Trades in the NFL don’t always come when you expect. Last year, I wrote a column pitching 13 trades. The first deal on that list was a swap between the Eagles and Cardinals, with veteran tight end Zach Ertz making his way to Arizona. It might have taken a year, but Ertz eventually made his way to the Cards last week.
I’d love to take credit for being a genius, but being off by a full year means I don’t get any. On top of that, in my deal, the Cardinals were sending Haason Reddick to the Eagles. At the time, Reddick was a disappointing former first-round pick who had spent most of his time playing linebacker. Right around the time I wrote that column, the Cardinals lost Chandler Jones and moved Reddick to edge rusher, where he launched an entirely new career. He has 17 sacks in his last 17 games with the Cardinals and Panthers (where he signed in free agency). If the Eagles had seen that coming, they would have happily rushed Ertz out the door in 2020.
I’m going to propose 10 more deals that make sense for both sides. The goal is to be realistic, so while there’s at least one trade with a big name attached, most see players on the back of competitive rosters moving around or starters on bad teams changing hands for draft picks. I’d set the over/under on any of them happening at 0.5, but I hope they contextualize what the league’s top teams might try to do before the trade deadline strikes on November 2.
Browns add O-line help, Cowboys boost depth
Browns get: OT Ty Nsekhe
Cowboys get: LB Mack Wilson
After enjoying one of the healthiest offensive lines in football a year ago, the Browns have to be nervously eyeing their trainer’s room each week. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and right tackle Jack Conklin both missed Sunday’s ugly loss against the Cardinals with injuries. Swing tackle Chris Hubbard would have been first in line to replace Wills or Conklin, but he just underwent triceps surgery and is expected to be done for the season. The Browns aren’t going to get anyone as good as Wills or Conklin on the open market, but adding a veteran tackle is something they would likely love to do if the right opportunity arises.
At 35, Nsekhe certainly qualifies as a veteran. Crucially, he has experience playing under Browns offensive line wizard Bill Callahan during their shared time in Washington. The Cowboys signed Nsekhe after their line went to pieces last season, but he hadn’t played an offensive snap all season before Sunday’s win over the Patriots. If Tyron Smith’s neck injury isn’t serious, Nsekhe could be expendable.
Dallas would get back linebacker depth in Wilson, whose role in the defense has declined throughout the season. The 2019 fifth-rounder would be an indirect replacement for Jaylon Smith, who was released earlier this month.
Ravens trade for an offensive tackle
Ravens get: OT Morgan Moses, 2023 sixth-round pick
Jets get: 2022 fourth-round pick
The Ravens are 5-1, but things haven’t gone as planned up front. At tackle, they were planning on welcoming back superstar Ronnie Stanley from an serious left ankle injury on the left side, then imported Alejandro Villanueva from the Steelers to play on the right side. That lasted one game. Stanley hasn’t played since Week 1, and the team announced Tuesday that he will undergo season-ending surgery. Villanueva wasn’t playing well on the right side, but he has looked much better since moving to Stanley’s former spot, where he played in Pittsburgh.
Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta probably needs to add a tackle in the weeks to come. If the Ravens want to move Villanueva back to the right side, they could pursue Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown. It would likely be easier to keep Villanueva on the left side, which would mean targeting a right tackle. Moses, signed to a one-year deal by the Jets, is a capable right tackle with a track record of staying healthy. The Ravens might value availability more than ability at this point.
Buccaneers pick up crucial secondary help
Buccaneers get: CB Terrance Mitchell
Texans get: 2022 fifth-round pick
Most competitive teams don’t need wide receivers right now, but just about every team needs cornerbacks, and there aren’t going to be many starters available. The Texans, as always, are the exception. Mitchell has bounced around the league a bit, but he has allowed an 82.2 passer rating in coverage and forced three fumbles in five games so far this season. Mitchell also forced three fumbles a year ago with the Browns. He might not have the Peanut Punch, but teams are going to want to add a player who can create a takeaway in a tight game.
The Buccaneers would settle for just about any ambulatory cornerback at this point. Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are both on injured reserve, and free-agent addition Richard Sherman left last Thursday’s win over the Eagles with a hamstring injury. Mitchell is versatile enough to line up either inside or outside. While he’s not going to be the top corner on a Super Bowl team throughout the postseason, he could be Tampa’s best corner for a few weeks until their stars return.
