The Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers shook up the NFL with Thursday night's massive trade of running back Christian McCaffrey. Might we see more deals as we press toward the trade deadline?
Well, unlike many events on the NFL calendar, the trade deadline typically isn't met with a heap of pomp and a breathless string of earth-shattering developments. For a variety of reasons, the NFL's trade deadline is quieter than those of other major American sports. From its early place in the season to the salary cap to the compensatory-pick factor, the football deadline usually involves more sporadic transactions than consistently splashy swaps or salary dumps.
Last year was highlighted by the Von Miller deal, which occurred much closer to the deadline. This time around, the CMC blockbuster has provided early juice. So ... now what?
There are deals to be done, whether big or small. And, as always in the NFL, deadlines spur action.
With the Nov. 1 trade deadline less than two weeks away, let's take a look at teams who should look to sell assets in seasons gone sideways and some who could be buyers as they gear up for a postseason run.
Sell! Sell! Sell! Thursday's Christian McCaffrey trade was the move GM Scott Fitterer almost had to make in order to help the rebuild. The deal adds needed draft picks to the cache and sheds CMC's onerous contract. The question is how far Fitterer The Trader takes the strip-down. Teams will likely call about the availability of DE Brian Burns and WR D.J. Moore, but those inquiring parties will probably be met with significant resistance, barring a godfather offer. Having pieces in place like Burns and Moore is Fitterer's best case for keeping his own job after the firing of head coach Matt Rhule. Jettisoning a malcontent wide receiver (Robbie Anderson) and a running back (even one as dynamic as McCaffrey) is different than gutting the roster of all usable parts. But there are still players, particularly impending free agents, Fitterer should look to trade before the deadline. DT Matt Ioannidis remains a solid player in the middle, but he's set to hit the open market in the offseason. In a league constantly in need of functional offensive linemen, backup tackle Cam Erving, if healthy, could be worth more to a contender seeking O-line aid.
Ryan Poles took over a mess of a roster and remains early in his rebuild. The next phase could include shipping out veterans who aren't in his long-term plans. Robert Quinn is the biggest name to watch after offseason trade rumors. The 32-year-old has only one sack this season, but he showed he still had juice in 2021, posting 18.5 QB takedowns. With no guaranteed money after this season, he could be viewed as a mercenary edge rusher for a playoff contender in need. Likewise, veteran safety Eddie Jackson has no guaranteed money left on his deal beyond this season, and secondary-needy clubs could come calling for the ballhawk. Running back David Montgomery is in the final year of his rookie contract and could be moved with Khalil Herbert waiting in the wings. Then there is Roquan Smith, who is also in the final year of his rookie deal. Poles could view using the franchise tag on Smith or potentially netting a compensatory pick if he lets the star linebacker walk as better options than making a trade. But if the GM isn't willing to go near Smith's contract demands, he could ship the 'backer out if the right offer comes in. Frankly, outside of Justin Fields and a few rookies, there aren't many players on the roster that Poles shouldn't at least listen to offers for in trade talks at this point.
It’s getting late quickly for the Commanders, who find themselves alone in last place of the hottest division in the NFL. Staring up four flights of stairs from the cellar, this flawed club can't just sit idle and hope for the best. Washington is the classic case of a team that probably would be selling off every hubcap if the trade deadline were later in the season. Even as it is, the Commanders should start compiling picks for next year's reboot. Last week, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport, Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero reported that CB William Jackson III wants a fresh start, preferably in a scheme that he views as a better fit for his skill set. Jackson has since denied that he wants out of Washington, but he should be on the block. RB Antonio Gibson has already fallen out of favor and could be a trade candidate. The biggest fish could be DT Daron Payne, who is in the final year of his contract. If the Commanders don't believe they can bring him back, a contender could use an interior wrecker who already has 20 pressures this season, per PFF.
Something has to give. Either the coaching staff should be swept out or the team should start shipping off players who don't fit. Or both. The Broncos' offense is a mess. Melvin Gordon just got benched in favor of 32-year-old nomad Latavius Murray in a close loss. Sure, Nathaniel Hackett announced Gordon as the starter again this week, but his status with the team is clearly up in the air. He should be firmly on the block if the Broncos think they could find someone willing to pay a pittance for a 29-year-old running back with a fumbling issue. Former fourth-round pick Albert Okwuegbunam was a healthy scratch Monday night and seemingly has no role now that rookie TE Greg Dulcich is back from injury. The defense has been superb but has several pending free agents, ranging from OLB Bradley Chubb to S Kareem Jackson to LB Alex Singleton. Chubb could be looking at a franchise tag, but if GM George Paton was willing to trade Von Miller last season, no one should be considered untouchable in Denver.
