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams leading the way in building their rosters around trades.
Let’s run through some trade possibilities that might make sense for both sides. Mostly, we’re seeing promising high draft picks who haven’t developed in their current locale move to new cities, and veterans on rebuilding teams heading to playoff contenders, which are generally the sort of moves you’ll see around the trade deadline. Oh, and by law, there’s a Le’Veon Bell trade in the mix.
Let’s start with a logical move. The Cowboys are absolutely bereft of wide receiver weapons for Dak Prescott. During Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans, Prescott’s three top wideouts — Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns — caught three passes on nine targets for 17 yards. His fourth option, Tavon Austin, caught one pass for 44 yards on a play in which Prescott scrambled and made a desperate off-schedule throw. Prescott is struggling. His receivers are struggling. The Cowboys need to work on fixing both of these problems.
No team is dealing a star wideout at midseason unless they have Josh Gordon-sized red flags, so let’s get the Cowboys a wide receiver with upside who has been held back by injuries. Parker was a breakout candidate before the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but things never quite launched for a variety of reasons. In 2016, the Dolphins threw the ball only 477 times, fewer than any team besides the Buffalo Bills. Prorate Parker’s 56-744-4 line to a league-average number of pass attempts and you get something more like 67 catches for 891 yards and five scores, which seems more promising.
In 2017 and again in 2018, the issue has been injuries. Parker racked up 230 receiving yards in the first three weeks of 2017, admittedly mostly in garbage time, but then an ankle sprain cost him the better part of four games. He has missed time with a broken finger and a quadriceps injury this season, and while he seems close to returning, the Dolphins have run out of patience for their former first-round pick.
Miami is going to go forward with its expensive trio of wideouts, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, which makes sense. The Dolphins picked up Parker’s fifth-year option before the season, which isn’t surprising given their financial ineptitude, so the Cowboys would be acquiring Parker for a late-round pick in the hopes that he flourishes over the next year-plus. They could get out of Parker’s $9.4 million salary in 2019 without penalty if Parker doesn’t get hurt, which is the only reason they shouldn’t take a flier on a wideout who has the sort of athletic traits the current group can’t touch.
Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy to Philadelphia
OK, let’s get weirder. The Eagles restructured Fletcher Cox‘s contract this week to free up $6.5 million in cap space, which is a curious tactic for a team to pursue during the season unless it’s planning on acquiring some salary. Philadelphia has a need at running back with Jay Ajayi shelved by a torn ACL and both Corey Clement and Darren Sproles struggling to stay on the field. General manager Howie Roseman is certainly familiar with McCoy, who was traded to the Bills for Kiko Alonso during the Chip Kelly era. McCoy also played under Andy Reid, whose scheme at the time shares similarities with Doug Pederson’s now.
The Bills are rebuilding, and while McCoy offers Josh Allen a safety valve, the 30-year-old back is not going to be part of the next Bills team to make the playoffs. He has $4.3 million in base salary remaining in 2018 and a $6.2 million base salary next year, and while I suspect the Eagles probably wouldn’t be interested in paying Shady that much in 2019, they could certainly use him for the remainder of this campaign.
To make the case more palatable for the Bills, they’re going to get a player who might help Allen develop. The 29-year-old Wisniewski started 11 games for the Eagles last season and helped them win a Super Bowl, but as the Philadelphia offensive line has struggled in 2018, Wisniewski has been benched for Isaac Seumalo. Wisniewski has suggested that the benching wasn’t performance-based, and while the Eagles might be willing to tolerate his griping, they could also trade Wisniewski and activate Chance Warmack as their backup guard. Wisniewski is under contract until 2019 and could represent an upgrade on guard John Miller or center Russell Bodine.
Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell to Washington
One big-name running back deserves another. The Steelers reportedly shopped Bell before he announced his intentions to return to the team during the bye, and while they are likely a better team with Bell in the fold, do they want to upset what’s already seemingly a difficult locker room? James Conner just had a monster game against the Atlanta Falcons; if he follows things up with another impressive performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, are you going to want to disturb your breakout running back by adding Bell to that mix?
