Realistic Offseason Trades to Fill NFL Contenders' Biggest Holes
Moving is the worst.
Packing turns into a part-time job, cardboard boxes become as valuable as faberge eggs and you inevitably lose what you want to keep and keep what you'd prefer to lose.
Some NFL players are likely to go through that hellish process soon.
NFL teams made a total of 15 trades last July and August, with 21 players changing homes. As such, we should expect plenty of deals as training camps approach, proceed and conclude this summer.
Some of those deals might involve key players who contenders acquire to fill lingering holes. In those cases, moving might not be as awful as usual.
Here are 10 hypothetical offseason trades that might fit said profile.
Jordan Howard to the San Francisco 49ers
Freshly crowned San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will need as much support as possible in his first full season as an NFL starter. But in March, the 49ers lost veteran running back Carlos Hyde, who started all 16 games and carried the ball 240 times for them last season.
The Niners signed Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million deal to replace Hyde, but the 26-year-old doesn't have the same type of track record. He has never carried the ball 160 times in a season, and he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry during his final two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
Might the Chicago Bears be willing to offer San Francisco a workhorse to team up with McKinnon? Third-year running back Jordan Howard's rookie contract is half done, and the 2016 Pro Bowler was the subject of trade buzz earlier this offseason, according to John Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago, after Tarik Cohen shined as his rookie backup in 2017.
Potential deal: The Bears trade Howard to the 49ers for a second-round pick
DeSean Jackson to the Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens haven't done enough to support franchise quarterback Joe Flacco in recent years. They did sign three wide receivers in free agency, but Michael Crabtree is a possession guy and both Willie Snead and John Brown have dropped off over the past few years.
If the Ravens are still searching for a game-changing receiver—and they should be—they should reach out to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who might be overloaded with pass-catching weapons now that 2017 rookies Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard have come on alongside Mike Evans and Cameron Brate.
Does that make veteran speedster DeSean Jackson expendable? It's something the Bucs should ponder, especially if they're considering wiping the slate clean in light of the latest Jameis Winston fiasco.
The Ravens have the salary-cap space to pay Jackson the $10 million he's owed for 2019, and they'd be on the hook for nothing beyond that.
Potential deal: The Buccaneers trade Jackson to the Ravens for a third-round pick
Jack Doyle to the Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers lost high-potential starting tight end Hunter Henry to a torn ACL earlier this offseason, while the Indianapolis Colts signed high-potential tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $13 million deal in March.
That should motivate both teams to get a deal done involving Indy's other tight end, Jack Doyle, who has likely reached his ceiling. The undrafted 28-year-old is coming off a second consecutive highly productive season (80 catches for 690 yards and a Pro Bowl nod).
The Colts may drive a hard bargain if they plan on using both tight ends often in 12 personnel groupings, but it also wouldn't be surprising if a tight end-needy team in win-now mode—the Chargers, 49ers, Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys all come to mind—makes general manager Chris Ballard an offer he can't refuse.
Potential deal: The Colts trade Doyle to the Chargers for a third-round pick
Cameron Brate to the Dallas Cowboys
The Buccaneers signed Cameron Brate to a new six-year, $40.8 million contract in March, which hardly suggests he's trade bait. But earlier this offseason, the 49ers dealt interior offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore to Miami just weeks after signing him to a three-year extension.
Besides, Brate re-signed with the Bucs before the Chargers lost Henry to a major injury and the Cowboys lost future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten to an unexpected retirement. Both of those teams should be interested in Brate, who has caught 66.5 percent of the passes thrown his way for 1,251 yards and 14 touchdowns over the past two years.
Meanwhile, the Bucs should be willing to listen to offers. After all, Howard emerged late in his rookie season and should carry the lion's share of the load at that position this fall.
We're sending Doyle to the Chargers because he's older (28 versus 26) and has less time remaining on his contract (two years versus six). Los Angeles is counting on Henry to return, while the Cowboys won't be getting Witten back.
Potential deal: The Buccaneers trade Brate to the Cowboys for a second-round pick
Jack Mewhort to the Seattle Seahawks
Brate isn't the only player who makes sense as a trade piece despite signing a contract earlier this offseason.
The Colts brought back guard Jack Mewhort in free agency, but only on a one-year, $1.5 million deal that was consummated before they used a pair of top-40 picks on Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.
With those two on board alongside higher-paid veteran addition Matt Slauson, Indy likely would be happy to part with Mewhort for nothing more than a middle-round selection in the 2019 draft.