Rams, Chiefs swap defenders
Rams get: CB DeAndre Baker
Chiefs get: LB Travin Howard
Going to the Chiefs for defensive help might be barking up the wrong tree, but this is a low-level swap of guys on the back of the roster. The Rams need help at cornerback after Darious Williams went on injured reserve. Baker’s NFL career has been a disaster, with the 2019 first-round pick producing an awful rookie season with the Giants before robbery charges led New York to release him. The Chiefs signed Baker after those charges were dropped, but after playing 98 defensive snaps between Week 3 and 4, he has taken one snap since. He’d be a flier for the Rams at a position of need.
The Chiefs have lots of cornerbacks they prefer to Baker, but one of the many other things they could use is a linebacker. Their linebackers have been shredded in coverage this season, and Anthony Hitchens hyperextended his elbow in Sunday’s win over Washington. Howard, a converted safety, was in line to compete for linebacker snaps in 2020 before tearing his meniscus. He has only played 10 defensive snaps this season, all of which came in garbage time last week against the Giants. Chances are that this deal wouldn’t change either team’s season dramatically, but these are two young players who could see more playing time with a change of scenery.
Chiefs acquire a former first-rounder to boost their pass rush
Chiefs get: EDGE Charles Harris
Lions get: 2022 sixth-round pick, 2023 sixth-round pick
You’ve heard about teams taking the best available player during the NFL draft. The Chiefs need to add the best available player on defense. Steve Spagnuolo’s unit looked better during Sunday’s win over Washington, but even in their best performance of the season, a coverage bust led to this long touchdown:
Nobody carries the vertical route. The Chiefs defense makes every offense they play look like the 2018 Chiefs. pic.twitter.com/pwzoTcAtB4
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 17, 2021
The secondary has been a problem, but Kansas City could also use another edge rusher to supplement Frank Clark and Chris Jones. Harris has bounced around the league since disappointing as a first-round pick with the Dolphins in 2017, but he has picked up sacks in four consecutive games as a regular for the 0-6 Lions. He isn’t going to singlehandedly turn around the Chiefs, but he could at least be part of a functional edge-rushing rotation. He’ll also cost the Chiefs less than $1 million over the remainder of the season.
Chargers upgrade at kicker
Chargers get: K Younghoe Koo
Falcons get: OT Trey Pipkins, 2022 fifth-round pick
In 2017, the Chargers started the season with Koo as their kicker. He lasted four games before being released, with the then-rookie missing three of his first six attempts. Koo didn’t make it back into a starting role before 2019, but he has since gone 67-of-72 on field goals and 58-of-62 on extra points for the Falcons. A free agent after this season, Atlanta might not be able to justify paying him like he’s one of the best kickers in football given their cap issues.
The biggest problem for the Chargers right now might be at kicker, where Tristan Vizcaino has missed five extra points in six games. Coach Brandon Staley might want to go for it all the time on fourth down, but can the Chargers really feel good about trying to make a deep playoff run with a kicker they don’t trust? They can afford to re-sign Koo, so a deal could make sense for both sides. Pipkins, who wasn’t able to win a starting job over the past two years, would be an option for the Falcons as they consider 2019 first-rounder Kaleb McGary’s future at right tackle.
Cardinals deal for a former Heisman Trophy candidate
Cardinals get: S Jabrill Peppers
Giants get: 2022 sixth-round pick
As the only undefeated team left, the Cardinals will be looking to supplement their roster with a piece or two at the deadline. We know both general manager Steve Keim and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph love adding great athletes on defense and relying on them to fly around the football field, independent of position. Peppers has seen his role reduced for the Giants this season, and he’s probably best used as a hybrid linebacker/safety. The former Michigan star is in the final year of his deal, so he’s probably not in their long-term plans.
Peppers could also figure into Arizona’s plans as a return man. The Cardinals have used Rondale Moore as their primary return man, and while the rookie second-round pick is a threat to make a house call whenever he touches the football, he had a significant track record of injuries in college at Purdue. The Cards have only used Moore on 42.9% of their offensive snaps so far. Giving Peppers some of the return duties might make them more comfortable with giving Moore a larger offensive role.
Jaguars, Patriots exchange former first-rounders
Jaguars get: WR N’Keal Harry, 2022 fourth-round pick, 2023 sixth-round pick
Patriots get: OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, 2023 fifth-round pick
Let’s swap two disappointing first-round picks to places in which they might be able to thrive. Harry never seemed to settle in during his time in New England, and after failing to impress with Cam Newton in 2020, free-agent signings pushed him out of the rotation. The No. 32 overall pick in the 2019 draft only has two catches this season, but his 6-foot-4 frame could be valuable for a Jaguars team that doesn’t have a physical wideout with DJ Chark out for the season.
