The Patriots shocked the football world last year when they sent All-Pro linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns for a third-round pick, an exciting move before an NFL trade deadline that’s typically anticlimactic. After all, the last real blockbuster deal before that move was the Herschel Walker trade in 1989, when the Cowboys sent him (and four picks) to the Vikings for five players and eight draft picks.
Still, we dare to dream: Maybe, in a season where so many teams are still in legitimate playoff contention, we’ll see a little more action. Perhaps clubs that know they need to make a move to stay competitive—or pull away from the pack—will be more likely to pull the trigger and bring in some help. Or … maybe that parity means everyone will stand pat. Either way, while these trades may not be likely to happen before Tuesday’s deadline, they sure would be fun to see.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals → Saints
The Cardinals looked capable of overcoming the loss of star running back David Johnson to contend in the NFC West, especially after they traded for Adrian Peterson, but Carson Palmer’s broken arm—which is expected to sideline him for eight weeks—looks like an insurmountable setback. Arizona just isn’t built to withstand the loss of the linchpin to its aggressive downfield passing attack: The offensive line has been bad, Peterson was totally ineffective last week in his second game with the team, and the defense, which heads into Week 8 giving up 27.3 points per game (second worst), isn’t good enough to drag the team to the playoffs. If this really is Fitzgerald’s swan song season, it sure would be great—even for Cardinals fans—to see the future Hall of Famer catch passes from Drew Brees, not Drew Stanton. It’d be nice to see him have a shot at a Super Bowl ring, too.
It’s too early to say the Saints are true Super Bowl contenders, of course, but they have had the look of a real dark horse in the NFC during their current four-game win streak. The defense is balling out under Cameron Jordan and rookie Marshon Lattimore, Brees is still Brees, and the offense has found real balance with a relatively run-heavy approach behind versatile backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Fitzgerald would be a great addition as a big, physical intermediate threat out of the slot, where the team has lacked steady production so far (Willie Snead served a three-game suspension to start the season and has been hampered by a hamstring injury since, catching just one pass in his debut in Week 6, and Brandon Coleman’s been solid but unspectacular). New Orleans would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make Fitzgerald’s $11 million salary fit (they have just $2 million in cap space right now), but he’s the type of impact player that could make an already efficient offense, which ranks third in DVOA, the league’s deadliest.
OLB Aaron Lynch, 49ers → Patriots
Losing do-it-all defender Dont’a Hightower to a torn pectoral is a huge blow to an already-struggling Patriots defense, so it would make sense for New England to make a move for an off-ball linebacker before the deadline. But Hightower’s a major piece of the team’s pass rush too—his ability to line up on the edge and get after opposing quarterbacks is what makes him a unique and important part of that unit—so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bill Belichick and Co. look to add a pass rusher instead.
That’s what makes Lynch an intriguing option for the Patriots, a team that’s struggled to get after the quarterback and ranks 28th in pressure rate (28.0 percent, per Football Outsiders) through seven weeks. The former fifth-rounder has fallen down the depth chart in his contract year in San Francisco, losing playing time to Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and Elvis Dumervil, but he remains a physically gifted pass rusher. Lynch racked up 12.5 sacks in his first two years, but a breakout season in 2016 never came; he was suspended for the first four games, missed five to an ankle injury, and finished with just 1.5 sacks in seven outings. He looked primed for a comeback in the preseason, and still has the talent to do it—but the Niners have leaned on their pair of former first-rounders in Armstead and Thomas instead.
Adding Lynch to a pass-rush group that already includes Trey Flowers (3.5 sacks, 29 total pressures) and Deatrich Wise (three sacks, 22 pressures) isn’t going to erase the loss of Hightower, but as another impact player that could consistently force opposing passers off their spot and into rushed throws, he could help hide some issues the team is having defending the pass.
LT Duane Brown, Texans → Eagles
After holding out the first seven weeks of the year, Brown has rejoined his team, but nothing’s changed: The veteran left tackle still wants a new deal, and the Texans apparently don’t want to give him one anytime soon. It may make sense for both parties for the team to trade the 10th-year pro.
A perfect trade partner just emerged, too. With Jason Peters done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, the Eagles could be motivated to acquire a top-tier left tackle to protect quarterback Carson Wentz. The falloff from an All-Pro player like Peters to backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai is massive, and the impact on the team’s offense could be major, too: Wentz struggled down the stretch as a rookie last season after Philadelphia lost right tackle Lane Johnson to a suspension, and while he’s developed into a much more complete passer since then, the loss of an anchor on the line has the potential to slow down an offense that’s currently firing on all cylinders. Having a pocket like this helps, as it turns out:
I'd call this solid pass protection. pic.twitter.com/CQAStrHIMA— Robert Mays (@robertmays) October 24, 2017
Philly’s cap is tight—with just $7 million in cap space, what’s left of Brown’s $9.4 million salary would push them close to the limit. But with Peters’s future in doubt, bringing in a plug-and-play veteran left tackle could keep the 6-1 Eagles on course toward a long postseason run.
