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The NFL Trade Deadline Is Heating Up

Not too long ago, midseason trades weren’t really a thing in the NFL—but that’s not the case anymore. With the trade deadline around the corner, here’s an extensive look at players who teams could be targeting.
Robby Anderson

When it comes to trades, the NFL has undergone a reconstitution of the league’s business culture in the last several years. Back in 2006, the idea of a Jalen Ramsey being moved in-season would border on insanity.

Now? If a team isn’t asking about players like him in trade calls, it’s NFL malpractice.

“And for every deal you see get done, there’s probably 30 or 40 conversations that happen working on deals that don’t get done,” said former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum on the Tuesday Mailbag podcast this week. “There’s a lot more conversations [than there were], no question about it.”

And often, these conversations are had with the knowledge that a deal is a long shot.

“Those conversations are just natural and organic,” Tannenbaum continued. “Part and parcel to running a team is to assess the market—and the market is going to change. So those conversations to me were very natural and ongoing. And again, for every trade I was a part of, there were probably 10-15 calls that never led to anything. But certainly, probing, evaluating, assessing the market [is important]. Markets change all the time.”

As such, Atlanta traded Mohamed Sanu, a good-not-great receiver, to New England for a second-round pick on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, Denver got third- and fourth-round picks from San Francisco for Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-rounder; Sanders, while still solid, is 32 years old, coming off an Achilles tear and in a contract year. 

And that’s indicative of the competition in the league.

The Patriots and 49ers were both in on Sanu at the end, and a number of other teams (we’ll get to them in a bit) were sniffing around receivers while this was going on, which couldn’t help but drive up the price. So in a world where Randy Moss was once traded before the deadline for a third-round pick, the same franchise that got that third-rounder dealt a second-rounder to Atlanta for Sanu this week.

In summary: More players involved, more teams involved and a hotter market.

Buckle up, the NFL trade deadline is five days away and finally, that actually means something.

• • •

In this week’s Game Plan, we’ve got scouting reports on two big-time draft-eligible players playing in spotlight games this weekend, your Week 8 watch list, and your questions on …

Tom Brady’s future.

• Josh Gordon’s present

• The next John Lynch.

• A Melvin Gordon trade?

• The job Brian Flores is doing in Miami.

But we’re starting with the NFL’s trade deadline and the rumors that are flying.

• • •

In the Sept. 19 Game Plan, I broke down the big reasons for the change in climate on the NFL’s trade market—I cover the analytics boom, shorter job-security timelines for execs, a new generation of GMs, the management of financials and the NBA’s influence in there.

Today, with the deadline so close, we’re going to get you up to date on the latest I’ve heard out there from the trade market. Ready? I figured you’d be.

• Again, the market for receivers is pretty hot. The Patriots and Niners were out there actively looking. Also among those that have kicked the tires on adding at the position, with the caveat that these talks can simply be exploratory, have been the Saints, Bills, Eagles and Packers. Two names that have been floating around out there at the position won’t excite people like A.J. Green would—Jets’ Robby Anderson and Browns’ Rashard Higgins. The former, naturally, would come at a higher cost than the latter.

• The Browns are an interesting team to watch because of their pressing need for offensive line help. Teams that have depth at those positions aren’t exactly lining up to part with it, because it’s so hard to find. But Cleveland could be creative and use players on its own roster to match another teams’ needs.

Higgins is one player that’s name has been out there, and CB T.J. Carrie—who started four games as Browns starters Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward nursed injuries before Cleveland’s bye—is another player. Both play premium positions. Either could help someone down the stretch. And they could be creative pieces for the Browns to use in a deal, even if Cleveland’s not shopping them actively.

• So which offensive linemen are out there? I believe fourth-year Eagles OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai could be moved. Philadelphia likes him as a player, so whether a deal is done will be predicated on the return they can find for him. Vaitai, who has 17 regular-season starts under his belt, was the Eagles’ left tackle in its Super Bowl win over the Patriots. And while he may not be a long-term solution at that position, he could be a short-term fix, with a very solid future at another spot on someone’s line. Cleveland and New England would be obvious suitors for Big V. The Patriots could use insurance at the position, given second-year pro Isaiah Wynn’s injury history. 

