In most NFL seasons, a 3-5 team like the Los Angeles Chargers would have little reason to consider itself a playoff contender and actively pursue a player acquisition before the trade deadline. The Chargers have rarely inspired confidence this year, notching just one win this month and requiring a missed field goal in the final seconds to do so. Few, if any, would presently rank Los Angeles among the conference's top teams, and their upcoming schedule offers little mercy.
But despite facing an uphill battle, the Chargers still control their destiny in the AFC West. They sit just two games out of the division lead due in part to the Kansas City Chiefs dropped three of their last four games. The injury absence of reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes looms large over the Kansas City organization and could result in more losses before the team faces Los Angeles for the first time in three weeks. Elsewhere in the division, the Oakland Raiders have dropped two straight coming out of their bye and now hold a mere half-game advantage over the Chargers in the standings. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos have begun trading off pieces and starting quarterback Joe Flacco called out his coaches for their lack of aggression in his post-game press conference Sunday.
Though Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has largely preferred small in-season moves such as trading Dontrelle Inman and Jeremiah Sirles for late-round draft picks, the NFL has become a more trade-friendly league in recent years. On Monday, the New York Giants acquired defensive lineman Leonard Williams from their crosstown rivals and the Arizona Cardinals landed running back Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins. Those transactions came days after the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers bolstered their receiving corps with Mohammad Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders, respectively. And, of course, the biggest transaction thus far occurred earlier in the month when the Los Angeles Rams consummated a blockbuster deal to bring in Jacksonville Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey.
If Telesco decides to break character and enter the trade market, he should find some intriguing options for his team.
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets
The Chargers have plenty of talent in their receiving corps. Keenan Allen ranks as perhaps the league's premier route runner, Mike Williams can win even the most difficult contested-catch situations, and Hunter Henry provides a little bit of everything as a weapon over the middle and down the seams. Even running back Austin Ekeler has developed into a dependable pass catcher, whether on routes coming out of the backfield or lined up wide.
Still, the Chargers' passing game would benefit from a receiver with field-stretching speed. Travis Benjamin previously occupied that role, but a quad injury landed him on IR earlier in October. Geremy Davis and Andre Patton each ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 second range, but the team doesn't deploy either as it did with Benjamin. If Los Angeles wants a vertical weapon, it needs to acquire one from outside the organization.
The New York Jets' Robby Anderson fill that role. Since entering the league as an undrafted free agent, Anderson has established himself as a capable deep threat, averaging 15.1 air yards per target, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That mark ranks seventh in the NFL since 2016 among players with at least 100 targets. Even when Anderson doesn't see the ball, the defense has to account for him and his speed.
Because Anderson signed a second-round tender in the offseason, he would cost around $3.1 million on the cap minus the game checks already paid through the first eight weeks. That figure looks affordable even for a cap-strapped team like the Chargers. Likewise, the prospect of losing Anderson in free agency for little more than a comp pick could persuade the Jets to part with the receiver for a mere Day 3 draft pick.
Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins
The Chargers defense never fully recovered from the injuries to Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, two safeties that tilted the field and created opportunities for themselves and their teammates. Though rookie defensive back Roderic Teamer has started to settle in over the past few weeks and third-year pro Rayshawn Jenkins has provided a steady presence in centerfield, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has shown a preference for playing three or more safeties on the field together. Until James or Phillips return, Bradley can't use three-safety personnel packages as often as he'd like, especially now with rookie Nasir Adderley landing on injured reserve.
With James likely a month or so from returning and Phillips not eligible to come off IR until Week 11, the Chargers could look to add a veteran safety. The Dolphins, who appear hellbent on purging their roster of all nonessential talent in pursuit of the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft, could provide a viable option in Reshad Jones.
Jones, a two-time Pro Bowl safety, doesn't factor into the Dolphins' long-term plans but can still perform at a reasonably high level, especially in run defense. Bradley could deploy him in a number of roles, including as a traditional box safety or off-ball linebacker.
The Dolphins likely wouldn't require much compensation to unload Jones, but the veteran safety's contract could prove more of an obstacle. If acquired, Jones would have a cap number of approximately $7 million (the prorated amount of his 2019 base salary). The Chargers currently have just over $7 million in available cap space. Accordingly, the team would likely have to make a corresponding roster move to carve out some breathing room, a burden that could nix a deal.
Darius Slay, CB, Detroit Lions
All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay has barely hidden his disinterest in re-signing with the Detroit Lions, especially in light of the team's decision to trade Diggs last week. Slay's current deal runs through 2020 and contains base salaries of $12.55 million in 2019 and $10 million next year, high but reasonable numbers for a cornerback of his caliber. Meanwhile, the Lions' ground game lost Kerryon Johnson to a knee injury last week and has reportedly looked into available running backs already.
The Chargers don't have an obvious need at corner, but a player like Slay can transform a secondary and help combat high-flying offenses like those of the Green Bay Packers and Chiefs, two upcoming opponents. With Slay, Casey Hayward, and Desmond King, Los Angeles would possess one of the most talented cornerback groups in the game.
If available, Slay would cost a significant amount, something that could turn off potential trade partners. However, the Chargers could meet that price without relinquishing one of their top draft picks by offering Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon would immediately address the Lions' backfield and allow Los Angeles to move on from a player they declined to extend this offseason. With Austin Ekeler now a core piece of the offense and Justin Jackson returning soon from a calf injury, the team could trade Gordon and potentially avoid a drop-off in play.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH