Trade winds are blowing.
As the NFL cruises toward the Nov. 2 trade deadline, less than a fortnight away, clubs have one last chance to make a big splash or jump ship on the 2021 season.
Who doesn't love trades?
Much like the buzz around free agency, trade speculation brings a cornucopia of discussion topics for fans and media to digest between actual games. Fans love the prospect of the new, the optimism that comes with adding a critical piece, and what it can mean for the future.
Unfortunately, unlike other major American sports, the NFL trade deadline usually comes and goes with a faint whisper. A slew of reasons leads to inaction for most NFL teams.
The deadline being so early in the season -- before Week 9 of a 17-game season -- means fewer teams are out of the playoff race, leading to less selling (entering Week 7, 26 teams are within at least a game of a postseason spot). The compensatory pick model behooves some teams to let veterans walk in free agency rather than trading them during the season. Many general managers overvalue future picks. The lack of one player making an overwhelming difference in a game with 22 players on the field lessens the desire to make splash trades. And a lack of salary cap space to take on big contracts is a significant impediment -- particularly this year with just 11 teams currently having more than $7 million in space, per Over The Cap.
However, just because in-season trades are infrequent in the NFL doesn't mean clubs won't explore them. Teams have needs all over the field as they scratch and claw to remain in contention. Seemingly every club has a "Reliable Healthy Cornerback(s) Needed" sign hanging in their store windows. Need an offensive lineman? Good luck. So does the team next to you.
Buzz will happen, even if it leads nowhere.
With that, let's take a gander at five teams that should be buyers at the deadline and five that could be sellers.
The club's best defensive performance of the season against a decaying Washington team shouldn't stop K.C. from adding much-needed help to a unit that's been waxed regularly to open the season. The back end has been a mess, and upgrading the corner position feels vital if the Chiefs are to avoid the defense being a playoff-imploding Achilles' heel against better teams. Juan Thornhill played well moving into the starting safety position last week, but it's another area GM Brett Veach could look to upgrade. And pass-rush consistency has been a concern in part due to injuries. Could Veach pry DE Emmanuel Ogbah out of Miami? Like basically every team on this list, the salary cap (Chiefs sit $2.8 million under the cap) could impede upgrading a downtrodden unit. Still, somehow, someway, the Chiefs need to find an upgrade, or they could be sitting at home come the middle of January.
Green Bay is another corner-needy team with Jaire Alexander on IR and Kevin King banged up. For too long, the Packers have let mediocre corner play define their Super Bowl-less seasons. With Aaron Rodgers potentially playing his last season in Green Bay, now is the time to make a splash move to upgrade the secondary in a big way. The Pack were reportedly interested in Stephon Gilmore, indicating GM Brian Gutekunst is leaning toward making a move. Now he needs to find a dancing partner. Wouldn't Xavien Howard look good in green and gold?
Are you sensing the pervasive secondary need yet? I believe the Bucs like the young players on their back end and hope to get several back on the field soon, so perhaps the urgency isn't as high inside the building as it might be outside. But injuries have piled up like paper plates in a cookout garbage bin. The plan to plug the midseason leak with veteran Richard Sherman led to another injury. Even if we assume the Bucs will get players in the secondary back, they can't presume the unit will be healthy the rest of the season. With Tom Brady leading a fireball offense, allowing the secondary issues to fester could be cataclysmic come playoff time against more potent offenses. Adding a corner or even a versatile safety like Marcus Maye, who played under Todd Bowles in New York, would solidify the defense. Given that the 5-1 Bucs plan on selecting at the back end of every round in the draft, they shouldn't be afraid to part with picks if they can make the money work.
The Ravens have shown they're the cream of the AFC crop, winning five straight games, including crushing the contending Chargers in Week 6. Lamar Jackson has been an MVP, carrying the club. But there are holes to fill. Sure, Baltimore got production from 31-year-old Latavius Murray, 29-year-old Le'Veon Bell, and 29-year-old Devonta Freeman on Sunday, but aging legs rarely last into the winter. Will Baltimore keep them fresh enough, with a dash of Ty'Son Williams to roll into January? Wouldn't adding a young runner like Marlon Mack, freeing Ronald Jones from Tampa, or prying Phillip Lindsay out of Houston look better long-term next to Jackson? The offensive line has question marks with Ronnie Stanley landing on IR. And the defense could use corner help. The lack of cap space hurts, but what about finally getting that Lamar contract done right now to lower his cap number this season, giving the team a least a little more breathing room?
