NFL Trades That Need to Happen Early in 2018 Season
The Oakland Raiders shifted the NFL landscape Saturday, as they dealt All-Pro edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.
That served as the highlight of an unusually trade-heavy offseason, as a few other transactions—among them Teddy Bridgewater to the New Orleans Saints and Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams—also made waves.
The beginning of the regular season Thursday won't prevent further deals from occurring, as the NFL trade deadline isn't until Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. ET. Teams weren't shy about making trades in late October last year. Most notably, the New England Patriots sent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick.
Below, we've come up with five hypothetical trades that would help address some team needs. In some cases, teams would be acquiring players who would help bolster a certain position. In others, teams would be trying to acquire assets for players who have fallen down depth charts and may not fit into their future plans. Other players and teams could be better off apart for various reasons.
Whatever the reason for a deal, it won't be a surprise to see more trades over the next two months.
Seahawks S Earl Thomas to Cowboys for 2nd-Rounder, 3rd-Rounder
In a piece for The Players' Tribune on Aug. 2, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told the team to give him an extension or trade him. The former University of Texas star is a free agent after this season, and he has yet to report to the team.
At this time, he's on Seattle's reserve/did not report list. However, he's set to lose a lot of money if he continues his holdout, and his contract would roll over into 2019 if he doesn't return by the eighth game of the regular season, per Gregg Bell of the News Tribune.
Editor's Note: Thomas now plans to report to the Seahawks today, September 5, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times offered more insight into the situation in July, noting that "the Seahawks are holding firm to their demand that any team wanting Thomas give up at least a second-round pick or its equivalent."
Seattle has the leverage in this situation, so it doesn't need to trade Thomas now. But if they're presented with a reasonable offer, they can move forward and end this drawn-out situation.
The Dallas Cowboys can give them that offer. Thomas is a Texas native, and as David Moore and Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News noted, he told Cowboys head coach to "come get me" following a December game between the Seahawks and Cowboys last season.
More recently, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team was looking for safety help during a kickoff luncheon in late August, per Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. The secondary is filled with young and unproven players—three of Dallas' four starting defensive backs and its nickelback are no older than 25. Thomas would be a perfect veteran leader for the back end.
A first-rounder is likely asking too much for Thomas, but if the Cowboys offer the Seahawks a second- and a third-rounder (which is what they gave up for left tackle Duane Brown last year), they should take the deal. Seattle would get two top-100 picks (at worst), while Dallas would get a huge defensive boost.
Bengals G Christian Westerman, 6th-Rounder to Bills for DE Shaq Lawson
Christian Westerman is the Cincinnati Bengals' backup at left guard, but some observers wondered why he wasn't getting a shot at the starting right guard gig in a competition with Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond.
Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer provided an answer after speaking with head coach Marvin Lewis in late August: "Asked Marvin Lewis why Christian Westerman never made it in to the RG battle, instead staying at LG. Said side didn't matter. Needed to be good enough to be in the competition. Obvious inference is Westerman wasn't as good as Redmond/Hopkins."
On August 31, Joe Goodberry of The Athletic suggested the Bengals should look to trade Westerman if he was going to ride the pine, as his value increased following a solid preseason performance.
They should look to their Week 3 preseason opponent, the Buffalo Bills, for a trading partner. The Bills allowed five first-half sacks of rookie quarterback Josh Allen that day. The team needs some help up front, and Westerman could challenge for a starting guard position.
In return, the Bills could give 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson a fresh start.
Buffalo's front office has not been impressed with Lawson's first two years in the league, as general manager Brandon Beane told Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic in mid-June (h/t Kevin Patra of NFL.com).
It's never a good sign when a first-round pick is listed as a backup in year three, but that's the situation here. The Bengals don't have a pressing need at defensive end, especially with veteran Michael Johnson back in the mix, but getting a 24-year-old first-rounder in return for a backup lineman and a late-round pick would be a good deal.
49ers DB Jimmie Ward to Indianapolis Colts for 5th-Rounder
A starter for most of the past three seasons, San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward is now listed as the backup. Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com mentioned him as San Francisco's likeliest trade candidate, although he also said the Niners wouldn't actively shop him and that "they'd be happy to keep Ward around as the ultimate insurance in their secondary."