The answer to those questions might very well be yes. If the Steelers think otherwise, though, they’re probably not going to have many suitors for Bell. We can do this “Guess Who?” style. Since Bell can’t be signed to an extension until next year, any team that doesn’t expect to contend for a playoff berth this season is out. Let’s throw out every team with less than a 15 percent chance of making the playoffs, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. Throw out the teams with less than $5 million in cap space, who would have to do too much to absorb Bell’s prorated salary of $10.3 million. Next, remove the teams who have healthy star backs. Finally, let’s take out the teams the Steelers would be likely to face in the AFC postseason, since I can’t imagine that they want to see Bell in January.
John Fox and Tedy Bruschi detail two of the more recent trade rumors in the NFL and pick teams that both running backs would be best suited for.
We’re left with only four teams: the Buccaneers, Eagles, Texans and Redskins. The Eagles already have suggested they’re not interested in trading for Bell, and I doubt the Steelers would want to trade him to another team in Pennsylvania. The Texans have $20 million in cap room but probably want to roll over that room to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. They also aren’t in a position to trade away draft picks for rentals after dealing away their first two 2018 picks to the Browns.
So now, we’re down to Tampa Bay and Washington. Both of these teams are viable landing spots. Tampa is struggling in the running game, with Peyton Barber averaging 3.0 yards per attempt and second-round pick Ronald Jones making it onto the active roster for the first time in Week 4. Tampa already has benched Ryan Fitzpatrick after his hot start, but if Jameis Winston plays the way he did during the final five games of 2017, the Bucs could still be in the thick of the playoff picture in the NFC.
Washington seems like a slightly better fit for a few reasons. One is that its owner is irrational and shortsighted, which isn’t news. Trading for Bell would win Daniel Snyder positive short-term headlines in D.C. as Kirk Cousins plays well in Minnesota. Washington already has injury issues at running back with Derrius Guice done for the season and both Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson leaving the game against the Saints for stretches. Peterson has a dislocated shoulder, while Thompson injured his ribs. Bell would be a massive upgrade on Peterson.
In addition, even with the brutal loss in New Orleans, Washington is better positioned to compete for a playoff berth in a wide-open NFC East. FPI gives Jay Gruden’s team a 29 percent chance of making the postseason and a 22.8 percent shot of winning the division. The Buccaneers also are 2-2, but they have only an 18.4 percent shot of making it into January, with a 7.5 percent chance to win the NFC South.
Gruden could still go back to Guice after the season if the Bell experiment doesn’t work out. In addition to its own third-round pick, Washington has the top compensatory pick in the 2019 draft, the 97th overall selection, after losing Cousins in free agency. Washington could trade that comp pick and likely pocket the top compensatory pick again in 2020 when Bell leaves in free agency. You can imagine it might make Snyder feel better to be able to tell people that Washington got a year of Bell and a comp pick for letting Cousins leave.
For Pittsburgh, moving on from Bell would end the circus surrounding the team. The Steelers would be guaranteed to get the best possible compensatory pick and would pick up that selection in the 2019 draft as opposed to waiting until 2020. The Steelers also could flip that pick for help in the secondary, where Artie Burns & Co. have been a mess. My guess is that the Steelers hold onto Bell, but if they do decide they want to cut ties now, Washington makes the most sense.
Detroit WR Golden Tate to Tennessee
While the Lions are still giving Tate plenty of targets, the 30-year-old former Seahawks standout is in the final year of his deal and seems unlikely to return to Detroit after the breakout of Kenny Golladay. Tate is averaging 86.2 yards per game this season, so he’s still an effective weapon, but the Notre Dame product is playing less than 80 percent of the snaps on offense, leaving him well behind Marvin Jones (93.5 percent) and Golladay (89.9 percent). With the Lions 2-3 and their playoff chances already below 10 percent, per FPI, Tate could represent a valuable trade chit.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn and Titans general manager Jon Robinson worked together in New England, and while just about every organization in the league has someone in the building with Foxborough experience, they seem like a natural fit for a deal here. The Titans are thin at receiver after Rishard Matthews left town and Delanie Walker went down for the year, and while Taywan Taylor has flashed at times, Titans pass-catchers have dropped two long would-be touchdowns in consecutive weeks. They could sorely use another passing weapon for Marcus Mariota. The Lions will take a flier in return on Sharpe, who started 10 games as a rookie in 2016 before missing all of last year.
