Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take on the roles of NFL general managers in Mock GM. Today, they survey the landscape in advance of the NFL trade deadline (4 p.m. ET).
1. Which team is most in need of an upgrade before the deadline?
Chris Burke: Dallas. The NFC East is there for the taking again, and the Cowboys cannot afford to repeat their late-season heartbreaks from 2011 and '12. The offense, Dez Bryant meltdowns and all, seems fully capable of not only getting this team into the playoffs, but also of being dangerous once there.
The defense, on the other hand ... Look, just about everyone has issues covering Calvin Johnson (and Dallas' man-to-man strategy did not help), but it's pretty apparent having watched San Diego, Denver and Detroit shred the Dallas D that this banged-up unit is extremely troublesome. The Cowboys may not be able to find (or pay for) an Aqib Talib-type, like New England found at last year's deadline. Adding one or two more parts, though, could be the difference between a postseason run and another Week 17 letdown.
Doug Farrar: New England. I'm not exactly breaking news when I say that the Patriots' receiver situation is ... um ... a problem. Even with Rob Gronkowski back in the fold.
For a coach who has always believed in building from the lines out, Bill Belichick also has issues on both of his fronts right now. The loss of Vince Wilfork has proven to be just as devastating as expected -- though Wilfork's replacements are game, it's tough to match his talent and effect. And the downgrade from Sebastian Vollmer to Marcus Cannon at right tackle (Vollmer will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg) is expected to be equally impactful.
The Patriots have a few more years of opportunity with Tom Brady at quarterback and the best secondary they've had since the Super Bowl years of the early 2000's. But there are personnel issues that go beyond a few injuries, and giving up a few relatively high draft picks shouldn't be a problem when one looks at the team's recent draft history. The Pats need to be aggressive, and they need to do it now.
2. Which team rumored to be shopping its players should stand pat?
DF: Cleveland. With all the talk about moving Josh Gordon, the Browns have too much overall talent to act like sellers at this point. They've got a fine defense, coached expertly by Ray Horton, and that unit will be among the tops in the league when everything comes together. Gordon is too explosive a player (in ways both good and bad), and if he can keep his head on straight, he can be a major asset on a team that is trending in the right direction.
CB: Arizona. Is it a long shot that the Cardinals, with a shaky Carson Palmer and sieve-like offensive line, stick in the playoff race? Probably. But there's no reason right now to throw in the towel by shipping Larry Fitzgerald or any other key pieces out, when similar measures could be taken in the offseason.
Arizona is 4-4 after a convincing win over Atlanta on Sunday. Of its next six opponents, only one (Indianapolis), has a record better than .500 -- and that game with the Colts is in Glendale. The opportunity is there for the Cardinals to contend into December. Why throw that possibility away in October?
3. Which team should be selling?
CB: Minnesota. Jared Allen is the name on everyone's lips right now, but there are several other intriguing soon-to-be free agents on this roster: Toby Gerhart, Jerome Simpson, Kevin Williams, to name a few. The Vikings are not turning this season around, at least not enough to accomplish anything of real merit. That means that 2014, very possibly with a new coaching staff, could be a critical one if they hope to return to playoff form in the near future. Accumulating as many parts for the future -- i.e. draft picks -- should be priority No. 1 right now.
DF: Atlanta. With all due respect to general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have whiffed on too many players and too many drafts in recent years. The multi-pick trade for the right to take Julio Jones looks prudent when Jones is on the field, but the problem with putting that many eggs in one basket becomes apparent when Jones is hurt, as he is now. If a team will take Tony Gonzalez for draft picks, Dimitroff needs to pull the trigger. And if there are other offers for Falcons players out there, Atlanta needs to consider them. Right now, they're a team with expensive skill players and a rapidly eroding depth chart. That will have to change sooner than later, and the draft is how that generally happens.
4. The player you'd be trying hardest to acquire is ...
DF: Jared Allen. While it's generally true that pass-rushers tend to decline quickly at Allen's age (31), he could be an excellent short-term solution for a playoff contender in need of an edge rusher in third-down situations. Allen isn't what he once was, but he still has the speed off the edge and root strength against blockers to be impactful.
CB: Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons do not want to trade their future Hall of Fame tight end, and Gonzalez has made no public requests for a move. I'd still give Atlanta a buzz, however, if I had a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Even at 37 years of age and in what he swears is his last season, Gonzalez continues to be an ultra-reliable weapon for the Atlanta offense. He's also a matchup headache in the red zone, even if his current team has had trouble getting there. Add in that little motivation factor -- Gonzalez has just one playoff win and no Super Bowl trips in his illustrious career -- and it's obvious Gonzalez will leave every single ounce of effort on the field. Assuming the price tag is a reasonable one, he would be a welcome addition to pretty much every team still in the hunt.