The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, which means there should be absolutely nothing to interfere with the fireworks. I imagine the country completely locked into the granular depths of NFL roster improvement, which is why you’re all here of course.
The pandemic will cause some obstacles for teams looking to better themselves late, for sure. On one hand, it might not be worth the hassle. On the other, the extra playoff spot in each conference this year adds a measure of intrigue for teams hoping to earn a postseason berth. There are a good number of clubs bottoming out right now. A look at the current 2020 draft order shows a whopping 11 teams with two wins or fewer—many of which are carrying the kind of bloated veteran contracts that would be attractive to get rid of this time of year.
We will be analyzing the deals as they come in from the perspective of both the acquiring team and the trading team. Check back through the deadline for updates …
LB KWON ALEXANDER TO THE SAINTS
… for LB Kiko Alonso and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2021
When healthy, Alexander was logging most of the defensive snaps in San Francisco this season. This deal, exchanging two once-prized tackling machines, gives the Saints a player who is rounding out his coverage abilities, who has blitzed at a higher frequency this year to better success and who misses few tackles. The 49ers get additional draft capital, besting the haul of a 2022 fifth-rounder swap the Jets made with the Steelers for Avery Williamson and also get Kiko Alonso as a throw-in. Alonso has not played in 2020, as he recovers from a torn ACL.
It's a nice pull for the Saints, who aren’t laying down at the deadline. Recognizing a clear need for an upgrade, New Orleans pulled in a more athletic, more versatile piece to fit in their defense while the 49ers realistically surveyed the landscape and made a move that will benefit them down the road.
GRADE FOR 49ers: C+
GRADE FOR Saints: B+
DESMOND KING TO THE TITANS
… for a sixth-round pick in 2021
This would seem like an odd move, on the surface, given that King has been an ascending player for the Chargers at various times in the Anthony Lynn era. This year, in addition to his special teams duties, King has posted his best opposing completion percentage and lowest opposing QB passer rating, and is on pace to blitz more than he has in any season throughout his career.
Did nickel corners all of a sudden become easier to come by? The Titans get one of the better corners in the league and a rotational option to return kicks and punts. The Chargers don’t even recoup their initial draft investment in King, whom they drafted with a fifth-round pick in 2017, despite the fact that he has clearly outplayed it.
GRADE FOR TITANS: A+
GRADE FOR CHARGERS: C-
DEANDRE WASHINGTON TO THE DOLPHINS
… for a sixth-round pick in 2021
The Dolphins made a move to bolster their backfield while Kansas City deals from a point of strength, letting go of a veteran running back at the bottom of a packed depth chart. With Myles Gaskin set to miss a handful of games, the Dolphins could use some assistance, especially with an increased focus on the running game to buoy rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Washington also provides Tagovailoa with an experienced receiver coming out of the backfield, who had multiple 30-catch seasons in his career and a fairly dependable catch rate.
GRADE FOR KANSAS CITY: B
GRADE FOR MIAMI: B
WR ISAIAH FORD TO THE PATRIOTS
… for a seventh-round pick in 2022
Ford will bolster New England’s nonexistent receiving corps at the moment. It’s interesting to see Bill Belichick still scouring the league for talent despite a 2-6 record and myriad difficulties on both sides of the ball. Ford spent most of his time in the slot with the Dolphins and compiled a 10-target game at one point. He can provide some immediate relief where the Patriots seem to hurt the most—on catches that can extend drives. Thirteen of Ford’s 18 receptions this year have resulted in a first down for the Dolphins, even though his yards after the catch are relatively paltry.
I don’t personally love the idea of dealing within the division, especially when you have a new quarterback who isn’t fully aware of his preferences to this point. Maybe this is an indication that the Dolphins’ offense is undergoing some changes, however, viable talent in the hands of a division rival you still have to play again during a playoff push is worth more than a seventh-round pick.
GRADE FOR DOLPHINS: C
GRADE FOR PATRIOTS: C+
LB AVERY WILLIAMSON TO THE STEELERS
… along with a seventh-round pick in 2022 for a fifth-round pick in 2022
The Jets continue to sell off the remaining scraps of their roster as they gear up for a significant, lengthy rebuild. The Steelers, meanwhile, supplement their defense with Williamson, a sure-handed tackler who could slide into one of the inside linebacker spots fairly easily and add some run-stopping chops behind this pass rushing behemoth.
