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The NFL‘s trade market tends to be underutilized. Teams that do take advantage of trades—much like the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots did this past offseason—often benefit.
The Rams rebuilt their secondary by acquiring Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos and Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs. Brandin Cooks, their second-leading receiver, came via a trade from the Patriots.
Meanwhile, New England is always active in the trade market. Left tackle Trent Brown proved to be the team’s biggest acquisition last offseason, both literally and figuratively.
Five factors tend to spur player movement:
- A disgruntled or high-priced veteran is forced out.
- A coaching staff or front office surmises a change is necessary to jump-start success.
- Quality depth allows an organization to pursue other avenues.
- A disappointing, potential-laden player needs a fresh start.
- A team isn’t willing to make a long-term investment in a quality player.
The 2019 league year figures to feature similar movement, starting with the quarterback carousel’s potential to reshape the NFL landscape.
The following scenarios are built around players who have already been named as potential trade targets or those who have worn out their welcome.
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Frank Victores/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals need a fresh start, and parting ways with head coach Marvin Lewis is only the first step. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2015, and their roster needs a facelift, starting at quarterback.
But before the Bengals can move Andy Dalton, they must acquire a viable alternative.
The first piece fell into place when the Bengals hired Zac Taylor, who spent this past season as the Rams’ quarterbacks coach, to replace Lewis. Sean Mannion backed up Jared Goff, and the 26-year-old signal-caller is a pending free agent. His familiarity with Taylor’s system makes him an ideal short-term bridge.
Once Dalton becomes available, the Washington Redskins are the most logical destination.
Dalton’s best season came under Jay Gruden, who is now Washington’s head coach. The 31-year-old set career highs with 4,293 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns during Gruden’s final season as the Bengals offensive coordinator.
Washington must pinch the purse strings to make a deal happen, but the organization may not have a better option.
Alex Smith’s career is in jeopardy after a devastating knee injury. Even if he eventually returns, he isn’t expected to play in 2019, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
To stay competitive in the NFC East, Washington can’t eschew a stopgap at quarterback. With $20.6 million in salary-cap space, the team can carry both Smith’s current contract and still have enough room to add Dalton.
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When an NFL owner publicly addresses a problem regarding a player, it’s often past the point of no return.
“There’s not much we can do right now; we have time to make a decision,” team president Art Rooney II told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Gerry Dulac in reference to star wide receiver Antonio Brown. “We’ll look at all the options. We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.”
Rooney added it’s “hard to envision” Brown being with the team at the start of training camp.
Tensions boiled over when Brown refused to practice before the team’s Week 17 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, per Dulac and Ed Bouchette. Head coach Mike Tomlin then benched Brown despite the game’s playoff implications.
However, Brown’s contract makes a potential trade difficult. He has a cap hit of nearly $22.2 million in 2019, but he’d gobble up $21.1 million of dead cap if the Steelers dealt him.
“That has to be taken into consideration, but, as I sit here today, I’m not going to say that’s going to box us into anything,” Rooney said. “If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”
The San Francisco 49ers are an ideal trade partner for Brown. They have more than enough salary-cap space to take on the rest of his contract and lack a true X-receiver. Most importantly, Brown apparently wants to play in the Bay Area.
“He wants to come here really bad,” 49ers legend Jerry Rice said during a mid-January interview on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco (via USA Today‘s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz).
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Eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson hasn’t worked with a competent bookend since Antonio Cromartie left after the 2014 campaign. As a result, the organization should be open to making a minimal investment in a failed first-round pick with the potential to develop into something more.
The Pittsburgh Steelers used a 2016 first-round pick to acquire cornerback Artie Burns. But less than halfway through his third season, head coach Mike Tomlin benched him.
“Young guys in the National Football League go through periods of lulls in play, particularly in the secondary, particularly at the cornerback position,” Tomlin said in late October, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Joe Rutter. “You see it time and time again. Often their careers are defined by how they respond to it, how they smile in the face of the adversity, how they remain unwavered, how they continue to work through the misery.”
In other words, the Steelers coach described a wake-up call. High draft picks can develop a sense of entitlement that isn’t shaken until they’re jettisoned.
Pittsburgh isn’t happy with Burns’ lack of development, while the secondary is the Steelers’ weakest link. The Cardinals, meanwhile, need to find someone—anyone—with the potential to thrive opposite Peterson.
