The NFL trade deadline used to be a waste of time. Not anymore. While there were no actual trades on deadline day a year ago, we saw 11 significant trades in the two weeks leading up to it. The big acquisitions seemed like cornerback Jalen Ramsey (Rams) and wide receivers Mohamed Sanu (Patriots) and Emmanuel Sanders (49ers), but the most impactful deals were actually for cornerbacks Quandre Diggs (Seahawks) and Marcus Peters (Ravens).
The Rams dumped Peters to the Ravens to clear out a spot in the lineup for Ramsey, but Peters produced two pick-sixes in 10 games with Baltimore and became a first-team All-Pro. A lot can change in the NFL if you end up in the right place.
Let's run through the players who might become available in the three weeks between now and the Nov. 3 NFL trade deadline and propose a few deals. Some might pop up only if their team craters or if another team gets desperate. Others are guys who might be more available than you think because they don't have much of a future with the franchise.
I'll begin with one of those players, a Super Bowl hero who might not have much time left in the City of Brotherly Love:
Eagles trade Zach Ertz to Cardinals
Let's start by resolving a difficult situation in Philadelphia. The Eagles and their star tight end appear to be heading toward a messy breakup. Ertz has publicly suggested the team doesn't seem interested in signing him to an extension. With the top of the tight end market finally moving after George Kittle and Travis Kelce signed extensions over the summer, Ertz might rightfully look at his $6.7 million base salary in 2020 and expect more. Ertz, who will turn 30 in November, has $8.3 million coming due in 2021, which is the final year of his deal.
General manager Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia front office have a well-earned reputation for creative cap management, but 2021 looks tough. The Eagles are currently $68.4 million over their projected cap number for 2021, and while they can create cap room by renegotiating with players such as Carson Wentz and Fletcher Cox, they're going to have to make some tough decisions. Cutting Alshon Jeffery, Marquise Goodwin and DeSean Jackson would free up $17.4 million, and moving on from Ertz next year would free up an additional $4.2 million.
That $68.4 million mark doesn't include replacing any of Philadelphia's free agents or re-signing Dallas Goedert, who will be entering the final year of his rookie deal. The Eagles likely see the 25-year-old Goedert as their future at the position and prefer to avoid a lame-duck season with their veteran tight end. They did the same thing with safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said last year he wouldn't come back for the 2020 season on his current deal. The team then declined Jenkins' option, even though the move saved the Eagles only about $4.7 million in cap space.
On top of all that, Ertz just hasn't been productive this season. Even with Goedert injured over the past couple of weeks, Ertz has 20 catches for 145 yards, including three games with 18 yards or fewer. He had averaged at least 7.5 yards per target across each of his first six seasons, but after that mark fell to 6.8 yards per target last season, he is down to just 4.1 in 2020. I would argue that he sees plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but he isn't producing like a guy who is about to get a significant contract extension. If the Eagles expect to move on from Ertz after the season -- and Goedert is going to be ready to play in a couple of weeks -- it might be logical to make a move at the deadline.
From Arizona's side, the Cardinals have been surprisingly inefficient on offense, ranking 20th in offensive DVOA through five weeks. Kyler Murray has struggled with turnovers, but Arizona simply doesn't have much at tight end with Dan Arnold and Darrell Daniels. Murray hasn't had a reliable target over the middle of the field; take out screen passes and his 79.7 passer rating on throws between the numbers ranks 27th in the league. The Cardinals don't have much cap room -- and they might want to add a pass-rusher after losing Chandler Jones to a biceps injury for the year -- but Ertz would give Murray a safety blanket over the middle and see more one-on-one coverage with DeAndre Hopkins out wide.
So, let's try to make this work. The Cardinals would be taking a shot on Ertz over the next year before deciding whether they want to give him a contract extension, either after 2020 or 2021. He is expensive, and the Cards already have a lot invested at receiver, but they should be able to make the finances work while Murray remains a bargain. The sixth-rounder the Eagles are sending in 2022 could turn into a fifth-rounder if Ertz isn't on the Arizona roster in 2021.