Is New Orleans on this list just to rile up Saints Twitter, which has been imploring Sean Payton to add a tight end or receiver for weeks? You bet your sweet King Cake. The Saints, who are coming off their bye week, don't have a single WR or TE who ranks in the top 125 in receptions through Week 6. Marquez Callaway leads the group with 13 catches, and nearly one quarter of his 222 yards on the season came on one poorly defended Hail Mary. Tight end Adam Trautman has been a big disappointment. With Michael Thomas reportedly still a couple of weeks away, the pass-catching group is hemorrhaging. We know Brandin Cooks fits the offense like a glove. Wouldn't free-agent-to-be Mike Gesicki look good in a Saints jersey? Of course, we know Payton's response will likely be to smirk and say, "We like the guys we have in that room," as Saints fans stomp their feet and gnash their teeth like a 6-year-old who's been told they can't have ice cream for dinner.
The Jets couldn't get a long-term deal done with safety Marcus Maye, who's playing on the franchise tag. With Maye playing out the string, the Jets could cut their losses and see if they can get a better offer than waiting an extra year for a possible third-round compensatory draft pick. When healthy, Maye provides play-making ability and versatility on the back end. Sure, the Jets' D would look worse sans Maye, but they weren't winning with him. The safety coming back from injury could help jumpstart the trade market. If the Jets are willing to eat some salary, that could bump up the quality of draft assets they could get in return for a player who doesn't look like he has a future with Gang Green.
The Texans' front office loaded up on one-year veteran deals this offseason. Now it's time to unload them to build a draft stash. Sure, Houston might not get a ton in return, but the alternative is cutting them or letting them leave in free agency for nothing. Houston doesn't need Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson and Mark Ingram, who are all free agents in 2022. Maliek Collins has been solid in the middle. The list should go beyond one-year contracts, too. Brandin Cooks has proven he can still make plays and could fetch a good return. And there is the ever-present Deshaun Watson -- facing 22 civil suits alleging sexual assault -- situation lingering. If the QB doesn't get traded by Nov. 2, the quagmire will wait until the offseason to fully unfold.
Howie Roseman insisted after selling Zach Ertz that he doesn't view his team as sellers ahead of the deadline. Cool. He should (perhaps he does but won't say it publicly). The Eagles are a flawed team that is already three losses behind in the NFC East and 13th out of 16 teams in the conference. Derek Barnett is playing out the final season of his contract and could be a piece an edge-needy team inquires about. With the desperate corner need around the league, would Roseman sit on Avonte Maddox, who is playing very well -- and for peanuts -- if another team comes calling? What if someone inquired about Darius Slay and offered a bundle of picks if Philly ate some of the contract to make a trade work? With potentially three first-round picks next year, the Eagles are building for the 2022 NFL Draft. Adding to that stockpile is the play.
The Dolphins' season is already in flames after a 1-5 start that included losing to the previously winless Jaguars. At this point, management would be smart to recoup some of the draft capital lost shipping their 2022 first-round pick (currently No. 3) to Philly last year (Miami does own the 49ers' 2022 first-rounder, currently No. 13). Or are they so desperate to try to save the season (and perhaps their jobs) that they let a chance fly by? We've seen front offices under pressure make short-term moves that cripple the long-term (see: the Detroit Lions' roster). Xavien Howard still doesn't seem happy and isn't playing well. Likewise for Byron Jones. Emmanuel Ogbah continues to make plays and is an impending free agent, as are Mike Gesicki, Brennan Scarlett, Elandon Roberts, etc. On paper, this shouldn't be a 1-5 team. On the plus side, it means Miami has some assets that other clubs might pay for before the deadline.
Now that Urban Meyer got his first win, the focus should be on the long-term. Stockpiling picks is a priority to infuse much-needed talent into the roster. With offensive linemen always needed around the league, Jacksonville has two highly paid players who are impending free agents: guard Andrew Norwell and tackle Cam Robinson. It's tricky, as Jacksonville doesn't want to put papier-mâché in front of rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But trading one or both linemen who could leave this offseason makes sense for a still-building Jags team.