Burns is a lottery ticket. He shouldn’t serve as the solution to the Cardinals’ porous secondary, but a change of venue could be what he needs to realize his potential.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
When the Los Angeles Rams signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth as a free agent in March 2017, it sent a ripple effect throughout the offense. A reliable blindside presence not only improves the entire offensive line, but it helps a quarterback to establish a certain comfort level.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson dreams of a day when he’s not running for his life.
Watson endured an NFL-high 62 sacks and didn’t come away unscathed. The second-year signal-caller suffered a broken rib and a partially collapsed lung, but he played through both.
Julie’n Davenport didn’t hold up during his first year as a full-time starter. Edge-rushers overmatched the second-year blocker, which suggests Houston needs another blindside option.
After starting all 16 games for nine straight seasons, Oakland Raiders left tackle Donald Penn suffered a foot injury to end his 2017 campaign prematurely. The Raiders then selected his replacement, Kolton Miller, with the 15th overall pick this past April.
In 2018, Penn moved to right tackle and started four games before he suffered a season-ending groin injury. The Raiders now have two young tackles in Miller and Brandon Parker, while Penn turns 36 years old in April.
The 14-year veteran originally planned to retire when his current contract expires after 2019, but if he continues to play, his $7.6 million cap hit will be prohibitive for Oakland. The Texans should swing a deal to acquire a steadying presence for a year as the organization continues to reinforce its trenches.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden values veteran experience and leadership. Instead of trying to get younger and building a roster through inexpensive contracts to create long-term financial flexibility, Gruden and Co. are willing to take a George Allen-esque approach to team-building.
The key is being able to differentiate between veterans who still have something left to contribute rather than those just hanging on for another year or two.
According to ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine, there’s a “real chance” that six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy won’t return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season.
“We have a lot of tough decisions to make,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said when asked about McCoy. “A lot of people have a lot of tough decisions to make.”
The new coaching staff has no ties to McCoy, and a scheme change is coming under coordinator Todd Bowles. The 30-year-old has a $13 million cap hit in 2019, but the Buccaneers can waive him without incurring any dead-cap charge.
McCoy had six sacks, six tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits in 2018, so he can still make an impact. The Raiders, who ranked last leaguewide in sacks, desperately need to bolster their pass rush and have plenty of salary-cap space to afford McCoy’s current contract.
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Ryan Tannehill’s time with the Miami Dolphins is reportedly nearing its inevitable end. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the team’s front office and ownership are in agreement they’ll be “moving on” from the 30-year-old this offseason.
Tannehill has a $26.6 million cap hit in 2019, which makes a trade seem unlikely. Miami may instead release him to save $13.2 million against the cap.
Escaping from burdensome contracts while getting younger is Rebuilding 101. But new head coach Brian Flores will have a giant hole at quarterback once the Dolphins part ways with Tannehill.
The organization reportedly isn’t interested in pursuing Nick Foles or signing Miami native Teddy Bridgewater, according to Salguero. Owner Stephen Ross is seemingly smitten with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who won’t be available until the 2020 draft.
The QB-needy Dolphins aren’t in an ideal position to land a top prospect this year anyway. Miami owns the 13th overall pick, behind the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals (among others). There’s no reason to settle for the third- or fourth-best prospect when a viable alternative exists.
Jacoby Brissett spent his first season with the New England Patriots before they traded him to the Indianapolis Colts. Brissett already has a working knowledge of the scheme Flores and presumptive offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea will employ.
The Colts aren’t eager to move on from Brissett, but he wants to start and Indianapolis runs the risk of losing him for nothing after 2019. For Miami, the 26-year-old signal-caller from West Palm Beach is an ideal bridge candidate.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Jalen Ramsey may talk his way out of Jacksonville.
Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone prefer an old-school approach, which doesn’t mesh well with the mercurial superstar. In mid-November, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Ramsey is “slowly but surely forcing the Jaguars into considering a blockbuster trade this offseason,” although the Jags denied it at the time.
“The Jaguars have zero intention of trading CB Jalen Ramsey,” the team said in a statement. “There is no truth to this rumor.”
If the Jaguars do begin shopping Ramsey, they’ll demand an exorbitant haul. The 24-year-old cornerback is already a two-time Pro Bowler, so any interested suitor would likely have to emulate the Chicago Bears’ strategy with Khalil Mack and offer a pair of first-round picks.
Ramsey also expects to sign a massive contract extension in due time, so any team interested in trading for him must have financial flexibility.