The Eagles wouldn't be in line for a compensatory pick if they cut Ertz, so instead, they get a third-round pick in the 2022 draft. They also get Reddick, a former first-round pick who hasn't panned out and is only playing half of the defensive snaps because the Cardinals don't trust 2020 top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons. The Eagles are desperate for athletes at linebacker and might want to see if they can get more out of Reddick than the Cardinals have. Ertz is a beloved member of a Super Bowl-winning team, and trading him in the middle of a divisional race could backfire, but I'm not sure he is going to be in Philly much longer either way.
Broncos trade Justin Simmons to Cowboys
Two years ago, a struggling Cowboys team turned around its season by sending a first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper. The move was widely panned, but Dallas was right: The Cowboys were a much better team with Cooper on the field, they won the NFC East and they turned around what had been a struggling Dak Prescott.
Now, it's a flailing defense that needs to be fixed. The Cowboys haven't been interested in safety Earl Thomas, but what they need is someone who can be stout against the run and solid in coverage. Trading for Simmons would be a bold move, especially given that they just lost Prescott for the season, but Dallas has enough to win the NFC East with Andy Dalton behind center if it can get the secondary right. Team owner Jerry Jones and the front office also have shown an interest in trading for young stars they can sign to extensions, and Simmons would presumably be open to a significant extension on the sort of long-term deal the Cowboys favor.
Broncos fans would likely want to hold out for a Jamal Adams-sized package in return for their star safety, but that's just not realistic. Adams was two years away from free agency, while Simmons is already on his first franchise tag. The Broncos weren't able to come to terms on a contract extension before the season with the Boston College product, and with Simmons set to make $13.7 million on a second franchise tag against a $175 million cap next year, things aren't going to get any easier.
If Denver loses its next two games and falls out of the playoff race at 1-5, it will have to face facts. There's no sense in having Simmons play the second half of a lost season before letting him leave in free agency. Locking in a second-round pick gets the Broncos a better pick than a third-round compensatory selection, has that pick arrive a year early and allows general manager John Elway to spend in free agency without negating that would-be compensatory pick.
Jets trade Sam Darnold to Colts
The ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) thinks there's a 50% chance the Jets will be 0-8 on the morning of Nov. 3. FPI also thinks the Jets already have a 42% chance of finishing with the first overall pick in 2021 after their 0-5 start; three more losses would surely push their prospects of winning the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes well past the 50% mark. If the Jets have the top pick, as much as we can talk about how Darnold hasn't been given a fair shake in New York, there's little chance of the Jets picking up his fifth-year option and turning down their shot at Lawrence.
I'm not sure a Darnold trade is likely, but there's a logical suitor if it does happen. The Colts were the team that originally made it possible for the Jets to draft Darnold when they sent New York the third overall pick for the sixth selection and three second-round selections. Back then, Indy thought it was set at quarterback with Andrew Luck. Things have changed.
There are a few reasons to think a Darnold addition might be appealing for the Colts. Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are both free agents after the season, leaving Jacob Eason as the only quarterback on the active roster under contract. Rivers has mostly been solid during his debut season with the Colts, posting a Total QBR of 59.4, but he also arguably cost them the game against the Browns on Sunday with two interceptions. Indianapolis has lost receivers to injury -- and drops have let down Rivers -- but there's no guarantee Rivers makes it through the season as the starter.
Trading for Darnold would give the Colts another option behind Rivers in 2020 and a young starter in 2021. They would have to decide whether they would want to pick up Darnold's option for 2022, which would be fully guaranteed this spring. My guess is that they would need to get creative, possibly by offering Darnold a contract that would give him a raise in 2021 while also providing them an out before 2022 if he fails to impress.
From Darnold's perspective, this would be a great landing spot. The Colts have an excellent offensive line, a stable offensive coaching staff and a solid-if-unspectacular group of receivers. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has looked impressive so far, and Darnold likely wouldn't have to carry quite as much of the load as he has in New York. If young wideouts Parris Campbell or Michael Pittman Jr. emerge as a difference-maker, Darnold would be happy with his new surroundings.