By the way, it’s clear the Redskins could get a nice return for Trent Williams. But his situation has gotten personal, and I don’t think Washington will move him until after the season. Teams that have asked have been met with a flat “no.”

• Speaking of the Patriots, their receiver depth came up in discussions I had after the Sanu trade—and one rival team’s pro director wondered aloud about teams calling on Philip Dorsett. Presumably, New England’s de facto release of Josh Gordon (who’s now on IR, but expects to be healthy soon) takes care of that. But it does raise the possibility that New England could dip into its roster depth to fill a hole somewhere else in its lineup (like, potentially, along the offensive line.) Young tight end Ryan Izzo, surprisingly enough, is one name that came up as possible trade fodder on Wednesday. And Michael Bennett would be an obvious one, in light of his recent suspension.

• Don’t assume that Falcons and Broncos are done trading. Atlanta has shopped former top-10 pick Vic Beasley, and teams have asked about (and been rebuffed thus far on) young star TE Austin Hooper. I’d doubt Denver would think about moving Von Miller, but Chris Harris might be an option. Some of his logistics mirror Sanders’—he’s in his 30s, at the end of his contract and able to bring real value to another team. Atlanta LB DeVondre Campbell and Denver DL Adam Gostis would be two other names to watch.

• There is a reason why Denver traded Sanders first. Two weeks ago, Broncos GM John Elway was playing wait-and-see on trades. Then, Sanders didn’t play in the second half of a shutout win over the Titans, pushing Denver back into the AFC West picture at 2-4. The receiver met with head coach Vic Fangio on Monday then Elway on Tuesday (before the Broncos played the Chiefs on TNF) and agreed, if Sanders was a good soldier, to consider offers for the receiver. Sanders played 88% of the snaps against Kansas City, catching five balls for 60 yards, and the GM found a hot market—with the Saints and Bills vying with the 49ers and Patriots for his services. So Denver dealt him.

Harris, conversely, got a $3 million incentive package from Elway in June, and has played this year without incident. That’s not to say that the Broncos won’t move him—in fact, the Texans were trying to pry him before they landed Gareon Conley from Oakland. It is to say Denver won’t give Harris away. I’d think it’ll take a second-rounder to wriggle him free from there.

• The Jets are listening to offers on former top-five pick Leonard Williams. The big defensive-linemen is a better player than Beasley, but carries similar logistics —he’s on a pricy fifth-year option and is not signed for 2020. Teams like the Chiefs and Eagles are seen as sensible landing spots for Williams, if the right price can be found. And that price, because of those big financials, might be relatively affordable for another team, maybe right around a third-round pick.

• Other high picks who have come up in trade talks: Ravens TE Hayden Hurst and Colts CB/S Quincy Wilson. The former was a 2018 first-round pick, the latter a ’17 second-rounder. Each was beaten out by a younger player, which has prompted other teams to ask about their availability. Thus far, the answer has been “no” on Hurst. We’ll see what happens with Wilson, who is one of the very few Chris Ballard draft picks that hasn’t gone to plan.

• One player that has been shopped around some is Giants CB Janoris Jenkins, who’s not what he was but is still a solid starter—and would cost another team $5.37 million over nine game checks for the rest of the year, and is under contract for $11.25 million for next year ($1 million roster bonus due in March, $100K workout bonus, $10.15 million base). He turns 31 on the day of the deadline. And another corner whose name has been floated out there is Washington’s Josh Norman, who, like Jenkins, has a big contract and isn’t quite what he used to be.

• The Bengals have some pieces in which other teams would be very interested. A.J. Green’s the obvious one—another star in his 30s in a contract year. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are both very good players, too, and would carry value, too. And the Bengals are 0-7.

That said, owner Mike Brown didn’t sign off on a fire sale, no matter how bad things are. Also the team wants to allow for Zac Taylor to build a foundation for 2020 and beyond over the second half of the season, which would be significantly tougher to do with a stripped-down roster. But Tyler Eifert could be moved, and Seattle is one team looking for a tight end. If Hooper and O.J. Howard aren’t going to be dealt, the oft-injured Bengal could be an option for such clubs, and could bring Cincy a decent return, and a chance to get rookie Drew Sample more work.