No team needs more offensive line help than the Seahawks, who should be willing to part with a half-decent pick to add a player like Mewhort. He has a higher ceiling than projected starting guards D.J. Fluker and Ethan Pocic, but the injury-prone 2014 second-round pick might need a new setting to prove that.
Potential deal: The Colts trade Mewhort to the Seahawks for a fourth-round pick
Dante Fowler to the Detroit Lions
There's still plenty of hope for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler, who quietly recorded eight sacks in a backup role in 2017. However, Fowler is likely entering his final season in Jacksonville since the team declined to exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie contract.
Besides, there isn't much room for him on the Jaguars with Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell on board.
That makes Fowler a logical trade piece this summer, especially if a contender in need of pass-rushing help figures it could get more out of him in a contract year. While the New York Giants immediately come to mind as they move on from Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman likely wouldn't be interested in adding a guy with a history of off-field issues.
Instead, keep an eye on the Detroit Lions. They need somebody to bring it opposite veteran Ezekiel Ansah, who could also be running out of time in Detroit as he prepares to play under the franchise tag in 2018.
Potential deal: The Jaguars trade Fowler to the Lions for a second-round pick
Manti Te'o to the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have to think about replacing linebacker Ryan Shazier, who will miss the entire 2018 season and might never again play in the NFL after he suffered a severe spinal injury in December.
For now, that onus looks as though it'll fall on veteran free-agent addition Jon Bostic, but he's joining his fourth team in five years and is more of a placeholder. Beyond that, the Steelers still haven't re-signed inside linebackers Sean Spence and Arthur Moats, which suggests they don't believe either player can be an effective regular starter.
What about Manti Te'o? The 2013 second-round pick and former Notre Dame star performed well as a regular starter in his first (and only?) season with the Saints in 2017. However, he's likely to be demoted after New Orleans signed Demario Davis in March.
The 27-year-old would be a good fit in Pittsburgh.
Potential deal: The Saints trade Te'o to the Steelers for a fifth-round pick
Jason Verrett to the Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs traded ball-hawk cornerback Marcus Peters in March, leaving themselves thin in the secondary even with the addition of slot coverage specialist and potential one-year wonder Kendall Fuller.
Fuller will have a chance to flourish out wide this season, but even if that works, there isn't much beyond him in Keith Reaser, Steven Nelson and David Amerson.
That should push the Chiefs to check with the Chargers on the availability of Jason Verrett, who made the Pro Bowl as a sophomore in 2015 but has missed all but a handful of games since as a result of knee injuries.
Verrett is entering a contract year at the age of 27, and the Bolts already have three good corners in Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams and Desmond King. They might as well get something for Verrett now.
Potential deal: The Chargers trade Verrett to the Chiefs for a third-round pick
Jimmy Smith to the Oakland Raiders
Doesn't this feel like a Jon Gruden move?
Chucky has been chasing grizzled veterans throughout his first offseason back with the Oakland Raiders, and Jimmy Smith would bring plenty of talent and experience to a secondary that doesn't know what to expect from young Gareon Conley and free-agent addition Rashaan Melvin, who broke out in 2017.
With Amerson, Sean Smith and T.J. Carrie gone, the Raiders will be relying heavily on those two as well as the 33-year-old Leon Hall. Smith, who had a strong but abbreviated age-29 season in 2017, could help relieve some of that pressure if he can get back from a torn Achilles in time.
He'd likely come cheap because of that injury, especially since the Baltimore Ravens have three other high-quality corners in Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young and Brandon Carr.
Potential trade: The Ravens trade the Smith to Raiders for a sixth-round pick
Earl Thomas to the Houston Texans
Superstar Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is holding out ahead of a contract year, which begs the question of whether the Texas native will return home via a trade to the Cowboys. But Dallas might be better off looking for another target for quarterback Dak Prescott, and it isn't in bad hands at safety with Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath.
Instead, it's possible the other Texas-based NFL team could swoop in as a dark horse and acquire Thomas.
Veteran Houston Texans safety Andre Hal was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma earlier this month, which has the Texans scrambling to find a partner for Tyrann Mathieu. They're testing cornerback Kareem Jackson out as a safety, but that could backfire, and they're gambling on Mathieu as well.
The win-now Texans should be willing to give up a Day 2 draft pick for a player like Thomas in his prime, and they have the cap space to lock him up long term, too.
Potential deal: The Seahawks trade Thomas to the Texans for a second-round pick (maybe the same one Seattle sent to Houston in the Duane Brown trade last year?)