The NFL trade deadline is always a strange time. For weeks at a time, we hear of potential pairings for teams and disgruntled stars, as well as key depth players.
But each year, the deadline seems to come and go with a whimper. The cries for trades in the weeks ahead of the deadline are always louder than the actual applause following the trades that take place.
This doesn't mean teams aren't actively working the phones, though. Even if few blockbuster trades happen, you can rest assured knowing that teams are turning over every single stone in their efforts to improve, whether that means improving the roster for 2021 or improving their future via added draft capital. And it doesn't mean that names throughout the NFL will stop being suggested in hypothetical deals.
But there are some names that, well, shouldn't be suggested. Teams should make phone calls on these players in the hopes of swindling another team for a top player, but that doesn't mean the team on the other end of the phone should pick up.
And for the Jaguars, that name this year is James Robinson.
With teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens struggling to run the ball as they fight for playoff spots, Robinson's name has been floated here and there in the national media as a name for running back-hungry teams to target ahead of the deadline.
And while this makes sense from the perspective of making an offer for Robinson considering he is a top running back talent on a cheap deal, it doesn't make much sense to actually discuss any trade packages for Robinson.
The simple truth is that Robinson should be considered untouchable in any and all deals by the Jaguars. While many will look at the franchise and scoff at a 1-5 team holding onto a running back for dear life, Robinson has earned that right. Aside from Trevor Lawrence, Robinson is the player on the roster the Jaguars should make most untouchable.
The Jaguars have been one of the most trade-happy teams in recent years, and this includes some instances at the deadline. The Jaguars made one of the biggest trades in recent memory in October 2019 when they traded Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams, while the 2017 season saw them add starting nose tackle Marcell Dareus to complete their defensive image.
Throw in Urban Meyer's willingness to trade away Dave Caldwell-era players for peanuts (Joe Schobert, Gardner Minshew, Sidney Jones, Josh Oliver, CJ Henderson) and it is understandable why many would presume Robinson could be yet another talented Jaguars player who wasn't handpicked by Urban Meyer to end up traded away for little in return.
Then there is how the Jaguars approached Robinson's status in the 2021 offseason. After the Jaguars already had a strong rookie showing from Robinson in 2020 -- a year in which he showed he was a starting-level running back -- the Jaguars and Meyer didn't exactly go all-in on Robinson as their lead back, drafting Clemson running back Travis Etienne at No. 25 overall.
But the context of how the Jaguars viewed Robinson last March now seems moot with the team six games into 2021. Instead, it seems more prudent to look at how important of a role Robinson now plays for the Jaguars after Meyer and his staff have actually coached the second-year back.
“Yeah, he’s really hitting his stride," Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell summarized this week.
"There’s almost nothing that he can’t do for us, and he’s run the ball well. I think he caught three passes in the passing game. So, he’s doing a great job. He’s giving us everything he’s got.”
For starters, it is hard to factor Etienne into any trade scenarios that involve Robinson because he isn't a tangible piece of the team as things presently stand. Etienne suffered a Linsfranc injury in the Jaguars' second preseason game, sidelining him for the entirety of 2021.
Whether the Jaguars believe Etienne will be back at 100% and overthrow Robinson on the depth chart is unknown. But for now, the Jaguars can see Etienne as only a hypothetical past 2021. The Jaguars were high enough on a healthy Etienne to draft him No. 25, but are they high enough on him following his injury to make them comfortable with trading Robinson?
Then there is Robinson's 2021 performance. Robinson has been one of the NFL's best running backs despite not seeing 20 carries in a single game this season. He is second in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt and fourth among running backs in missed tackles forced, per PFF. He ranks in the top-10 of nearly every single rushing stat despite his 84 carries lagging behind most of the NFL's other workhorse backs.
Robinson has rushed for 460 yards and five touchdowns through six weeks, just two fewer touchdowns than he recorded in all of 2021. His yards per carry average has bumped from 4.5 to 5.5 as he is averaging nearly a full additional yard on a per touch basis. In short, Robinson has had elite production in 2021.
The Jaguars don't seem like they would be willing to trade away their most productive player, even with their season more or less over at 1-5. That would be waving a white flag on the season, a move Meyer doesn't have the breathing room to make.
Trading Robinson would also impact No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who benefits from Robinson's impact on a down-to-down basis. Robinson has been the Jaguars' workhorse in terms of snaps (79%) and touches (101), and Lawrence's best games have come at the same time as Robinson's. Robinson is making everything easier for Lawrence, so it seems unlikely the Jaguars would want to disrupt that.
There is nothing that suggests the Jaguars would actually shop Robinson at the deadline. And based off everything we know, there is nothing that suggests they should shop him.
In short, Robinson is too talented for the Jaguars to consider trading, even if their season is lost and even if they didn't seem all-in on Robinson this offseason. Trading Robinson would mean both surrendering the rest of 2021 and jeopardizing Trevor Lawrence's support cast. Even for the Jaguars, this seems like a move that wouldn't make any sense.