Chaisson was drafted by the now-deposed Dave Caldwell regime in Jacksonville, and while he entered the league as an exciting prospect and possible Anthony Barr clone, he has done little with the Jags. The No. 20 overall pick in the 2020 draft played about half of the defensive snaps last season, and despite moving into Year 2 for a defense that isn’t exactly filled with superstars, he has gotten similar playing time. Bill Belichick has a track record of trading for struggling high draft picks on defense and getting the most out of them; Chaisson would be the next in line.
Bills get a tight end to help ASAP
Bills get: TE Jacob Hollister
Jaguars get: 2022 seventh-round pick
With Dawson Knox sidelined by a hand injury, the Bills need a short-term tight end solution. Hollister signed with the Bills in March but didn’t make the 53-man roster. He caught on with the Jaguars, but his role in the lineup disappeared after Jacksonville traded for Dan Arnold. The former Seahawks tight end played just eight snaps in the win over the Dolphins in London.
Knox’s breakout season (21 catches, five TDs) means the Bills just need someone to hold down the fort until he returns, and Hollister already knows the Buffalo playbook.
Titans go all-in on an elite corner
Titans get: CB Xavien Howard, 2022 second-round pick
Dolphins get: 2022 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick
I didn’t see an obvious landing spot in terms of need, fit and salary-cap space for Howard until the Titans lost Caleb Farley to a torn ACL on Monday night. The Titans are built to win now around a bunch of veterans in their primes, but they don’t have anything close to a championship-caliber secondary. It took a goal-line stand on fourth-and-inches for Tennessee to beat the Bills, who marched up and down the field for most of the game. With a clear path to the top of the AFC South, a tiebreaking win over the Bills, the Chiefs in flux and a major hole atop their secondary, this is a spot for the Titans to go all-in.
For the Dolphins, meanwhile, it’s a chance to correct what has been a disastrous start to 2021. At 1-5, they are all but out of the playoff picture, with the ESPN Football Power Index giving them a 2.4% chance of turning things around. Miami erred by not addressing its offensive line this offseason, and quietly, its pass defense has been a disaster. It ranks 29th in scoring defense and points allowed per possession. It is 31st in QBR allowed. As bad as the offense has been, the pass defense has been worse.
Howard hasn’t been the problem for the Dolphins, but he also hasn’t been the Defensive Player of the Year candidate he was a year ago. Opposing quarterbacks posted minus-34.5 expected points added (EPA) throwing in his direction on 88 targets in 2020. This season, though, he has allowed 15.9 EPA on 31 targets. He has been the closest defender in coverage on four touchdowns and only has one interception after picking off a league-high 10 passes a year ago.
Understandably, Howard wanted to negotiate a new contract with the Dolphins after that 2020 season. And, also understandably, the team saw that Howard had four years left on his existing deal and didn’t think that was a realistic time to do anything. The Dolphins made some small changes to Howard’s deal and agreed to negotiate something new after 2021, when Howard will have three seasons left on his existing pact. That might not be a precedent they want to set, either. The organization might also see trading Howard as a wakeup call to a locker room that has seemingly taken a step backward from what looked to be a very promising 2020, and Miami might want to see what it has in 2020 first-rounder Noah Igbinoghene, who played his first defensive snaps of the season in Week 6.
With all that in mind, there’s a little bit in this trade for everyone. The Titans get a plug-and-play star at cornerback who aligns with their championship window in what might be their clearest path toward a conference title. They’re already down their second-round pick from the Julio Jones trade, so they send their first-rounder in 2022 and then swap second-rounders with the Dolphins between 2022 and 2023. There might not be a huge gap between Tennessee’s first-rounder and Miami’s second-rounder in 2022, but even moving up 10 spots into the 20s of that draft and getting a 2023 second-round pick can be a pretty meaningful return for Miami.
Howard becomes part of the defensive core alongside Bud Dupree, Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry III and Kevin Byard for years to come. This would be a dramatic move for the Titans to make — and they would have to create some short- and long-term cap space for Howard — but this is the right time to go for it. The star corner moves to a Super Bowl contender and gets his new deal after the season.
The Dolphins shake up everything after their disastrous start. They get another first-round pick to work with in April’s draft, restoring their extra selection in the opening round after they shipped their pick to Philadelphia. General manager Chris Grier can use those two first-rounders to draft offensive line help, trade for quality linemen or (if so inclined) make a move up for a new quarterback. You wouldn’t blame Miami for wanting to hit the reset button on the 2022 season. This is as close as it will get to do so.