Which teams should buy and which should sell? Imagining new homes for Jerry Jeudy, J.J. Watt, Kareem Hunt and more.
When it comes to the trade deadline, good general managers are now like the eBay consumer who selects the “buy it now” option instead of waiting for the final moments of the auction. The old adage that deadlines spur action really applies only to contracts in the NFL now (because owners are some combination of stingy, distant and performative). The trade deadline, as it stands, has all but fizzled out.
Robert Quinn (Eagles), James Robinson (Jets), Christian McCaffrey (49ers), Johnathan Hankins (Cowboys) and Robbie Anderson (Cardinals) have already found new homes. If a team really wanted someone, they’ve gone out and acquired them, instead of waiting for an arbitrary time and date (in this case, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday) to tell them when they should.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun (or that you shouldn’t still try a few eBay auctions, because sniping someone with the suggested bid increase at the final second for that Bailey Zappe rookie card is incredibly satisfying). While another blockbuster may shake the league’s very foundation, it’s up to us to come up with the best trades that should have happened. Or still might! Teams can’t believe this, but the advice we offer here is completely and totally free.
In preparation for this exercise, I suggested a Robinson-to-the-Jets trade in our editor-to-writer Slack channel. While my editor, Mitch Goldich, offered a suggestion of Jameis Winston to the Colts the day before Indianapolis benched Matt Ryan for the season. We have time stamps to prove it and everything. I’d take that as an indication that our radar is at least somewhat functional.
But first …
Who should be buying
New York Jets
It all depends on what the Jets want to do here. Their remaining strength of schedule is brutal, and they will need to fortify, as they started to do with the Robinson trade. While it is not easy to play in this offensive line, there are now a lot of teams that have players who can do it. Ultimately, GM Joe Douglas will have to decide whether the unit he has can jell, which would be better than going star-hunting at the position. If he wants to gamble, for example, that the Browns would not pay Jack Conklin next year, it’s worth making a phone call. There is still time before he has to pay his quarterback, and George Fant is a free agent next year. The versatile Justin Pugh is from the Northeast and will be a free agent next year, as will the Panthers’ Cameron Erving, who has played every position under the sun on offense.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are now (probably) looking at the Bills the way the Bills have looked at the Chiefs the last few seasons. What matters now is a pass rush. They know they will be in contention late this season, and they know that Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson or Justin Herbert is going to be standing on his own 20 with 2:35 remaining on the clock needing a touchdown to tie it up. George Karlaftis will end up being a good player in this league. Frank Clark is nearing 30 and is currently serving a two-game suspension. They need help. Chris Jones has the highest pass-rush win rate for an interior lineman in the NFL; now imagine being able to collapse the pocket from all sides.
At this point, the Bills have to be looking at depth in the secondary as a major need. While their defense has played extraordinarily well, and we’ve seen how expertly coached-up their replacement players are, it would be inexcusable to allow the most talented team in the league to lose a game in late January, because they didn’t feel like spending a third- or fourth-round pick at the deadline. They also need to be looking at any versatile offensive weapon on the market, because so is any other team hoping to contend with them for a conference title.
Green Bay Packers
This one is obvious. Their offensive line is broken, their wide receiving corps is, according to Aaron Rodgers, mistake-prone and underperforming. Their power/factor back AJ Dillon can’t break tackles. Take your pick. In the remaining time Rodgers has in the league, every season has to be an all-in proposition. Let’s see whether management feels the same way.
With Tua Tagovailoa healthy, the Dolphins have to decide whether they want to push the gas pedal or settle into a more conservative rhythm with their roster-building strategy. They still have a first-round pick from the 49ers coming this year, despite losing another one due to the Stephen Ross tampering scandal. The Dolphins are inching toward that 10–7 or 9–8 purgatory. It’s safe to say that their coaching staff should have them dreaming a little bigger.
