Just a few years ago, the NFL trade deadline was, well, dead. In the week leading up to the 2012 deadline, just one player changed teams, according to Spotrac. (I’m sure you remember the Lions trading a fifth-round pick to Jacksonville for receiver Mike Thomas.) In 2013, there was once again a single player dealt in the week leading up to the deadline (the legendary Eagles deal sending Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots to move up 28 spots in the fifth round). In 2014, there was not one, not two, but three trades in the week leading up to the draft, headlined by the Bucs giving up on safety Mark Barron. Order was restored in 2015 when one trade (Vernon Davis to Denver) was made in the three weeks leading up to the deadline.
Flash forward to Halloween 2017, and it may as well have been a different sport. The lead-up to last year’s deadline saw one of the league’s highest-paid players (defensive tackle Marcel Dareus), a top left tackle (Duane Brown), and Tom Brady’s heir apparent (Jimmy Garoppolo) shipped away in the days leading up to the deadline, and on the actual deadline day the Panthers shipped out their no. 1 wide receiver (Kelvin Benjamin), the eventual Super Bowl champions acquired a new starting running back (Jay Ajayi), and the Cleveland Browns’ front office either screwed up or purposely sabotaged a trade sending a second- and third-rounder to Cincinnati for a backup quarterback (A.J. McCarron).
What changed is that increasing NFL revenue has swelled the salary cap (the cap this year is $177 million, 50 percent higher than it was a decade ago), and teams once constrained by their budgets have no problem fitting large salaries onto their roster. Contenders are more willing to part with draft picks to make Super Bowl runs, cellar dwellers are more eager than ever to sell off players and rebuild than ever before, and the middle ground those teams find is the rookie-deal rental.
The 2017 trade deadline was the busiest in league history, but there are rumblings that this year will be even splashier. Almost a full week before the deadline, we’ve already seen the Raiders trade former Alabama superstar Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round pick, the Jaguars acquire Carlos Hyde from Cleveland to fill in for Leonard Fournette, and the Giants send former first-round cornerback Eli Apple to New Orleans. With plenty of more trades coming in the next few days, here’s a primer on the players most and least likely to be dealt ahead of 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. The trade deadline has never been more alive.
Guys on the Block
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
The All-Pro has been with the Cardinals since 2011, but now he wants to fly from the nest. (After Thursday night’s evisceration at the hands of the Broncos put Arizona in the driver’s seat for the first overall pick, it’s hard to blame him. Perhaps we should relegate both squads to the FBS.) Peterson’s cousin, former Steelers cornerback and current CBS analyst Bryant McFadden, has some … well-sourced information on where he might want to go.
The Saints may be out of the running after trading a fourth-rounder to the Giants for Apple, but McFadden heard from “source Patrick Peterson” that other teams are interested.
(First of all, respect to Patrick Peterson for just asking his Twitter-verified CBS analyst cousin to tweet his trade demands one year to the day after another Arizona sports star tweeted a trade request.)
Peterson is one of the best trade assets a Super Bowl contender could acquire. He is 28, a former All-Pro, has started every game of his career since entering the league, and is under contract through 2020 at a relatively reasonable $11.5 million average salary the next two years. His opposing passer rating when targeted this year is under 40, roughly equal to an incompletion.
Peterson is so valuable that the Cardinals don’t want to let him go. On October 14, Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks called the idea of trading Peterson “ludicrous.” A few days later, Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill said a Peterson trade was “not happening.” Even after last week’s prime-time embarrassment, Wilks reiterated on Monday that “we’re not trading Patrick.”
It makes sense for the team to want to keep him, but it also means a Super Bowl contender might be willing to part with a lot of draft capital to secure a player under a reasonable contract through the remainder of his prime. If Arizona is offered a first-rounder, Peterson might be playoff bound.
Possible Destination: Pittsburgh Steelers.
“P2” is Peterson’s twitter handle.
(Update: After Peterson met with Cardinals present Michael Bidwell on Tuesday, a trade appears to be unlikely.)
Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ demolition of the Cardinals may not be enough to convince GM John Elway to keep this team together. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the Broncos were willing to trade Thomas, a 2010 first-round pick who has made four Pro Bowls and has led the team in receiving yards each of the last six seasons. He has a $17.5 million cap hit in 2019, but the Broncos can release him to save $14 million and eat just $3.5 million in dead cap this offseason, according to Spotrac.
“My time here is coming up,” Thomas said on Monday in response to the trade rumors.