“Like I said, I’m going to let my agent and the front office handle that, but after what came out here, what was it, five weeks ago or however many weeks ago it was, yeah, I’m feeling like, yeah, if y’all serious about that [a potential trade] not being real, then y’all need to make it happen,” Ramsey said, per ESPN.com’s Michael DiRocco. “If not, then maybe what came out five weeks ago will happen. We’ll see.”
Finally, the right locker room will allow Ramsey to be himself and flourish.
The Seattle Seahawks fit all of these requirements.
General manager John Schneider has previously been willing to flip a first-round pick for a potential difference-maker (Jimmy Graham). The Seahawks currently have eighth-most projected salary-cap space at $52.9 million. And the same staff once nurtured the Legion of Boom secondary, specifically Richard Sherman.
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Mark Black/Associated Press
The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions for the sixth time under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They accomplished that feat despite lacking a true outside threat after Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension.
Gordon wasn’t the only receiver the Patriots acquired on the cheap. They also added Phillip Dorsett a year earlier when they sent backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts.
Neither had the effect the Patriots hoped to achieve. Even so, the organization should continue down the same path by targeting another underachieving albeit gifted option.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is only 23 years old, but he hasn’t blossomed in a passing attack featuring Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The 2016 first-round pick served as the team’s third receiver when he set career highs in 2018 with 35 receptions for 302 yards and one touchdown.
Treadwell’s growth potential is stunted behind two 1,000-yard options. At the end of the season, he became a healthy scratch.
“It was a business decision,” Treadwell said of his Week 16 deactivation, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson. “They felt that was best for the team, and we got the win, and that’s all that matters. (The coaches) definitely stressed it was a weekly thing, a one-game thing, and told me to continue to prepare like I was going to play and I just go from there.”
Coaches don’t bench valuable contributors. As Treadwell enters the final year of his rookie contract, he needs to look toward other possibilities with ready-made opportunities.
The Patriots could use a bigger target like Treadwell (6’2″, 215 pounds) to pair with Julian Edelman.
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The Philadelphia Eagles decided Nick Foles isn’t going to walk in free agency.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the organization plans to place the franchise tag on Foles to recoup at least a third-round pick. A quarterback operating under the 2019 franchise designation is expected to make $25.1 million, per Joel Corry of CBSSports.com.
Only one organization has enough financial flexibility, the need at quarterback and the desire to win now to trade for the Super Bowl LII MVP.
Ever since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 campaign, the Denver Broncos still haven’t found a suitable replacement. Instead of taking a risk on another first-round quarterback with this year’s 10th overall pick, the Broncos could acquire Foles at a discount and use their first-rounder on another area of need.
The 30-year-old Foles is currently in the midst of his prime. His strong late-season performance in 2018 proved his magical Super Bowl run wasn’t a fluke.
“Even prior to that [Super Bowl] run, I’ve always had confidence in Nick,” Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks said, per NJ.com’s Mike Kaye. “It’s funny, people forget what Nick did his first time [with the Eagles] … He’s proved that he can be a good quarterback in this league. He did it again last year, so there’s nothing but confidence in him.”
He’ll now need to do it elsewhere.
San Francisco 49ers backup Nick Mullens may be a better schematic fit for the Broncos, but his potential seems limited. Foles is a much easier sell.
As a result, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello will have to adjust his scheme to suit Foles’ strengths.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Last year, Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey took two different approaches to supplement a roster that finished 0-16 in 2017.
First, Dorsey exploited inefficiencies in the trade market by acquiring wide receiver Jarvis Landry, safety Damarious Randall and quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
He also made minimal investments in former first-round busts with plenty of physical ability. Left tackle Greg Robinson and wide receiver Breshad Perriman became integral parts of the team’s offense over the second half of the season.
Dorsey can marry those two concepts over the coming months.
The Browns aren’t expected to be big spenders in free agency despite having the league’s third-most salary-cap space, as they’ll need to begin extension negotiations for multiple young contributors (Randall, Joe Schobert, Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Garrett, David Njoku and Jabrill Peppers) over the next two offseasons. Instead, Dorsey can trade for a disappointing-but-talented player to fill a team need.
The Carolina Panthers haven’t fully developed Vernon Butler after selecting him with a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, and Cleveland has a gaping hole at 3-technique. The 24-year-old defensive tackle is stuck behind Dontari Poe and Kawann Short as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
Butler played well in a rotational role under former Panthers and current Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. He’d get an opportunity to start in Cleveland, while Carolina could recoup a draft asset.