Top Targets as NFL Trade Deadline Approaches

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystOctober 25, 2018

Top Targets as NFL Trade Deadline Approaches

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    This year's NFL trade deadline has a chance to be the most active ever. 

    The action has already begun: The Cleveland Browns sent running back Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Oakland Raiders flipped Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick. Cornerback Eli Apple made his way from the Big Apple to the Big Easy. And the NFL's best run defender, Damon "Snacks" Harrison, went to the Detroit Lions. 

    The deadline isn't until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. 

    Franchises are far more willing to make deals now than ever, as they try to capitalize on a market inefficiency established over time regarding the reduced return NFL teams often receive for proven veterans. More teams have become willing to trade for players instead of overvaluing draft picks. 

    Last year, Jay Ajayi, Kelvin Benjamin and Marcell Dareus moved to new squads midseason without their new organizations spending anything close to premium picks. Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown demanded a pair of draft picks. The San Francisco 49ers, of course, made the biggest splash by obtaining their franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo.  

    The trend will continue as teams attempt to improve, while others will try to dump unnecessary salary or certain individuals. 

    As a result, a robust group of talented and noteworthy veterans are potential trade targets. Not all of these players will be dealt. In fact, most won't. It never hurts for teams to call and inquire about them, though. A couple will draw plenty of interest based on production, positional value and contract status. 

    "I think they know that we are willing to trade," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on WEEI's Ordway, Merloni and Fauria (via NESN's Zack Cox). 

    So is everyone else. 

         

10. CB Gareon Conley, Oakland Raiders

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Raiders are closed for business, according to head coach Jon Gruden. 

    "We're not trading anyone else," he told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. "We're trying to stay competitive and figure out a way to compete this next game [against the Colts]."

    Forget for a moment that Gruden said the Raiders weren't shopping Cooper, per Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area, before, y'know, trading the wide receiver. 

    He seems sure this time. Like really, really sure. 

    Or not. 

    "You have to wonder if we haven't been playing for draft picks all along," an anonymous Raider told The Athletic's Vic Tafur. "Despite everything the coaches told us at training camp."

    Discord appears to be growing within the organization, and cornerback Gareon Conley seems like he could be at the forefront of any potential deal. Conley hasn't performed well in coordinator Paul Guenther's defensive scheme, but the disappointment from his lack of development shouldn't hurt his market value. 

    The Raiders used a first-round selection on Conley in 2017. Organizations typically believe they can maximize a top draft pick's talent even if he struggled at his previous stop. 

    Oakland may not be ready to part with the second-year defensive back, but multiple teams are interested in his services, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

9. RB LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    A healthy LeSean McCoy would greatly help the Buffalo Bills offense. He could help another team's even more. 

    The 2-5 Bills aren't going anywhere this year, and the offense is a complete disaster. The 30-year-old McCoy, though, isn't going to change that. He might lighten the burden, but it's like throwing a pail of water on a house engulfed in flames. 

    Earlier this month, McCoy's name surfaced as a potential trade candidate when WIVB Buffalo's Josh Reed reported the Philadelphia Eagles called about his availability. 

    "I heard about it," McCoy said, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. "I kind of just stay focused on the job, the task at hand. I'll let that stuff work itself out. We'll see what happens." 

    The 10th-year veteran is a potential short-term solution for teams in need of backfield depth, and the reasons extend beyond his age. McCoy's contract has a $9.05 million cap hit during the 2019 campaign, according to Spotrac. But he can be released to save $6.43 million. 

    The contract alone is why the Bills should be eager to trade their running back. However, McCoy is in concussion protocol, which could complicate matters. If he is cleared by Tuesday, the team will have one of the top available runners. 

    McCoy has consistently been one of the league's most productive backs with six 1,000-yard campaigns over the last eight seasons. He provided a team-leading 1,586 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns last year. 

    Obviously, any investment in an aging back is a risky proposition, yet McCoy could be what a playoff team needs in the immediate future to stabilize its backfield. 

8. WR Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos have two overpriced veteran receivers with a pair of exciting rookies playing behind them. As a result, starters Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will draw plenty of attention on the trade market.

    "That's a good thing if somebody is interested because then I can still play ball, I still got a chance, if I get traded," Thomas said, per BSN Denver's Zac Stevens. "Of course I want to be here but I've been hearing it the whole season now. So I feel like somewhat it is true [that] my time here is coming up, but I don't know."