The AFC South is an absolute mess right now, and the Titans have uppercutted their way out of a dismal start to the season. They should now allow themselves the luxury of supplementing the offense. Give Derrick Henry a spell with one of the hundred talented running backs theoretically on the market. Give Ryan Tannehill somewhere to throw the ball. Robert Woods can’t do this by himself.
The Packers are reeling, so it’s time to put a foot on the pedal. Simple as that. The Vikings are a little bit better than their division rivals right at this moment. The Packers are going to wake up at some point, and when they do, the Vikings would like to be so comfortably ahead in the NFC North that it doesn’t matter to them. Luckily, help may not be that hard to find for the league’s 24th-best defense, according to DVOA rankings. Their defense is a Vic Fangio tribute, and so are most in the league right now.
Similar to the Bills, the Eagles have to be looking at the opportunities presented to them, the age of their offensive line and some of their best defensive players, and the contractual window in which Jalen Hurts sits and think: “no excuses.” They are comfortably the best team in the NFC right now and have the juice to make a deep playoff run. While they would obviously like to protect the chemistry that coach Nick Sirianni has in place, they cannot allow another divisional contender to steal a difference-maker.
Who should be selling
New York Jets
Yes, we are listing the Jets in both sections. I think if you’re Douglas, it’s O.K. to have a fluid situation. You can be building for the future and building for now. Coach Robert Saleh has his thumb on the culture there, and if a pair of malcontent wide receivers, Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims, are weighing down the operation, they should let them go. Teams need wide receiver talent across the board, and while he may not be able to recoup the purchase price, he could possibly outdo what he’d receive in the compensatory formula.
New Orleans Saints
Time has run out on this version of the Saints, sadly, as we got into more last week. Their best defensive players are creeping into their mid-30s. They have great component pieces everywhere that could aid other teams in a deep run but no first-round pick next year. They need to at least bolster the mid-rounds of this draft to build a healthy middle class for their next great roster. We know Jeff Ireland is a whiz. Let him work.
The Bears have overperformed significantly to this point. They have overcome the narrative (to some degree) that they’ve completely hamstrung Justin Fields because they are brilliantly scheming games for him and putting him in positions to win. So, it would be a complete backbreaker if the club traded both Robert Quinn (already gone) and Darnell Mooney (still on the block) at this point, especially after an inspiring prime-time win over the Patriots. That said, the Bears have to ask themselves whether they’re prepared to hand Mooney a massive extension following the 2023 season (given the price of the receiver market), just as it was a prudent decision to decide Quinn isn’t worth more than $25 million in his age-33 and age-34 seasons. The Bears need more early- to mid-round picks to beef up this roster, as they’ll be using their high-end picks to replace premium positions of need.
The Panthers have obviously begun their fire sale. Christian McCaffrey is gone. Robbie Anderson is gone. Brian Burns and D.J. Moore could be next. Shaq Thompson has been fantastic and is in the second-to-last year of his contract. Teams should be salivating over a linebacker who can still cover and defend the run, especially as we creep into the deepest part of the season when missed tackles and tiny checkdowns breaking for big gains could alter the course of a season.
The Broncos are going to pin this season on Nathaniel Hackett to spare us the fact that this roster is O.K. and pinned together by a declining quarterback who doesn’t seem to have an interest in running the offense. If GM George Paton is here for the long haul, he’ll want to stockpile some picks for the next draft. Bradley Chubb is in the final year of his rookie deal, the Broncos have some expiring offensive line contracts and Hackett’s system translates to a lot of places around the league, including the tattered Packers from which Hackett came.
Texans’ EVP Jack Easterby is out, which means so, too, will be any fingerprinting he had on the roster or the coaching staff. This is a young, bare-bones roster, and Brandin Cooks, one of their lone veteran talents, doesn’t have much of a tradeable contract, despite the fact that a burner would be extremely valuable to a few contenders right now. Jerry Hughes has been playing well and was in for his fewest number of snaps last week. The 34-year-old end could be a critical piece for a team in need of some veteran defensive line help.