There are lots of moving pieces ahead of the trade deadline, and we could see more in the mix depending on how the weekend goes for certain teams.

But this much we know for sure—this action at the trade deadline is a lot more fun than it used to be.

• • •

John Brown


Bills WR John Brown: “Smokey” has had a really nice start in Buffalo (33 catches, 473 yards, 2 TDs), and on paper at least, the Eagles secondary should give him a shot to juice those numbers this week. His performance could influence both Buffalo’s pursuit of a receiver and Philadelphia’s pursuit of a corner in the days to follow. Some fun intrigue here.

Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks: Simply put, Kendricks has been an absolute monster in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s defense. And with a run-oriented Redskins offense up tonight for the Vikings, that should be on full display for everyone to see.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid: We rarely put a coach on this list (I think this might be the first time ever), but this is the week to do it. Reid was magic with backup quarterbacks in Philly, winning with the likes of A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia and Kevin Kolb, and he’ll need that kind of touch now with Matt Moore, who joined the Chiefs on Aug. 26 after sitting out 2018 and working in the spring as a Dolphins scout. If anyone can do it …

Browns LT Greg Robinson: Last week, we saw what a dominant Patriot defense can do against a team with serious offensive line deficiencies. And New England gets another shot at a team with that problem this week. That puts Robinson, again, in the crosshairs. That is, it will, if there aren’t changes on the offensive line coming out of Cleveland’s bye, which I wouldn’t rule out either.

Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky: Chicago is deeply invested in Trubisky, so it’d be very hard to pull the plug on him. That said, the shelf life for a defense like the Bears’ current group isn’t long, and it’s fair to wonder when a decision might have to be made. And while you’d like to give a 25-year-old who only started one year in college time, Chicago might be running short on that. At the very, he has to come out of the gate faster than he did against the Saints.

• • •


LSU QB Joe Burrow (vs. Auburn, CBS, 3:30 p.m.): It’s hard to poke holes in the year Burrow’s had in igniting a long-stagnant Tiger offense. He’s thrown for 2,484 yards and 29 touchdowns against just three picks, and LSU is 7-0. The 6' 4", 216-pounder, who spent his first three college years as a backup to J.T. Barrett at Ohio State, has merited a closer look from NFL people, and so far they’ve mostly liked what they’ve seen. 

“I’d say his physical traits are average, he does have an above-average arm,” one AFC exec said. “But he is very tough, the whole program loves the dude, and he’s accurate to all parts of the field. Has a feel for escaping trouble, but is not a particularly fleet-footed or a nimble athlete. He has a good feel in the pocket and is not fazed by pressure. Have not seen him unable to make throws or anything like that this fall but his arm does not jump out at you when seeing him live. I think in the end that’s what probably pushes him down towards the middle or bottom of (Round) 1. The thing is, there really aren’t that many teams that would take a quarterback in the first round, and it’s a pretty good crop of guys.”

Which is to say his stock could be affected by how the seasons of the other quarterbacks turn out, too. Regardless of that, seeing him against a tough Auburn defense should give scouts a good point of reference with which to evaluate him from—especially since they’ll see Tua Tagovailoa taking on the same defense next month.

Ohio State DE Chase Young (vs. Wisconsin, FOX, Noon): Young has been tough for evaluators to figure out. “Top-five lock,” one AFC college scouting director said. “All the positives. All the skills. Think [Jadeveon] Clowney.” 

Since Young arrived in Columbus in 2017, he’s been considered to be every bit the defensive end prospect that Joey and Nick Bosa were—and he has not disappointed. This year, the production has met the potential. Through seven games, Young has 9.5 sacks, despite being the focal point of most offensive game plans and getting pulled early in a slew of blowouts.

“What’s been so impressive about Chase is that he’s played so hard this year when it would be easy for him to pace himself,” said an NFC national scout. “But he’s been relentless as a pass rusher and physical as a run defender. He’s lived up to all the hype and that’s not easy to do. He’s also had that Joey Bosa-type effect where he is affecting the plays without making the plays and not getting in a funk because he’s getting double-teamed.” 