But if a team approaches the 49ers with a solid offer, they should consider a deal. Ward's contract runs out after this year, and the Niners don't appear likely to re-sign him.
San Francisco would need to find a team to eat Ward's salary, which is over $8.5 million guaranteed, per Over the Cap. But a few teams can take on that contract, including the Indianapolis Colts, who have nearly $47 million in available cap space this season.
The Colts' pass defense ranked dead last in efficiency last year, per Football Outsiders. Granted, 2017 first-round pick Malik Hooker played only seven games before suffering a torn ACL, but the team still needs more help on the back end.
Ward could provide assistance, as a change of scenery (and some consistency) could do him some good. He's moved around from cornerback to safety over his career, and he's played under four head coaches in four seasons. Ward also suffered injuries that forced him to miss 14 games over the past two seasons.
Ward wasn't awful in a free safety role last year, as he finished 22nd out of 45 free safeties in the B/R 1000. If he stays healthy, he could be a big boost to the Colts defense.
Colts TE Erik Swoope to Lions for DB Miles Killebrew
The Colts need help on defense. Aside from reasons already mentioned, the Indianapolis ranked 27th in defense-adjusted value over average last year, per Football Outsiders.
The Detroit Lions' top three tight ends (Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo and Michael Roberts) combined for just 31 receptions last season. Perhaps someone could emerge from that group, but there's limited upside.
The Colts and Lions should strike a deal, with Detroit defensive back Miles Killebrew heading to Indianapolis and tight end Erik Swoope going the opposite direction.
Swoope signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The 6'4", 255-pound target hasn't played much except for 2016, when he caught 15 passes (on 22 targets) for 297 yards and one touchdown as a backup behind Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen. Those stats certainly aren't gaudy, but the former University of Miami basketball player has great size and could shine with more opportunities.
Knee surgery in 2017 ended his year before it started, but the preseason was promising. Mike Wells of ESPN.com noted the 26-year-old was having a "strong training camp" and that Swoope was a trade candidate. With the Lions, Swoope would have a much better chance of making an impact.
As for Killebrew, the third-year pro amassed 66 tackles and two interceptions in his first two seasons. He is a safety by trade, but head coach Matt Patricia has had him working with linebackers, per Justin Rogers of the Detroit News.
Killebrew is listed as a backup on the depth chart, so one has to wonder if the team feels good about his future at defensive back. Rogers praised Killebrew for his special teams work and third-down prowess, and both traits would benefit the Colts.
Lions RB Ameer Abdullah to Steelers for 6th-Rounder
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's holdout is ongoing as his team prepares for its Week 1 opener against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Through Tuesday, the three-time Pro Bowler had not yet reported to the team.
If he holds out into the regular season, then the Steelers should add a backup behind James Conner, who will start in Bell's place. Even if Bell comes back, his Pittsburgh tenure will likely end after this year, which means Pittsburgh should add to its running back depth chart regardless.
Behind Conner, Pittsburgh needs a solid pass-catching running back, which the team doesn't have outside Bell (Jaylen Samuels is a fullback, and Stevan Ridley has caught just 27 passes in his seven-year career).
Enter the Detroit Lions' Ameer Abdullah, whom Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com recently named as a trade candidate. Abdullah has amassed 50 catches for 345 yards in his two full seasons (he was limited to two games in 2016 because of a foot injury).
Abdullah struggled as a traditional runner last year (he had a negative defense-adjusted yards above replacement rating, per Football Outsiders), but if Conner handles early-down and goal-line responsibilities, Abdullah could focus on taking charge in passing situations.
In Detroit, there's no room in the backfield for the former Nebraska star, who was the 54th overall pick in 2015. The Lions added Kerryon Johnson in the 2018 draft and LeGarrette Blount in free agency. Theo Riddick is also still around and can handle additional duties, specifically as a pass-catcher.
With Abdullah a pending free agent, the Lions should look for a deal with a running back-needy team. The Steelers make sense with Bell's status in doubt, and if the Lions can flip Abdullah for a sixth-rounder, then this should work for both sides.