Jets fans expecting to get a first-round pick for their struggling quarterback have to be realistic. Darnold hasn't put together a solid stretch of football for more than three weeks at a time. His worst games have been disasters. He has struggled to stay healthy, and his decision-making doesn't look much better now than it did when he entered the league. The Jets might not pick up his option regardless of whether they're in line to take Lawrence in the draft. No, it hasn't been fair, but what has happened over the past three years is a sunk cost. They don't know whether Darnold is their guy, and they're in too desperate of a position to wait and see.
Trading Darnold could be a win-win. The Jets would add a second-round selection and earn a conditional pick if, say, Darnold makes the Pro Bowl in 2021. In trading Darnold and turning the reins over to Joe Flacco and fourth-rounder James Morgan this season, they would be better positioned to follow through on that possible 0-8 start and come away with the first overall pick. The Colts could land on their quarterback of the future; and if Rivers struggles, they might even find their quarterback of the present.
Falcons, Ravens and Seahawks complete a three-way trade
Seattle Seahawks get: C Alex Mack, DE Takkarist McKinley (from Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons get: C B.J. Finney, 2021 sixth-round pick (from Seahawks), 2021 seventh-round pick (from Ravens)
Baltimore Ravens get: TE Jacob Hollister
Always good to mix a three-team trade into the picture. The 0-5 Falcons are out of the playoff picture, and while they're not going to rebuild, I don't think either Mack or McKinley figure into their future. Mack is 34 and in the final year of a five-year, $45 million deal, while McKinley is in the last year of his rookie deal after having his fifth-year option declined. The cap-strapped Falcons will likely be moving on from both Mack and McKinley after the season, giving them some motivation to make a move now.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, are candidates for the top spot in the NFC after starting 5-0. Ethan Pocic has impressed at center after an inconsistent start to his career, but Mack would give the Seahawks a top-tier pivot as they try to win a Super Bowl. Pocic would move back into a utility lineman role, and the Seahawks would move on from Finney, who didn't impress in camp after signing as a free agent and hasn't played an offensive snap so far this season. Finney would be a low-cost option for the Falcons at center in 2020.
Seattle badly needs bodies along the defensive line; McKinley has struggled with a groin injury this season, but he racked up a sack and six knockdowns of Russell Wilson during the opening-week loss to these very Seahawks. We're not likely to see a star edge rusher come available at the trade deadline, so the Seahawks will probably look to add multiple players up front and try to win with depth.
For the Seahawks, moving on from Hollister is more about cap space than anything else, given that the 2019 contributor has played just 48 offensive snaps this season and has a cap hold of $3.3 million. The Ravens have disappointed a bit on offense this season, and while trading away Hayden Hurst probably wasn't the difference between what we've seen in 2020 and what we saw in 2019, they are down to two tight ends in Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. Hollister would fill the Hurst role from a year ago and give Baltimore some insurance if Andrews gets banged up in an expanded role. Baltimore would need to free up some short-term cap space to get the deal done.
Washington trades Dwayne Haskins to Steelers
It's fair to say that Haskins is on the outs in Washington, given that Ron Rivera just benched the 2019 first-round pick for Kyle Allen. It's too early to give up on the former Ohio State star, but Haskins wasn't great in his first 349 pass attempts, and Rivera wasn't yet in town when owner Daniel Snyder pushed for his franchise to draft Haskins last year. The Washington Football Team is likely going to be in position to draft its quarterback of the future next offseason, which would leave Haskins in a vulnerable position.
Haskins realistically needs time to go develop behind an established quarterback, which is why the Steelers could make sense. Ben Roethlisberger looks solid in his age-38 season, but he is close to the end of his career. Mason Rudolph showed little filling in for Roethlisberger last season, and he is about to enter the final year of his rookie deal. Layne, a third-rounder in 2019, is at the bottom of a deep cornerback room in Pittsburgh and hasn't played a single defensive snap as a pro. Layne and a fourth-round pick might not seem like much value for a 2019 first-rounder, but Washington hasn't done much to make Haskins look valuable.