The rebuilding Texans could use all the draft ammo they can get for the coming years. GM Nick Caserio can add to his stockpile of 2023 draft picks by shedding a few veterans who won't be around for the long term. Edge rusher Jerry Hughes, in his age-34 season, has shown he can still disrupt and is playing on a cheap contract, making him an ideal candidate for a team needing pass-rush help. Ditto for linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill. The Texans are approaching the stage where analyzing younger players will be necessary to their rebuild, making trades ideal routes to clear a path.
When you're all in, you're all in. The Bills are already Super Bowl contenders, but adding a chip or two couldn't hurt. Improving depth, particularly to an injury-riddled secondary, makes sense. Adding to the tight end position behind Dawson Knox should be considered, too. With the Super Bowl window wide open, there is no reason for GM Brandon Beane to shy away from making a move to solidify his squad before a postseason run.
The Green Bay offense has limped through the early part of the season with few bursts of optimism. The plan to go with youth at receiver hasn't worked out thus far. Romeo Doubs has had a few flashes, but Christian Watson has dealt with injury and struggled to make an impact. With Sammy Watkins still working back from injury and Randall Cobb out for at least a couple of weeks, the Packers need help. Could Green Bay pry someone like Chase Claypool away from Pittsburgh? The offensive line has also struggled, partially due to injuries, and could use reinforcements. Green Bay hasn't looked like a Super Bowl contender this season. With 38-year-old Aaron Rodgers under center, the window could close fast if GM Brian Gutekunst doesn't make a move.
The Colts have squeaked out a couple of wins to avoid crisis mode, but they're a flawed team. The O-line is a mess (notice a theme yet?). Alec Pierce's play has calmed some of the calls for additional receiver help alongside Michael Pittman Jr., but it remains a shallow position group one injury away from hitting the reef. The defense has struggled through injuries, sorely missing LB Shaquille Leonard in the middle. And Kwity Paye's ankle injury could increase the need for edge-rush help if he's on the shelf longer than a couple of weeks. GM Chris Ballard has resisted splash moves in the past, but owner Jim Irsay will only be patient for so long. Despite the struggles to open the season, Indy still has a good shot to win the division. Help is needed to make this team a serious contender, though.
The recent restructuring of Travis Kelce's contract spurred questions about whether K.C. is positioning itself to make a move. The Chiefs needed salary cap room to operate the rest of the way, but that won't slow the speculation that Kansas City could add a playmaker to its roster. Rumors swirl around free-agent WR Odell Beckham Jr. GM Brett Veach isn't shy about making a move to upgrade his roster ahead of the deadline, as he did last year by acquiring Melvin Ingram from Pittsburgh.
The Rams are looking to trade running back Cam Akers, but that doesn't make them true sellers. GM Les Snead's "F them picks" strategy got them a Super Bowl ring, so a move can never be ruled out, even if Los Angeles doesn't have a ton of ammo. The offensive line is the biggest impediment at this stage. Riddled with injury and ineffective play, the Rams can't run Sean McVay's offense properly with this type of blocking. Unfortunately for L.A., finding an O-line upgrade in the trade market is like searching for a screaming infant's pacifier at 3 a.m. in a pitch-black room.
Even with Philadelphia sitting as the NFL's only unbeaten team, never count out GM Howie Roseman from making a splash play that could put his team over the top. The Eagles don't have a glaring hole at this stage, but that likely wouldn't stop Roseman. And he has an extra first-rounder in the 2023 draft (via the Saints) to play with if something enticing materializes. With Derek Barnett's early-season injury, Philly could look for edge help -- à la a Robert Quinn type. After watching Les Snead go all in last season and come away with a Super Bowl after adding Von Miller at the deadline, it'd be surprising to see Roseman sit on his hands. The 49ers' trade for Christian McCaffrey threatens the Eagles' NFC supremacy. Feels like a counter move is in order.