Demaryius Thomas addresses trade rumors pic.twitter.com/J71wxkxVJt— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensBSN) October 22, 2018
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Broncos are keen on keeping 31-year-old receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who leads the team in receiving this season, and the team’s second-round rookie receiver out of SMU, Courtland Sutton, but Thomas, 30, is seen as expendable.
Possible Destination: Miami Dolphins. Miami head coach and former Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase just lost Albert Wilson and possibly Kenny Stills to injury and is feuding with receiver DeVante Parker’s agent.
Chris Harris Jr., Cornerback, Denver Broncos
Harris, one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, is also up for grabs in the Broncos’ garage sale. He’s a year older than Peterson, plays on the inside, and is under contract for one less season, so he may be the more affordable high-quality cornerback on the market. If a team wants to shore up its coverage in the middle of the field, Harris is a great choice. Of the 26 cornerbacks who have spent more than half of their snaps in the slot, Harris is tied for the fewest receiving yards allowed per snap and the fourth-lowest opposing passer rating when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. As his Twitter profile and cover photo illustrate, he is also playoff tested.
Possible Destination: The Pats’ outside cornerback depth was exposed in the Super Bowl, but adding Harris to handle the middle of the field this year could turn last year’s weakness into this year’s strength. New England is rumored to be in the mix for Peterson, but paying a lesser price for Harris feels more up New England’s alley.
LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
McCoy is the best player on an offense that has been the least efficient offense ever tracked by Football Outsiders through seven games.
Congratulations Buffalo Bills, who at -53.4% now have the worst offensive DVOA ever tracked through 7 games, and by a good margin. 1992 Seahawks second at -45.5%, then 2013 Jags, 2010 Panthers, and 2004 Dolphins.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) October 22, 2018
McCoy, who is 30 years old and is signed through next season, doesn’t have a place in Buffalo’s future, and as one of the more expensive backs in the league doesn’t really have a place in most teams’ present. He suffered a concussion and an ankle injury on Sunday, which would seemingly deflate whatever effort teams would have made to clear the cap space for him. He is also a defendant in a civil lawsuit in which his former fiancée says McCoy physically abused his son and, in a separate incident, is liable for assault, battery, and emotional distress after she was beaten with a handgun in a home invasion after McCoy altered the alarm system without giving her access.
Possible Destination: The Eagles reportedly called the Bills about reacquiring their former star running back, who was ousted in Chip Kelly’s 2015 purge, after lead back Jay Ajayi tore his ACL earlier this month. Bills head coach Sean McDermott responded to questions about the report by saying, “We get calls all the time.” After his injury on Sunday, McCoy is still in the concussion protocol, and staying in Buffalo for the rest of the season seems more probable than being dealt.
Rumored Long Shots
Le’Veon Bell, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell is the most high-profile player who could be traded, but also one of the least likely. Steelers owner Art Rooney told NFL Network this week that he doesn’t expect the team to trade Bell, but it isn’t really up to the team’s owner. Bell has yet to sign his franchise tender with the team and is not under contract, which prevents the Steelers from trading him. NFL Media’s Jim Trotter reported that Bell is likely to show up after the trade deadline to prevent the Steelers from dealing him, and Bell’s agent said in September that the running back has every intention “to make this the best statistical season of his career” when he returns to hit free agency on a high note.
That would be much harder on a different team, where he’d have to learn a new playbook, blocking scheme, and a lot of first names. Bell returning to the Steelers this season remains the most likely scenario, though he originally signaled he would return in time to play in Week 8 but had yet to show as of Tuesday. Odds are he’ll be back shortly after the deadline passes.
Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants
Giants fans have gone from whispering to wondering aloud about moving on from Manning, but there doesn’t seem to be a logical trade destination for their two-time Super Bowl MVP. Manning has a $22.2 million cap hit this season and a $23.2 million cap hit next year, and the only team seemingly in the market for a QB this year, Jacksonville, has one of the tightest cap situations in the league. Even if Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin wanted to reunite with Manning, it’s improbable, and every other team has a better current or long-term option. However, the team can save $17 million by releasing him this offseason.
Derek Carr, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden’s (wise) fire sale means nobody is safe, including the franchise quarterback who was the league’s highest-paid player as recently as last year. Carr has not looked like a $25 million–a-year player recently, and he has also struggled with back, finger, chest, and head injuries in the last two years since breaking his leg on Christmas Eve 2016 (a rookie at left and right tackle doesn’t help). The Raiders can cut Carr as soon as this offseason with little financial penalty to free up as much as $20 million of cap room. That might be tantalizing if Gruden falls in love with another quarterback. This is unlikely to happen this week, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Carr were traded and playing elsewhere before his deal expires.