Ohio State had the top non-quarterback drafted two of the last four years, and the top defensive players drafted in three of the last four years. Young’s a pretty decent bet to add to both those runs. NFL scouts will no doubt look at this week’s matchup against Wisconsin. The Buckeye staff moves him around a bunch, and it’ll be worth watching when he’s on Badgers left tackle Cole Van Lanen—who might be the best lineman Young sees all year.

• • •


From James Goulding III (@james_goulding3): Will Tom Brady be in New England next season?

James, three months ago, I’d have given you an unequivocal yes to this. I’m less sure now. I think just about anything would be on the table—Brady sticking around (still the most likely option in my mind), Brady retiring or Brady going elsewhere. I think, ultimately, Brady would like more commitment from the team than he got during contract negotiations this summer—and that’s not about the raw dollars; it’s about being assured he would be the guy past 2019.

The Patriots offering him something like what he got from them last summer might not go over well. If that were to happen, the question would be whether Brady has the guts to swing back at the team by bolting. My guess would be no. In fact, in that spot, it wouldn’t totally shock me if he threw up his hands and said, “screw it, I’m done.”

I want to emphasize that, at this point, these are nothing more than informed guesses. What I don’t have to guess on: It’ll be an interesting February and March in Foxboro.

From Dawn Moore (@DawnMoo99785389): What does “clear waivers” mean?

Dawn, this is actually a very relevant question right now. A player who’s not vested (fewer than four years credited in service time) is subject to waivers if he’s released. The waiver order is based on team record, with the worst teams getting first dibs. And if a team puts a claim on a player, it has to assume the players’ existing contract—which is why good, but expensive, players sometimes clear.

So to “clear waivers” means that when you hit the wire, all 32 teams passed on you, which makes you an unrestricted free agent.

Why is this more relevant now? Well, starting next week, after the trade deadline, every player released, not just the non-vested ones, is subject to waivers. That can come into play with teams waiting this time of year to release players who they may not want landing in the hands of contenders.

From Gambling Avengers (@GamblingAvenge1): Who’s the next broadcaster (color guy) that could transition into the front office, like a John Lynch?

Avengers, I don’t know that there’s another Lynch out there—someone with playing experience and gravitas to smoothly transition into the front office of a team without extensive background as a scout. But here are a few names to watch:

One is FOX color guy Charles Davis. When I was at NFL Network, he was integral in our draft coverage, so he’s watched players through that lesson. And CD has a pretty amazingly easy way about him that could lend to running a football operation. Plus, he’s the son of a high school football coach, which doesn’t hurt.

Another is NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. DJ’s like Davis in that he’s got a good way about him and could be a unifying force within a building. He’s also shown he can evaluate and is very connected across the league, which is important in the way GMs do their jobs these days. ESPN’s Todd McShay is another who’d fall into that category, even if he lacks the team experience that Jeremiah has.

And then, there’s the obvious name who I guess qualifies as a broadcaster now, since he did an ESPN-plus series, and that’s Peyton Manning. Most people in the league assume he’ll run at a team at some point down the line.

From Tyler Withrow (@SpokaneNiner25): Do the Niners re-sign Sanders in the off-season?

Great question, Tyler. I don’t think the Niners can answer that right now. It depends on how Sanders plays, and it depends on where Dante Pettis and Deebo Samuel are at the end of the year, which will help define how needy San Francisco is at the position.

For now, they get themselves a really good player who’s come back strong off the torn Achilles, and has experience in their system. What’s next, I’d say, is up in the air.

From Patriots (@patriots2345): What’s the deal with Gordon?

Hey Patriots, reading tea leaves, I’d say this is a numbers game coming into play. As it was before, New England stood to carry seven receivers on its roster after the Sanu trade, and that’s not counting Matthew Slater (who may not play the position much, but classifies as one and, thus, takes a roster spot away from another one). That’s too many. Sanu and Julian Edelman aren’t going anywhere, nor were the younger set—so that leaves Gordon and Dorsett. And Brady loves Dorsett.