That’s not a bad job by Joe Douglas to get a fifth-rounder for a 28-year-old who hits unrestricted free agency in nine weeks. He seems to understand that, if you can be patient and take the picks in a later year, the return is almost always better. Neither of the players dealt by the Jets so far (see the Steve McLendon deal below) are going to be future building blocks, though the rest of the league’s lack of interest in the fire sale may reflect the complete dire straits the roster is in at the moment.
GRADE FOR STEELERS: B
GRADE FOR JETS: B
DE CARLOS DUNLAP TO THE SEAHAWKS
… for center B.J. Finney and a seventh-round pick in 2021
When looking back at a few of Dunlap’s snaps earlier this season (depending on which play you stumble upon) there is clearly still evidence of a player with elite instincts and an incredibly advantageous body type who can fit well in Seattle’s defense. Yes, his performance this year has not been great. Yes, there are plays where he’s frozen in the backfield by speedy backs breaking toward the edge. No, he clearly did not fit in the Bengals’ scheme anymore and was unhappy about it. But there are moments when he was on, unconscious of the place he desperately wanted to leave. In those moments, he can get skinny, rip through double teams and cause problems in the backfield. Without jumping, he can disrupt passing lanes, which, when you’re in a division with an electric, 5' 10" quarterback who put up three touchdowns on you in your only loss of the season, could come in handy.
The Bengals have not developed nearly enough cachet to be the kind of staff that can simply discard veteran talent because it doesn’t fit the scheme. Good coaches find a way to work in good players, not trade them away for a meaningless draft selection and a little slice of locker room harmony. Carlos Dunlap will be an effective piece for the Seahawks, on the other hand. Seattle desperately needed a pass rusher who has the kind of presence to warrant a double team from time to time.
Grade for Bengals: D
Grade for Seahawks: A-
DT STEVE MCLENDON TO THE BUCCANEERS
…along with a seventh-round pick in 2023 for a sixth-round pick in 2022
While the sample size is small—McLendon played in 25 defensive snaps, or just 38% of the total in his Buccaneers debut against the Raiders in Week 7—his presence was felt. He combined for five tackles and a tackle for loss. His rushing net yards over average was a positive-0.7, meaning that when he’s on the field he helps create a marked difference against the run. For what the Buccaneers have become—an all-in veteran road show designed to appease Tom Brady—it’s a sensible move. McLendon is 34 and should bolster the team against a division that contains Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Todd Gurley down the stretch. As for the Jets, a 2022 sixth-rounder doesn’t get you much closer to where you want to be, but it does count as getting something for a 34-year-old veteran. Perhaps that sixth-rounder can be bundled somewhere in the future.
We’ve wondered this aloud on the site before, but what happens if the Buccaneers don’t go deep into the playoffs this year? Still, credit the staff for realizing the hole they’ve dug for themselves and that there is no other option but to feverishly plow ahead.
Grade for Jets: C
Grade for Buccaneers: B
DE EVERSON GRIFFEN TO THE LIONS
… for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2021
Before he was traded, Griffen was playing on about 50% of the Cowboys’ snaps, which could mean one of two things. One is that the Cowboys are among the worst defenses in the NFL, meaning that they have not been making the smartest personnel decisions. Another way to interpret it? How couldn’t Griffen see the field more frequently for this unit? The Lions will fold Griffen into their pass rushing rotation and, like he was in Dallas, he should be an upgrade over some other supplemental options.
Dallas is clearly trimming the fat ahead of the trade deadline to see what it wants to work with moving forward. Despite the egregiously bad nature of this defense, it seems like the Mike McCarthy regime has enough of a standing to blame it on the personnel. If Griffen reaches enough of the incentives in Detroit to make the return a fifth-round pick, it’s basically free money for a team that has waived the white flag on 2020. As for the Lions, it’s an interesting scenario: The coach and general manager know they need to make the playoffs to return in 2021. Will that mean veering from the path of responsible spending (I would count this trade as responsible), or will we see them up the ante with Griffen's serving as just an appetizer for a team currently ranked 27th in pass rush win rate? Griffen has taken plenty of snaps against the Lions in his career, so there is a solid knowledge base of his skill sets on the pro-personnel side.
Grade for Cowboys: C
Grade for Lions: C