Since the beginning of training camp this week, there has already been a flutter of trades between NFL franchises. It's rarely talked about, but this is a time of the year when some significant moves are made to help structure the regular season and playoffs. Even though there are rarely blockbuster deals in the NFL like there is in the NBA, the significance of trades can still be very palpable.
Last year's AFC Championship was decided by a failed training camp trade. Even though the New England Patriots had two failed training camp deals, for Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco) and Albert Haynesworth, it was the Ravens' trade for Lee Evans that ultimately decided the game in Foxboro. In the dying moments of the game, Evans dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
This is the best time of the year for teams to analyze their strengths and weaknesses because they spent extensive time with their players in camp. The Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Carolina Panthers have already set about addressing weaknesses after each team completed a trade this week. Right tackle Jeff Otah became a Jet, receiver Louis Murphy is now a Panther and Brian Price is now with the Bears.
Each of those trades made a lot of sense, here are a few more that do too.
Both the Lions and Cowboys have had somewhat difficult offseasons as of late with Dez Bryant and Aaron Berry causing problems. Bryant hasn't lost his roster spot like Berry, but he could potentially be suspended entering the season.
Even if Bryant isn't suspended, the Cowboys could still use another wide receiver because rookie Danny Coale is injured entering training camp. Coale is expected to be the team's third receiver and while he has more potential than Burleson, Burleson provides a lot more stability and a proven veteran with starting experience. Starting experience is important as the team's third receiver could step into a starting role if Bryant has more issues. The Cowboys don't have Laurent Robinson on the roster anymore, so they would feel more comfortable with Burleson than Coale.
Because they added two starting caliber cornerbacks to the roster this offseason, the Cowboys have a lot of flexibility with their secondary. Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick may not be superstars, but both have starting experience at a young age. Jenkins only has one year left on his deal and has more starting experience than Scandrick so both teams would likely prefer to have him involved in the deal.
From the Lions point of view, with two quality receiving tight ends and four quality wide receivers, they can afford to swap out Burleson for a potential starter at cornerback. Aaron Berry was expected to be the team's starter on one side before he was released, and the Lions don't have anyone else on the roster as talented as Jenkins.
Jenkins has suffered with health and production in his short career, but a new setting could see him flourish. It's more of a risk for the Lions than the Cowboys, but the value of a starting cornerback is much greater than the value of a replaceable wide receiver.
Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are referred to as the exceptions to the rookie rule at quarterback because it is very rare that rookies can change the fortunes of their franchises instantly. Even though Dalton and Newton didn't have a proper offseason, they actually benefited from last year's lockout. It was much easier for offenses to work out without organized activities in the offseason last year than it was for defenses. That was reflected in the widespread success passing attacks had last year.
This season, the norm should resume with Andrew Luck. Even if Luck is as good as Cam Newton, the Colts defense is enduring too many changes for it to be even close to competitive. New head coach Chuck Pagano is radically altering the team's scheme going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That means that the team's two star pass rushers, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, are moving from defensive end to linebacker at very late stages in their careers.
Mathis is a year younger than Freeney and was re-signed to a long-term deal this offseason. Freeney only has one year left on his contract and is owed $14 million for the year. Considering he is 32-years of age, Freeney likely won't be the impact player he is now when the Colts return to prominence. Instead, it makes more sense for the team to trade him now and reap some rewards opposed to have him leave in free agency for nothing next year.
The market for Freeney is limited because of his massive cap hit, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have more than enough cap space to sign him and a need for him. The Jaguars have two very inexperienced, but talented pass rushers on the roster in Andre Branch and Jeremy Mincey. Both players would benefit significantly from playing with Freeney and learning from him day to day. With Freeney returning to a defensive end role in a 4-3 defense, he would also be the final piece in a very talented Jaguars defense.
In my recent training camp preview, I touched on the Bills' extra depth on the interior of their offensive line. I also pointed out that the Bills don't have a clear candidate to start at wide receiver across from Stevie Johnson. After an offseason spent investing in offensive weaponry for Alex Smith, the San Francisco 49ers have the opposite issue with their roster.