Cleveland QB Tyrod Taylor to Jacksonville
The Browns don’t need Taylor after benching him for Baker Mayfield, and while Taylor would presumably return to the lineup if Mayfield were to get injured, he didn’t really seem like a good fit in Hue Jackson’s offense, which also has No. 3 QB Drew Stanton. Taylor is likely looking at backup work in free agency in 2019, and the Browns are essentially going to eat the $7 million or so remaining in base salary on his deal.
One place that might make sense for Taylor, though, is Jacksonville. While Blake Bortles struggled badly against the Chiefs in Week 5, I don’t think the Jags would be pursuing Taylor as a replacement for their hot-and-cold starter. Bortles is basically priced in as the leader of this offense until 2019. Taylor would fit in as a likely upgrade at backup ahead of Cody Kessler by virtue of his ability to avoid giveaways, although he struggled with the Browns. He also could feature for a few snaps per game as a read-option quarterback to help spring the Jacksonville running game. It’s not much for $7 million, but if Bortles gets hurt and the Jaguars are stuck without a viable quarterback, they’ll be happy they turned to Taylor.
Jacksonville also might be in the market to add a tackle with Cam Robinson out for the year and Josh Wells struggling with a hamstring injury, but there aren’t exactly many teams with extra left tackles laying around. The Eagles would ask for a fortune to deal Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who will likely take over as their eventual replacement for Jason Peters. The Bengals would happily trade Cedric Ogbuehi, who has been inactive all season, but it’s not clear whether he’s actually anything more than a replacement-level tackle.
Bucannon was once a breakout star and a model for the way defenses would evolve as a safety turned into a linebacker. At his best, Bucannon was capable of covering athletic tight ends and terrifying opposing quarterbacks as a pass-rusher.
Since undergoing ankle surgery in May 2017, though, Bucannon seemingly hasn’t been the same player. He struggled in 2017 and hasn’t taken to the scheme of new coach Steve Wilks, who has promptly benched the former first-round pick. Bucannon played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in the opener and 73 percent in Week 4, but he fielded just one defensive snap in Week 3 and four during last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Complicating matters is Bucannon’s salary. The Cardinals are paying Bucannon $8.7 million as part of the fifth-year option in his rookie deal, which is an astronomical sum for a player who isn’t seeing the field and clearly won’t be back in the desert after the year. The Cardinals would love to shed the $6.1 million remaining on Bucannon’s deal for both cap and cash purposes, but no team is going to trade for that deal as is.
The best-case scenario is that the Cardinals make an Osweiler Trade and package a draft pick to make Bucannon’s contract more palatable. There’s a logical landing point with the Jets, where former Cardinals coordinator Todd Bowles is now the coach and should be able to find a way to incorporate Bucannon’s unique skill set into one of the league’s more modern defenses. Oft-frustrating 2016 first-rounder Darron Lee has played better this season, but a healthy Bucannon would give the Jets a weapon in coverage and as a blitzer. It could be a chance to buy low on a player who succeeds in the right scheme, as the Rams did when they traded for Mark Barron at the end of a frustrating tenure with the Buccaneers.
Cleveland LB Jamie Collins to New England
The details: Browns trade Collins to New England Patriots for 2019 seventh-round pick.
Speaking of linebackers on unsustainable contracts, Collins’ four-year, $50 million pact with the Browns hasn’t worked out. He missed 11 games in 2017 with a concussion and a torn MCL, and his role in the defense has been marginalized with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey emerging as every-down linebackers. When Schobert and Kirksey are healthy, Collins is the guy usually coming off the field when the Browns go into their sub packages.
The Browns can cut Collins after the year and free up more than $9 million in cap space, which seems likely. In the meantime, they could convert some of the $7.5 million in prorated base salary remaining on Collins’ deal into a signing bonus to make his contract more tradable. Let’s say they convert $5 million into a bonus to save $2.5 million as part of a trade.