Bengals trade Billy Price to Chiefs
The Chiefs are thin on the interior of their offensive line. They lost Laurent Duvernay-Tardif before the season when the doctor opted out to work with coronavirus patients. It seemed like the Chiefs had found a bargain when they signed former Ravens star Kelechi Osemele to replace Duvernay-Tardif, but Osemele tore tendons in both of his knees on Sunday, and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Former Panthers and Giants tackle Mike Remmers, who was the team's swing tackle, will kick inside to play guard.
Kansas City should look to add at least one offensive lineman to supplement its depth. In 2017, it targeted a disappointing former first-rounder by sending a fifth-round pick to the Browns for Cameron Erving, who spent two years with the team. The Chiefs could make a similar move in going after Price, who has taken only 68 snaps across five games for the Bengals despite the inconsistent play of their starters in front of Joe Burrow. Price, the No. 21 overall pick in the 2018 draft, has just under $3.2 million in guaranteed money left on his deal over the next two years, so if the Chiefs can turn the former Ohio State standout into a viable utility lineman, they'll come out ahead on this deal.
Bengals trade John Ross to Patriots
Another first-rounder from the prior regime gone wrong, Ross had injury issues in college at Washington, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy as a pro. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 draft has flashed as a deep threat, but after dropping two passes in the opener, he was a healthy scratch before missing Week 5 with an illness. The Bengals have already declined his fifth-year option and will likely move on from the 25-year-old after the season.
The Patriots, on the other hand, could use some downfield speed to punish opposing teams that want to sneak a safety into the box and defend against Cam Newton. Damiere Byrd fills that role now, but Ross has more upside and would come with little risk. The Pats would owe Ross a prorated base salary of just under $2 million over the rest of the season, and if he does enough to earn a contract elsewhere, New England would be able to net a compensatory pick for losing him in free agency.
Texans trade Kenny Stills to Packers
I pitched the idea of Stills joining the Packers over the summer, given that the Texans were locked in with Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller as their top three wideouts. Stills was in line to play if the Texans lost one of those guys to injuries, but with a base salary of nearly $7 million, he represented an expensive insurance policy. He has played only 36% of the offensive snaps this season, and with Bill O'Brien gone and 1-4 Houston out of the playoff picture, the franchise should be trying to find ways to save cash and cap space to roll over to next year's team.
The Packers, meanwhile, are 4-0 and looking like a Super Bowl contender. Aaron Rodgers has done just fine without Davante Adams for most of the season, but they also have lost Devin Funchess to an opt-out and Allen Lazard to core surgery. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has struggled with drops, and with Rodgers looking like his old self as a downfield passer, getting him another weapon wouldn't hurt. Stills would cost a little under $5 million in prorated base salary, which is why general manager Brian Gutekunst would send only a sixth-round selection.
Jaguars trade Dede Westbrook to Saints
Let's get one more wideout deal on the books. Drew Brees has mixed frustrating stretches of play with runs where he looks like the Drew Brees of old. It seems clear, though, that he isn't throwing downfield frequently; the touchdown pass he threw to a wide-open Jared Cook on Monday night was just his second completion of the year traveling in the air at least 25 yards. The Saints want to move the ball with short, efficient completions, but they also have the seventh-worst passer rating in the league on throws to receivers working out of the slot this season.
One way to fix their slot performance is to get the best receiver in football back, and Michael Thomas appears set to return after missing time with a high ankle sprain and a de facto suspension. Thomas can move all around the formation, though, and the Saints might want to add another player to an offense that targeted Marquez Callaway and Bennie Fowler 12 times on Monday.
Westbrook is in the final year of his rookie deal and has been a healthy scratch four times in five weeks for the Jags. Laviska Shenault is Jacksonville's future in the slot, so Westbrook should be available for next to nothing. He might be a better fourth or fifth wideout for the Saints than what they have now.