Trades we’d like to see
Jerry Jeudy to the Packers
The Broncos’ wide receiver would not be a replacement for Davante Adams, but would help the Packers build a more typical version of the Kyle Shanahan offense, which requires a burner and a bully. The Packers already have their bully in Allen Lazard (injury notwithstanding); now they need a burner, with most of their wide receivers sidelined by injury. Jeudy is not necessarily your route running technician, but he’s going to blow up defenses when paired with capable quarterback play.
Mac Jones to the Raiders
O.K., let’s get weird. The Raiders are on a year-to-year contract with Derek Carr, and Jones would provide them the flexibility to possibly move Carr if he isn’t jibing with Josh McDaniels’s offense. Remember, Jones looked good playing under McDaniels as a rookie. In return, the Patriots can get some draft capital that may help them take another swing at the position. Bill Belichick is the only person who could get away with something like this, and he’s the only coach who may be motivated to trade away an unhappy player regardless of draft position and status.
Kareem Hunt to the Titans
The Titans could outduel the Rams for Hunt, a versatile backfield threat who had a comfortable hold on the Browns’ passing-down role for a while. He’d be a capable checkdown option for Ryan Tannehill, whose running backs are second and third, respectively, on his target list. Hunt can add another big body to the backfield to help the Titans grind down opponents and bolster the play-action game for Tannehill.
Chase Claypool to the Rams
The Rams missed out on Christian McCaffrey but could find another way to bolster their motion and misdirection game in the backfield. Claypool has a fair amount of experience there with Matt Canada, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator who inspired some of Sean McVay’s best concepts. The Steelers are loaded at the wide receiver position and have to be imagining a scenario where they’re unable to pay everyone at this current wide receiver market rate.
Nyheim Hines to the Rams
Psych, Les Snead isn’t done yet. If Hines’s medical situation improves, the Colts could see a way to get some return for their backfield receiving threat. Hines has twice caught more than 60 balls in a season and, given the Rams’ thirst for Christian McCaffrey, they may be sending out feelers around the league for another back who can handle pass-catching responsibility and add an obvious speed flavor to the offense.
Shaq Thompson to the Chargers
In the age of the off-ball linebacker, the Chargers have struggled. As my podcast cohost Gary Gramling pointed out on this week’s MMQB Podcast, this is where Los Angeles truly needs a difference-maker. Thompson is on the Panthers, a team that is going to be selling at the deadline. He doesn’t miss a ton of tackles, he can blitz and he can cover adequately. This could help the Chargers stabilize their front seven.
J.J. Watt to the Chiefs
The Cardinals are never going to admit they’re out of it, and thus, will probably not be a factor at the deadline. However, they know this roster is developing one hole after another, and the ill-fated trade for Hollywood Brown didn’t come close to masking those tears in the fabric. We said the same thing a year ago before ultimately getting our hearts broken: Watt deserves to run out the clock on his career (however long that is) with a contender. He could mentor Karlaftis and provide an immediate spark.
Stephon Gilmore to the Ravens (or back to the Bills!)
Gilmore, at age 32, is having one of his best seasons in years. The heady cornerback star, once the best in the NFL at his position, is still trustworthy on top wide receiver talent and has experience in myriad defenses. The Ravens, who have one of the worst dropback success rates in the NFL, could see this as a typical move under GM Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh, to add a high-character vet who would pay immediate dividends. The same could be said for the Bills, the team that drafted Gilmore in the first place.
Jerry Hughes to the Bills
How cool would it be if the Bills brought back both Hughes and Gilmore for the stretch run? We’re talking about playing perfect situational football in big moments and also not messing with team chemistry. Hughes can mentor the young pass rushers and provide critical moments of sound football. Gilmore, similarly, could be a dependable asset on the back end and ensure their quality depth stays that way.
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