Collins’ time in New England didn’t end well, but the Patriots need help in their front seven after losing Ja’Whaun Bentley to a torn biceps. A healthy, motivated Collins would be an upgrade on the likes of Kyle Van Noy and free up Dont’a Hightower to take the occasional snap as an edge rusher, a tactic the Patriots used to try to create pressure before Hightower got injured last season. The Patriots wouldn’t owe Collins any guaranteed money after the season and would surely ask Collins to renegotiate his deal to stay with the team. Would a one-year reunion make sense for both parties?
Another former first-round pick who has fallen out of favor under a new regime, Joseph was counting his defensive snaps in the single digits before going down with a hamstring injury. Jon Gruden most recently blamed Joseph and departed safety Obi Melifonwu for the Raiders’ passing on Chargers first-round pick Derwin James, which should tell you how highly he thinks of the West Virginia standout.
Joseph looked like a game-changing playmaker before struggling to find his way in Oakland, and at 25, he still should have time to develop. Any team acquiring him would get to see how he performs over the next few months before deciding whether they want to pick up his fifth-year option. The Falcons have a desperate need at safety after losing Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen to season-ending injuries, and while Joseph is not going to be the plug-and-play solution Earl Thomas would have been, his athleticism would make the former 14th overall pick a high-upside solution in the second half of the season for a flailing Falcons defense.
The Steelers have a problem at inside linebacker. Jon Bostic has been a mess in coverage while taking regular snaps, and while L.J. Fort flashed in the absence of Vince Williams, the Steelers need to add someone with more meaningful NFL experience capable of covering tight ends. They are allowing 83 yards per game to tight ends, the third-highest rate in football.
Robertson isn’t exactly Lavonte David or Luke Kuechly, but he’s a competent inside linebacker who has been buried on the Saints’ depth chart. The former Browns starter didn’t take any defensive snaps over the first three weeks of the season before racking up 31 snaps over the past two weeks in Manti Te’o‘s absence. When Te’o returns, Robertson will likely end up limited to special teams duty.
Of course, Steelers fans might argue that they’re not exactly in a position to be trading away cornerbacks, but you have to give something to get something. The Steelers have to hope that 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns improves, because if he can’t beat out Sensabaugh, Pittsburgh is doomed anyway. Sensabaugh isn’t a starting-caliber NFL cornerback, but for a Saints team that already has benched Ken Crawley and just lost Marshon Lattimore to a concussion in advance of the bye, competent backups capable of playing 20 snaps per game would be a welcome addition.
It might be a surprise to some Bears fans that Cooper remains on the team, given that the 28-year-old hasn’t played much since infamously fumbling away a blocked field goal return on the 1-yard line against the Steelers last season. Cooper was benched shortly thereafter and cut from his four-year, $16 million contract after the season, although he re-signed with the Bears on a one-year, $1.5 million deal in March.
Chicago doesn’t have much use for Cooper barring a rash of injuries at cornerback, and while he has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, he was in on just three defensive snaps before going down. Cooper started 11 games for Kansas City between 2013-15, and the Chiefs are the thinnest contender in football at cornerback.
Let’s finish by trying to solve an unsolvable problem. The Chargers haven’t been able to find a reliable kicker since the days of Nate Kaeding, and even Kaeding was brutally bad during the postseason. Sturgis is Los Angeles’ most recent attempt to solve its kicking woes, but the former Dolphins and Eagles kicker doesn’t have a track record of success and is off to a brutal start, missing three field goals and four extra points on his first 12 attempts in each category.
If anyone can deal with the pressure of kicking in the apparently brutal conditions of Los Angeles, it’s Vinatieri, who has now spent 23 years in the league for the Patriots and Colts. The Chargers have had 13 kickers make a field goal wearing their uniform since Vinatieri entered the league in 1996. They are a playoff-caliber team and don’t have a kicker they can trust. Vinatieri might have one last shot at winning another ring and would get to kick in the best non-dome weather in football.
The Colts probably aren’t going to the postseason, so here’s a chance for them to get Vinatieri into the playoffs. In return, they’ll get a meaningful selection as they rebuild their roster and Sturgis, who will fill in as their kicker for the remainder of the campaign.