The NFL trade deadline has become a slog, with plenty of lead-up intrigue but a lack of substance in the final hours. The 2021 season's deadline is Nov. 2, but teams aren't waiting for the action to come to them.
The Carolina Panthers have already dealt for All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and former top-10 pick corner CJ Henderson in recent weeks. Last year's deadline was a dud amid COVID-19 complications, with only five moves of any significance and none involving star power, but the 2019 season saw cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Marcus Peters, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety Quandre Diggs all switch teams a few weeks before the cutoff date.
Sure, teams are more open to trading precious draft capital than perhaps ever before and working the phones nearly year-round. But cash-flow issues loom large. Seventeen of 32 NFL teams entered Week 5's games with less than $5 million in cap space. That's why Carolina, with $18.7 million in space as of last week, was a sensible destination for Gilmore and his $5.8 million remaining salary. Teams are also stashing talented players on practice squads, which could further temper the trade market. And while Russell Wilson's injury means the Seattle Seahawks need a backup quarterback for Geno Smith, the team can also simply promote Jake Luton, a former sixth-round pick with Jacksonville making $9,200 a week on the Seahawks' practice squad.
What keeps the trades churning regardless: Players will forever be upset over playing time, and teams will always look for excuses to save money. So with three weeks to go until the deadline, let's take a closer look at how things might play out, players to keep an eye on and situations to watch across the league.