LT Cordy Glenn, Bills → Seahawks
The Bills have great depth at the tackle position (including rookie Dion Dawkins, Jordan Mills, Seantrel Henderson, and Conor McDermott), so while Glenn did just sign a five-year, $60 million deal with the Bills before last season, the new regime may be willing to move that contract, clear cap space, and bank draft capital instead. Glenn would represent a huge upgrade at the position for the Seahawks, who can’t be happy with how Rees Odhiambo has performed so far (he’s allowed two sacks and 31 total pressures in six starts, second worst among tackles in the NFL).
In 69 snaps this year, Glenn has given up just one sack and three pressures, per Pro Football Focus—and on 365 pass-block snaps last season, the veteran surrendered just 17 total pressures (hits, sacks, hurries), third fewest among tackles that played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps. The Seahawks would have to move some money around to fit him under their salary cap (they have just $2.2 million in cap space, and Glenn makes $9 million in base salary this year), but Seattle needs to do a better job of protecting Russell Wilson if it’s going to have a shot at another Super Bowl.
WR Jarvis Landry, Dolphins → Steelers
Force-feeding Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell the ball has worked out alright for the Steelers so far, with that duo combining to account for 64 percent of Pittsburgh’s offensive yards. But going forward, the team may need to spread the ball around a little bit more to confuse and stress opposing defenses. It sure doesn’t look like an unhappily benched Martavis Bryant is going to be the guy to do that. Rookie pass catcher JuJu Smith-Schuster’s shown some promise, but a proven veteran playmaker like Landry, capable of running routes out of the slot or getting downfield on the outside, could be just the piece Pittsburgh’s offense needs to hit its stride.
Landry’s in his contract year, and if the Dolphins aren’t planning to dole out a big new deal this offseason to their top pass catcher, they could still get some major draft capital in return. There’s no better time for the Steelers to make this trade, either: Ben Roethlisberger’s not getting any younger, and Pittsburgh has what looks like a championship-caliber defense. This team looks poised to make a real run at a Super Bowl, and adding a physical run-after-the-catch creator like Landry could take some of the pressure off of Brown and Bell to carry the passing attack—and make the Steelers a nightmare to defend.
WR Martavis Bryant, Steelers → Bears
If the Steelers trade for a receiver like Landry, they could recoup some of the cost by turning around and dealing away Bryant. The explosive downfield threat wants out of Pittsburgh and has seemingly worn out his welcome there too (he’s practicing with the scout team this week). Even if he gets himself back onto the field, it’s unlikely that the team will extend the mercurial pass catcher when his contract’s up at the end of next season.
Ringer colleague Danny Heifetz already laid out the best landing spots for Bryant, but my personal favorite is Chicago. The Bears are looking for a big-play, dynamic threat at the receiver position, and they need to give Mitchell Trubisky some more talent to work with on the outside. They already went out and got former Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman, but why stop there? Bryant could be just the infusion of speed the team needs—capable of taking a quick slant and running it to the house and helping stretch opposing defenses thin by keeping them honest downfield.
CB Jeremy Lane, Seahawks → Chiefs
Lane has nursed a groin injury the past few weeks, and it appears that rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin and third-year pro Justin Coleman have combined to “Wally Pipp” the veteran corner in the Seahawks’ defensive back rotation. It’s not that Lane had been playing particularly poorly prior to this injury, though; it’s just that Griffin and Coleman have been lights out in relief. And after Lane took to Twitter this week to voice his displeasure with his benching, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Seattle move the disgruntled 27-year-old backup.
The Chiefs, despite their strong start, have quietly struggled on defense, particularly across from Marcus Peters at the other two cornerback spots. Terrance Mitchell hasn’t played well, to say the least, nor has nickelback Phillip Gaines; Lane can play on the outside or in the slot and could give Kansas City an infusion of coverage skills it badly needs. The Seahawks defensive back is due what’s left of his $4 million salary, so the cap-strapped Chiefs would have to do a little finagling to put him on their books, but it could be an under-the-radar move to improve a struggling defense.
RB Carlos Hyde, 49ers → Redskins
Hyde’s been on a roller coaster in San Francisco the past few months: The fourth-year back was in the dog house most of the offseason, got out of it to start the year and was named the starter, was briefly benched in Week 5 in favor of rookie Matt Breida, and has now regained the top spot in the Niners’ running back rotation. Similarly, there have been conflicting reports as to his future with the team: Some note that the 49ers are trying to trade Hyde, while others are saying they’re looking to sign him to a long-term deal. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess, but for this exercise, let’s just assume the rebuilding 49ers would be willing to part with their starter in exchange for some valuable draft capital to build toward the future.
The Redskins would make a logical trade partner: Neither Rob Kelley nor rookie Samaje Perine has done much with their opportunities to run the ball this season, and, while Chris Thompson’s been a revelation as an explosive pass-catching satellite back, he’s not a between-the-tackles workhorse. That’s where Hyde comes in: The former Buckeye ranks sixth in the NFL in elusive rating, per Pro Football Focus, with 24 missed tackles forced on 127 touches, and 10th in the league in yards after contact per rush (2.64). He’d give Washington the type of creator out of the backfield on first and second down that it needs in order to achieve more balance and take pressure off of Kirk Cousins to carry the offense by himself.