Making real-life NFL trades is a whole different ballgame compared to the NBA or MLB, and it damn sure doesn't resemble fantasy football.
Whereas basketball and baseball teams can integrate pretty much any player into their system—think about the diverse sampling that wanted LeBron James and Cliff Lee last year—pro football doesn't work that way. The game has become so specialized, with coaches who are so married to the specific profiles assigned to each position on the field, that NFL teams will pass on an available superstar not because he's too expensive, but because they don't believe he fits exactly what they need.
Consider the case of Osi Umenyiora.
As one of the best defensive players in the league, Umenyiora—who is reportedly willing to hold out or demand a trade if the New York Giants don't restructure his contract before next season—should be on every NFL team's wish list. Last season, he racked up 11.5 sacks and forced 10 fumbles (an NFL record), making the Associated Press All-Pro second team at defensive end.
But in today's NFL, all defensive ends are not judged equally. Umenyiora has made his name playing D-end in New York's 4-3 alignment, which is almost an entirely different position than D-end in a 3-4 alignment. In an NFL 4-3, defensive ends typically weigh 260-275 pounds and are primarily asked to rush the quarterback using their speed and athleticism. In the 3-4, defensive ends populate the 300-pound range and serve as primary run stoppers.
So because Umenyiora is a 261-pound speed rusher who thrives in a 4-3, teams like the Steelers, Ravens and Patriots—who could theoretically turn their defenses into juggernauts by adding Osi to the mix—may not be interested in arguably the best defensive end in the league because he doesn't fit their profile for the position.
I'd like to think that great football players are great football players, and that any player good enough to not only make it to the NFL, but become one of the best in the league, would shine on any team in any scheme. But if conventional wisdom says Umenyiora can't convert from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker—e.g. Mario Williams of the Texans or DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys—the list of teams pursuing Umenyiora will inevitably shrink.
Throw in the low likelihood of the Giants helping out any serious NFC contender or NFC East rival by handing them an All-Pro sack machine, and Umenyiora's potential destinations decrease even more. So with that, here are the eight teams most likely to pull off a trade for Umenyiora.
Minnesota has Jared Allen on one side of the line, and a big question mark on the other.
Last season's starter, Ray Edwards, is a free agent, leaving backups Brian Robison and Everson Griffen to fight for the job. Robison has a career total of 13.5 sacks in four pro seasons, while Griffen didn't help his reputation in the franchise by getting arrested twice this year for alcohol-related offenses.
While the Vikings' offense is a rebuilding job in progress, the defense could become one of the most troublesome in the league with the addition of Umenyiora.
Sometimes actual sack numbers can be overrated, so long as you're putting adequate pressure on the QB and causing chaos to an opponent's offensive game plan.
Still, when it reads on paper that Cincinnati starting DE Robert Geathers registered one sack in 16 starts last season, that the team ranked 29th in the league with a total of 27 sacks, and that the Bengals' sack leader was rookie backup Carlos Dunlap (9.5 sacks in zero starts), you can see where there's an area of need.
Cincy fans may have become accustomed to losing, but that doesn't mean the team will stop trying to bring them to the stadium. And facing the possibility of losing QB Carson Palmer, WR Chad Ochocinco and RB Cedric Benson this offseason, bringing in a known star like Umenyiora would help the Bengals on the field and at the ticket gate.
The worst defense in the NFL last season gave up 29 points and over 390 yards per game, and ranked last in the league with 23 total sacks. Another standout number: The average age of Denver's defensive backfield starters is 33 years old.
Translation: Establishing a better pass rush from the front seven would cut down the precious half-seconds that veteran DBs Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Renaldo Hill and Brian Dawkins have to stay in front of receivers.
The Broncos made the first move by taking heat-seeking linebacker Von Miller with the No. 2 pick in the draft. By trading for Umenyiora to bookend former NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil—who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle—the defense immediately becomes a lot better.
Tennessee finished 28th in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed, 32nd in pass completions allowed and 31st in first downs allowed via the pass. In other words, the Titans need a lot of work, and things don't get better with their top pass rusher—Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin—hitting the open market in free agency this week.
The fact that Babin has already played for five teams in seven pro seasons works in Tennessee's favor. He might be looking for some stability and be willing to take a lower offer from the Titans just to avoid another relocation.
But whether Babin stays or goes, Umenyiora would take his place as the team's most dangerous defensive threat.
New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is junking Cleveland's 3-4 for a revamped 4-3, leaving the Browns in the market for a pass-rushing defensive end.
The team has already made some moves in this interrupted offseason to address its D-line, including using a second-round draft pick on Pitt DE Jabaal Sheard. Spending another high pick (and whatever else it costs) to land Umenyiora might be considered a hefty price for another D-end who is turning 30 this year, but this is potential breakout year for a franchise that has gone too long without glory.
Given a chance to bring in a player that could get them over the playoff hump, the Browns have to do it.
It has already been reported that Osi is interested in the Seahawks, and vice versa.
The match works for the Seahawks, who have a Swiss cheese secondary, are probably losing DE Raheem Brock (nine sacks) to free agency, and whose third-leading sack producer last season was 37-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy.
It works for Umenyiora because Seattle is a playoff team that runs a 4-3, and the organization has enough money to pay him what he's not getting from the Giants.
Since the Jaguars used only two of their five draft picks this year on defensive players—a fourth-rounder on a safety and a fifth-rounder on a corner—the team is expected to fill the gaps in its front seven through trades and free agency.
One of those soft spots is at defensive end, where two-time Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman is coming off his second ACL tear in two years (one in each knee), and at 31 years old may not be able to recapture his past form.
Umenyiora is a playmaker who would improve a defense that doesn't make plays: Jacksonville finished fifth-worst in the NFL last season in total yards allowed, second-to-last in sacks, and last place in forced fumbles.
If there is going to be one team that runs a 3-4 that pursues Umenyiora, my money would be on the Chiefs.
Kansas City already has one defensive star in Tambi Hali who made the switch from 4-3 end to 3-4 rush linebacker, and currently have an opening at the other outside linebacker that Umenyiora could fill, following the retirement of OLB Mike Vrabel.
The team used a third-round draft pick on OLB Justin Houston (Georgia) who is expected to be a big contributor, but the rookie could easily be moved to a backup role if KC has a shot at landing Umenyiora and capitalizing on the momentum of last season's AFC West championship.