As the NFL's trading deadline -- Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m. ET -- approaches, we explore four explosive, albeit unlikely, possible deals.
Proposed trade No. 1:
Before you scroll down to the comments section and leave the obligatory nasty note, consider that we asked a current NFL general manager if this incendiary, social media-exploding potential deal was plausible.
"Absolutely," he said. "It actually makes too much sense. The players in the Patriots' locker room know that their days are numbered. That's just the way it is in New England."
Tom Brady, the unlikely sixth-round draft choice who delivered three Super Bowl victories in a span of four years, knows this better than anyone. It happened to Drew Bledsoe, a franchise quarterback who lost his job to Brady early in the 2001 season, watched him win a Super Bowl and then was shuffled off to Buffalo ... for a first-round draft choice.
"If you play for the Patriots -- and, honestly, it doesn't matter if you're Tom Brady -- you're there as long as you're useful," Bledsoe said this past January in a television feature about the Patriot Way. "Tom will have his time, too. And he knows that."
That time, in our admittedly feverish minds, is now. Sure, the Patriots are probably on their way to an 11th division title in 12 years -- something that hasn't happened since the AFL-NFL merger -- but they haven't won a Super Bowl in nearly a decade. Three years ago, the Patriots spent a third-round pick on quarterback Ryan Mallett. He was not the Brady heir they imagined and wound up in Houston. There is a feeling within the New England organization that Jimmy Garoppolo, this year's second-round draft choice, might be that guy. He broke some of Tony Romo's most cherished records at Eastern Illinois, and, with Brady in what is widely perceived as decline, this transition could work.
The biggest factor in this trade is the Patriots' institutional arrogance, i.e., the belief head coach Bill Belichick has in his ability to do what's best for the team. Belichick's signature personnel moves feature the departure of a startling series of aging but still serviceable players: Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Damien Woody, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Wes Welker and, just prior to this season, Logan Mankins.
His Houston counterpart, head coach Bill O'Brien, is a huge Brady fan, having served as his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator and witnessed Brady's past two Super Bowl appearances from the Patriots' sideline. Ryan Fitzpatrick was O'Brien's choice to run Houston's offense, but wouldn't the Texans much rather have Brady in the huddle, showing the kind of emotion they already have on the other side of the ball with J.J. Watt? The Texans, who won two games a year ago, feel like they're getting closer to serious contention. Jadeveon Clowney, this year's No. 1 overall pick, looks ready to come back and contribute. Brady, even if he's sometimes missing targets he used to hit, would be a big addition.
There's precedent, too. Even the great Joe Montana, whom Brady idolized while growing up in the Bay Area, was sent packing by the 49ers, along with a safety and a third-round pick, for Kansas City's first-rounder. The Patriots, of course, would rather have DeAndre Hopkins, a 22-year-old version of Johnson, but they'll likely be content with the receiver who is 11 years his senior. New England would hope Johnson can contribute like another 30-something pickup back in 2007: Randy Moss.
Here are the salary mechanics of the deal: To trade Brady before June 1, the Patriots would carry $18 million in dead money in 2015, the money left on his signing bonus. Cutting Peyton Manning cost the Colts $10.6 million against the cap two years ago, so there is a precedent for a large number when the salary is replaced by a rookie contract. Brady's contract is interesting. His salaries for 2015-17 (a total of $24 million) become fully guaranteed if he's on the roster for the last game of the 2014 season. Hmm.
After an embarrassing Week 4 loss to the Chiefs, there were rumors Brady was at odds with the coaching staff's offensive philosophy. Welcome to Houston, Tom.
"I see the logic, but based on the last few games, I think it's too early to get on the Jimmy Garoppolo bandwagon," former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "I think Brady can still play."
Which is precisely why O'Brien and the Texans have to scoop him up. Brady knows their system, and he gives them instant credibility. The Patriots get a desperately needed wide receiver and a valuable first-round pick in return.
Last year, before he played the Broncos, Brady was asked in an ESPN interview how he was coping with the loss of Welker.
"I'm used to it at this point," Brady said. "It's just the way it is. You have to be mentally tough enough to put those things aside and still perform at a high level. Because if you don't, there's going to be someone else here ready to take your job."