Logical Trade Candidates
Some players haven’t surfaced in reports but make too much sense in a deal to ignore. Here are some more under-the-radar trade candidates.
Tyrod Taylor, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns
You’d think Jacksonville would have made this phone call before the Browns snagged Taylor for a third-rounder in March. With the Dolphins looking set with Brock Osweiler playing in lieu of Ryan Tannehill, it’s hard to see which team would pony up for Taylor other than the Jaguars, who seem set to ride into the sunset (and off a cliff) with Bortles under center.
Golden Tate, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
Tate is great, but he’s in the final year of his deal. Marvin Jones Jr. is signed through 2020, and sophomore receiver Kenny Golladay is younger, cheaper, and one of the most improved receivers in football this season. Tate was rumored to be a potential target of New England before the Pats added Josh Gordon, but Tate is so talented in the open field he’d figure to have multiple suitors for a back-end pick
Assorted Players on Jon Gruden’s EVERYTHING-MUST-GO Clearance Rack
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie announced the potential sell-off by saying he was the only untouchable trade asset in Oakland.
- Tight end Jared Cook has been productive for the Raiders, but is 31, a free agent after next season, and would be better served racking up yards on another team. (Perhaps Gronk insurance for the Patriots?)
- Pass rusher Bruce Irvin is 30 and signed through 2019, making him another player unlikely to contribute to the Raiders’ Las Vegas era. A playoff team looking to improve its pass rush, like New Orleans or Kansas City, could swoop in with a midround pick.
- Raiders safety Karl Joseph, a 2016 first-round pick, is on the trading block and could be a logical gamble for both Dallas and Kansas City, the two safety-hungry teams that were in the mix for Earl Thomas. Dallas has two of the best corners in football in Byron Jones and Anthony Brown but could improve its safety play, while the Chiefs are struggling for depth with both starting safeties out and the league’s worst defense by total yards and passing yards.
Trades That Won’t Happen, but Would Be Really Fun
Larry Fitzgerald to the New England Patriots for a Fourth-Rounder
Larry is 35 years old, on the cusp of accruing the most receiving yards of anyone not named Jerry Rice, and the best player in Arizona franchise history. He deserves better than this. Since 2016, he has been forced to catch passes from Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Sam Bradford, and rookie Josh Rosen. He’s so thirsty for a QB that he tried recruiting Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Let him have one Super Bowl run to remember what good quarterback play is like so he can retire in peace.
Robert Griffin III to San Francisco for a Sixth-Round Pick
Joe Flacco is the starter in Baltimore, and Lamar Jackson is the future. Let RGIII reunite with Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator who conducted Griffin’s legendary rookie-season symphony, for a one-year reunion tour before Jimmy Garoppolo returns in 2019.
Von Miller to Kansas City for a 2019 First-Rounder, a 2020 First-Rounder, and a 2019 Second-Rounder
I know, I know, I know, Denver shouldn’t trade Von Miller to a divisional rival, and blah blah blah. Hear me out. The Broncos have continually kicked Miller’s cap hit down the road, and now they are going to have $25 million hits on him for his age-30 and -31 seasons and a $22 million hit for his age-32 season. To put that in perspective, Miller has the 10th-largest 2019 hit, and the rest of the top 17 are quarterbacks. Denver doesn’t look like it’ll be competitive in those years, and three years from now, fans may wish they had two extra firsts instead of wasting the tail end of Miller’s prime. The Chiefs can afford the cap hit while they have Patrick Mahomes II, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt on rookie contracts, and a lockdown pass rusher like Miller is perfect on a team like Kansas City, which is almost always going to score first, forcing other teams into obvious passing situations.
Blake Bortles to the Jets for a Third-Rounder
Not to play, but to sit. The Jags have a precarious cap situation, and paying Bortles nearly $20 million a year to not play may ruin their title window. The Jets have more cap space than they know what to do with ($106 million in 2019), and they can spend some of it on Bortles and charge Jacksonville a draft pick just for the favor. This is what Cleveland did to Houston last offseason, when the Texans were so desperate to get out of the Brock Osweiler contract that they also sent Cleveland second- and sixth-round picks just to take Osweiler off their hands.