The 49ers have converted guard Alex Boone and aged veteran Leonard Davis competing to start at right guard. For a team hoping to make a run at the Super Bowl this year, they can't afford to have any weaknesses in front of Alex Smith. Smith would be a lot more comfortable in the pocket with Chad Rinehart starting at right guard, while Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs would see greater gaps to run through.
When Jim Harbaugh said that Michael Crabtree had the best hands he had ever seen, that was likely more of an indictment of the receivers he coached in college or simply an effort to boost the maligned receiver's confidence. In reality, Crabtree is likely fighting for his starting place after the arrivals of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and AJ Jenkins in the offseason. Swapping a replaceable receiver for a starting right guard will only improve Alex Smith's chances of carrying his team further than he managed last year.
If Rinehart stays in Buffalo, he would be the backup to Kraig Urbik and Andy Levitre in all likelihood. Crabtree would give the Bills a solid starter across from Stevie Johnson who would fit well with the Bills. With Johnson and Crabtree, the Bills would have two physical receivers capable of making plays in space. Because the Bills spread the field more than any team, Crabtree should have less issues gaining separation and find more favorable coverage.
The Oakland Raiders are fighting against the odds to be a relevant team in the AFC West this year. Each of the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs have significantly improved this offseason, while the Raiders were restricted by the salary cap and ultimately had to let players go.
With a new head coach taking over, Dennis Allen, the Raiders would be better to sacrifice short-term success for long-term gain. That means letting go of their best defensive player in Richard Seymour. Allen would be reluctant to let Seymour go, especially to a divisional rival, but making tough decisions is what makes a successful head coach.
If the Raiders could turn a 32-year-old defensive tackle into a second round pick and young running back with potential, it would be a very astute move. The second round pick obviously helps with the rebuilding process without taking on extra cap space, while Lance Ball would offer the Raiders another good backup to Darren McFadden. McFadden is an injury prone starter while Mike Goodson has a very different skill-set to Ball.
For the Broncos, they are essentially the inverse of the Raiders. After signing Peyton Manning to a five-year contract, John Elway's franchise have set their sights on winning a Super Bowl or two in the near future. Seymour solves two problems for the Broncos. The Broncos defense needs more experience in the front seven and better quality play at defensive tackle. Giving up a second round pick isn't a problem for the team if they are getting back a player and leader of Seymour's standard.
The Seattle Seahawks offense is built on the strong running of Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks acquired Lynch from the Buffalo Bills in 2010 for a fourth and fifth-round pick. Lynch left Buffalo because he no longer fit in with the offense, but more importantly, he had also been suspended for three games after landing a weapons charge in 2009. Therefore, when he was arrested again just before training camp, the threat of losing Lynch for half or even the whole season became palpable.
With Leon Washington, Robert Turbin and Kregg Lumpkin as his backups, the Seahawks don't have a player who can replace Lynch on the roster. Lynch is a dominant runner but limited all-around football player. The Seahawks need to replace him with a player who can bring that physical running to the team.
LeGarrette Blount is that type of player.
Blount is expected to lose his starting spot with the Buccaneers to rookie David Wilson. Blount isn't the type of back who will excel in the third down role and his attitude has some serious question marks to determine how he will react to a role on the bench. The Seahawks have proven in the past that they will take a chance on a questionable character and they have the players to give to Tampa Bay who will properly complement Wilson.
In Lumpkin and Washington, the Seahawks have two capable third down backs. Swapping Washington for Blount wouldn't hurt the Seahawks at all while Washington with the Buccaneers would fill the third down role. Presuming that Lynch is suspended, then the Seahawks have a ready made replacement to come in. If Lynch somehow isn't suspended, then using the two backs together could get the best out of both players. Instead of giving Lynch 300 carries, they could keep both players fresh by splitting the carries equally.
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