So Gordon becomes the odd man out. And maybe you put him on IR for now to assure that, when you do release him, he’ll have to go through waivers, and can’t just pick a contender to go. For what it’s worth, I’m told his knee injury is minor and he hopes to medically cleared, and cut loose soon. Again, if happens after the trade deadline, he’s subject to waivers. If it happens before then, he’s not.

There may be more to this story—it’s hard to ever know with Gordon. But if there is, I don’t know about it.

From Cap Space=$2,913,798 (@patscap): Will the CBA be extended before the end of the regular season? Why are the NFL bylaws unavailable to fans?

My old buddy Miguel! Miguel, I don’t know exactly why the bylaws aren’t public, and the only thing I can really think of on that is that teams wouldn’t want misinterpretations of the rules all over the place.

As for the CBA, I’d just say that certain powerful owners (Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones among them) want to get a labor deal sooner rather than later. In fact, one involved person told me Jones and Kraft see the CBA negotiation as relatively “small potatoes,” with the broadcast deals and the future of gambling in the game big-box topics on the horizon.

They also know how much easier working on that stuff will be once a new CBA is in place.

The good news is the tenor of talks is much better than it was ahead of the 2019 lockout, and the owners moved a little off their position recently – offering financial inducements beyond just the normal uptick in exchange for a 17-game schedule.

From Paulius (@Pauliuskase): Thoughts on Ryan Tannehill?

Love the way he played on Sunday. And I know the Titans did too, mostly because he wasn’t trying to win the game on every play. He finished an efficient 23-of-29 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. We wrote on Monday that this came down to him finding and hitting the open guy, and that sounds simple, but that really it. As a result, the Titans got more from Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries.

It made me think, too, of how a former first-round pick can be freed of expectations when he leaves the team that drafted him, and just go and play. Because Tennessee took him second overall, Marcus Mariota’s every move scrutinized, every throw was analyzed, and that’s what it was like for Tannehill in Miami. With that burden gone, Tannehill played a different game. And it worked for him.

This doesn’t mean he’s the long-term answer in Tennessee. But he certainly looked like he could an effective stopgap for the time being.

From Jacob Andelman (@JacobAndelman): Melvin Gordon trade rumors?

Jacob, there haven’t been many. The market was fairly soft for him—the Chargers didn’t get an offer even in the Sanu/Sanders ballpark—before he ended his holdout. Since, there’s been a question of whether he’s even the best running back on his own team. Through three games, he’s rushed for 81 yards on 36 yards behind an injury-plagued offensive line, and has looked less effective than Austin Ekeler.

At this point, I can’t see another team valuing to the point where they go where other teams wouldn’t to come get him a month ago, especially since he’s not signed beyond this year, and wants top-of-the-market money thereafter. So unless the Chargers want to dump him for some reason, I don’t see Gordon traded.

From Jorge F Hinojosa (@FranciscoHinoPe): What do you make of Brian Flores handling of the Dolphins locker room and the way the team keeps playing hard?

Let’s finish with Jorge’s question—a good one, based on the complex challenge Flores has faced. The program the 37-year-old is putting in is demanding and uncomfortable, and it’s very similar to the one Matt Patricia introduced in Detroit last year. Part of the challenge for Patricia then was that his predecessor, Jim Caldwell, wasn’t a failure, having gone 9-7 the year he got fired. Players could gripe that what they were doing before wasn’t wrong.

The challenge for Flores is different but every bit as challenging. He’s asking a lot of guys without giving them wins, and with all of them hearing the tanking narrative that’s swirled around the franchise since owner Stephen Ross ordered up a Process-style rebuild for the team. He’s doing it, too, as they’ve seen some of their most talented teammates shipped out. He’s doing it, as they all know they could be next.

So, yes, Miami being competitive week-in and week-out, and the Dolphins definitely were last week against the Bills, is a good sign of Flores’ ability to reach and motivate his team. Ultimately, the rebuild will come down to how he and GM Chris Grier use all that capital they’ve amassed. But some of what we’ve seen thus far, at the very least, gives them a chance.

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