Jets trade Bradley McDougald to Eagles
Whatever the Eagles had planned at safety isn't working. Jalen Mills converted to the position over the offseason after they moved on from Malcolm Jenkins, but the team has moved him back to cornerback as a result of injuries. The Eagles have tried rookie K'Von Wallace and special-teamer Marcus Epps in expanded roles -- and Will Parks will get a shot as the former Broncos safety returns from injured reserve -- but they badly need a starting-caliber safety. McDougald is in the final year of his deal, and he would only cost the Eagles a little under $3 million; you have to figure that the former Seahawks starter would love to get out of a dead-end situation in New York.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas was a member of the Philadelphia organization as recently as the 2019 draft, when the Eagles used a second-round pick on Arcega-Whiteside. Despite the Eagles crying out for receiving help in 2019 and 2020 as a result of injuries, Arcega-Whiteside has been wildly disappointing. While the Stanford product had a 37-yard catch against the Steelers on Sunday, he has just 11 receptions across 20 career games. The 23-year-old blamed nagging injuries for his subpar rookie season, but it's becoming clear the Eagles don't have much faith in him. The Jets are desperate for weapons, and taking a flier on a player Douglas scouted closely might allow them to buy low on a big target.
Browns trade David Njoku to 49ers
The Browns desperately need help at safety, so much so that Cleveland fans have literally started a petition for the team to move on from Andrew Sendejo. The problem is that there aren't many safeties available on the trade market, and the Browns don't match up well with most of the teams who might have one available, including the Buccaneers with Mike Edwards.
Moore was a promising free safety prospect coming out of Southern Miss, but the 2018 third-rounder hasn't been able to crack the 49ers' lineup and has played only 7% of the defensive snaps in 2020. The Browns would be in line to give Moore a shot. In return, the 49ers would get Njoku, who is about to hit free agency and would step into the Jordan Reed role as San Francisco's second tight end. This is a relatively minor move, but both sides might benefit from looking at the other team's disappointing draftee.
49ers trade Dante Pettis to Washington for Ryan Kerrigan
Speaking of the Niners, they badly need short-term help on the edge, with Nick Bosa and Dee Ford both on injured reserve. Most teams aren't willing to trade away effective veteran edge rushers, but Washington is rebuilding and has one in Kerrigan, who has a little over $8 million in salary left in the final year of his deal. The 49ers would have to clear out some cap space to make this trade work, which they could do by extending Richard Sherman or Kyle Juszczyk or via restructuring Jimmy Garoppolo's deal.
In return, Washington could buy low on a weapon for their various quarterbacks by going after Pettis, who has barely been seen since a promising 2018 season. He played 29% of the offensive snaps last season, and despite the 49ers being hit by a rash of injuries, the former second-round pick is at just 19% this season. Pettis is reportedly dealing with a knee injury, but he has two years left on his rookie deal and could emerge as a slot option over the next year and a half.
Rams and Giants swap kickers
The Rams look like their old selves on offense and are one questionable pass interference penalty away from starting 5-0. Their biggest concern, strangely, is probably at kicker. Sloman has missed two field goals and two extra points so far, with a 53-yard miss in Buffalo costing the Rams dearly in their 35-32 defeat. The Rams used a seventh-round pick on Sloman, so they probably don't want to cut their new kicker after five games, but this is a team with Super Bowl aspirations. They can't go into the postseason with a kicker they don't trust.
Sloman's Rams have been the second-worst team in the league on scoring kick attempts. The Giants have been the NFL's second-best team on those same plays, in part because their kicker has been off to a hot start. Gano is 13-of-14, including four makes in five tries of 50 yards or more. The former Panthers kicker missed all of 2019 with a broken leg, but he is only three years removed from a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2017. The Giants are 0-5 and should be trying to amass draft capital; they can get a sixth-rounder here if they're willing to take a shot on Sloman.