When it comes to NFL trade deadlines, the reality of what transpires often fails to match the breathless speculation of what could be. It's not unlike a Super Bowl that fails to live up to the hype. We crave the drama, the suspense, the big moment that leaves our mouths agape, but too often the moment ends with a period instead of an exclamation point.
It is against that backdrop I approach this year's deadline, which is next Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. ET. Rather than succumb to the reality that we probably won't see any jaw-dropping deals, let's play the "what if?" game with the league's most important position: quarterback. More specifically, let's focus on quarterbacks on rookie deals ... drafted high in the first round ... whose circumstances could make them intriguing trade bait.
The names that come immediately to mind are the New York Jets' Sam Darnold and Washington Football Team's Dwayne Haskins -- for different reasons. The winless Jets are expected to go through a full rebuild in the offseason, while 2-5 Washington has left little doubt that it does not consider Haskins the answer to its problems.
History tells us that neither will be moved by the deadline, as none of the 30 quarterbacks taken in the first round from 2010 to '19 was traded or released in the middle of a season while still on his rookie contract. (Seven were traded or waived at the end of a season.) But in the words of football philosopher Bruce Arians: No risk it, no biscuit. So perhaps the front offices with the Jets and Washington will decide to play the market sooner than later. Doing so will require courage, conviction, luck and supportive ownership. Just ask Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.
In 2018, Keim traded away third- and fifth-round picks to move up five spots to draft QB Josh Rosen 10th overall. One year later, the Cardinals GM dealt the former UCLA star to Miami on the second day of the draft, having used the No. 1 overall pick on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. Although initially viewed as bold, that decision's a no-brainer in hindsight, with Murray establishing himself as one of the league's bright young stars in only his second season and Rosen now on the practice squad in Tampa Bay, his third team in three years.
Keim made that trade in the offseason, which obviously is different from making it in-season, but many of the thought processes are the same when deciding to admit there might be something better, even when you've made a significant investment -- financially and otherwise -- in a young quarterback.
"It's a tremendous amount of pressure," Keim said this week by phone, "and if you're wrong, I mean, it potentially -- or most likely -- ends your career, because you're taking a huge risk. In some respects organizationally, you think it's a step back. OK, now we have to develop another young guy. What about financial commitment you've already had? What about the draft pick you used? It's all those things."
One of the things that made it easier for Keim to pull the trigger was that he got to see Rosen play for a year. The known outweighed the unknown. The guesswork had been eliminated, to some degree.
"The bottom line is you've got to trust your instincts and evaluation," Keim said. "If you're sitting there and you're watching tape, and you think you've got potentially Clyde Drexler in your locker room, but you're watching Michael Jordan on tape, you've got to take Michael Jordan. You don't take a player who you think is a little bit of an upgrade or potentially an upgrade. If you think a guy is a generational talent, and you're picking No. 1, you've got to be able to look in the mirror. You've got to know that you owe it to your organization to do what's right for everybody -- the organization, the community, the coach -- and not just you personally for your career. Otherwise, ultimately, you're going to end up watching Michael Jordan play somewhere else and you're always going to regret it."
Which brings me to the Jets. Darnold has demonstrated the ability to be a good player, injuries notwithstanding. He has made the best of a bad situation, trying to make chicken salad out of ... something less desirable. The reality is, the 0-7 Jets are a Dumpster fire with no extinguisher in sight. As the league's only winless team, New York has been outscored 203-85 -- a -118 point differential that's 51 points worse than any other team (Dallas is next at -67). This makes Gang Green the current front-runner for the first pick in the 2021 draft.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, a generational talent in some eyes, will be available if he foregoes his senior season.
"My mindset has been that I'm going to move on," Lawrence told reporters Tuesday. "But who knows? There's a lot of things that could happen."
With the Jets hurtling toward an extreme makeover in the offseason, would it be smart for them to reset the clock and start over with a young franchise quarterback in the first year of a team-friendly contract rather than stay with a talented young signal-caller who could be in line for a sizable raise after the 2021 season? Put another way: Is it wiser to go with what could be a much better player while saving money and adding draft capital? Second-year general manager Joe Douglas was not with the team when Darnold was drafted, so saving face is not an issue.
The expectation is that the Jets will wait until the offseason to make any dramatic moves, because then they will know their actual draft position and can act from a position of certainty. But if an offer crosses Douglas' desk in the next week that's too good to pass up, well, who knows?
The circumstances are far different for Washington. It is not in the driver's seat for the first pick despite having already suffered a five-game losing streak this season. In fact, seven teams have fewer victories -- and the fact that the Football Team plays in the NFC East, where no one has more than two wins, means it could be in the hunt for the division title. (Hard to believe I just typed that.) But unlike with the Jets, Washington clearly does not believe Haskins is a talented player. New head coach Ron Rivera benched the second-year pro and 15th pick of the 2019 draft after just four starts this season, the last of which saw him throw for 314 yards and rush for a touchdown in a loss to Baltimore.
Haskins was not drafted by the current management. Rivera has no allegiances to him beyond the fact that he's currently on the roster. So if any quarterback taken in the first round were to be traded midseason while playing on a rookie contract, this would appear to be it. Except a dance partner is needed, and Washington has done a pretty good job of poisoning the waters with its handling of Haskins. Multiple general managers have told me they can't envision anyone giving up draft picks for the former Ohio State star at this point of the year.
Still, all it takes is one team to see potential in Haskins. Were that to happen, we might actually have something interesting to talk about at the trade deadline.