    Thomas and Sanders present different skill sets and financial implications that provide a slight differentiation in their valuation. As a result, Thomas is more likely to be moved, even though Sanders holds a higher value. 

    The 30-year-old receiver appears to have reached the point where a decline has begun. Thomas followed five straight 1,000-yard campaigns with 949 yards last season. He's on pace to produce 850 this year. 

    Some of his deteriorating production is due to poor quarterback play, of course. But Thomas' game has always been predicated on his size and his ability to overwhelm defensive backs. He's not as dominant in that phase as he once was. 

    His frame and his physicality are still selling points for teams not expecting him to be a No. 1 target. Those in search of a big body and an experienced route-runner should see value in adding the 6'3", 229-pound receiver, while the Broncos pave the way for Courtland Sutton to become a primary option. 

    The value is steep, though. Thomas holds the prorated portion of his $12.03 million cap hit this year and $17.53 million next season. 

    The Broncos are listening to offers, according to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter.

7. WR Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Emmanuel Sanders is a more attractive trade target compared to his teammate for two reasons. 

    First, the 31-year-old wide receiver continues to produce at a high level. Sanders leads the team with 603 receiving yards and earned AFC Player of the Week honors after he registered six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown—while throwing for another score—during Thursday's 45-10 rout of the Arizona Cardinals. 

    "I work my butt off, man," Sanders said after the game, per CBS Denver. "I do everything necessary for me to be successful. It just feels good to see all that hard work paying off."

    Second, Sanders is slightly cheaper than Demaryius Thomas. The former's cap hit is the leftover from this year's $10.94 million and $12.94 million next year. 

    Some of the quoted numbers for both receivers will be offset slightly by the Broncos taking on some dead money. However, neither comes cheap. 

    Sanders is the better investment, and other franchises are greatly interested. Denver 9News' Mike Klis reported teams are most often calling about Sanders despite the potential availability of both. Klis added the Broncos aren't expected to trade Sanders. 

    Another loss could quickly change the organization's thinking. 

    At 3-4 overall, the Broncos aren't in a position to make a run at the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, and four more teams within the conferencenot including the division leadershave better records.

    One more step back may be more than enough to change the team's approach, because it's obvious Denver has two tradeable wide receivers whose departures can create far more financial flexibility as the offensive rebuild ensues.

6. CB Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The New York Giants are sellers and apparently ready to enter a full-on rebuild. 

    "I'm not sure it's going to be a quick fix," co-owner John Mara acknowledged at last week's owners meetings, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo

    The Giants traded their best defensive player, Damon "Snacks" Harrison, Wednesday, and a league source told ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan his team is working under the assumption "anyone on their defense was available for the right price."

    Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is the most attractive and attainable asset on the Giants defense. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported teams are already "sniffing around" on the 29-year old defender.

    Jenkins is only two seasons removed from a Pro Bowl berth, but his age—he turns 30 a day before the deadline—coupled with his expensive contract make the defensive back an ideal candidate for the Giants to flip for a draft asset. 

    Contending teams in need of secondary help can look at Jenkins as an instant upgrade, even though he does suffer defensive lapses on occasion. The primary hurdle in any negotiation will be his contract since two years remain on his current deal with $14.75 million cap hits in 2019 and '20, per Spotrac.  

    Opportunities to upgrade a premium position midseason are hard to come by, though. 

    Jenkins can instantly become a top cover corner for many teams. Those with the financial flexibility to take on his contract shouldn't scoff at the opportunity to improve their pass defense. 

5. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Larry Fitzgerald made himself quite clear this summer when he said, "If I'm not playing in Arizona, I won't be playing anywhere." 

    What if the decision isn't up to him? 

    The 35-year-old wide receiver held all the cards when he chose to re-sign with Arizona on a one-year basis. But he's under contract now, and his organization should seriously consider moving the aging target based on the possibility that he'll retire next offseason.

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the veteran target is "sought after" by contending teams. He should be. Fitzgerald is still a reliable target and remains a constant presence in the passing game.

    Granted, the 15-year-veteran only has 26 receptions for 255 yards this season, but his lack of contributions is more about poor quarterback play, a crumbling offensive line and an ill-suited system than his skills. 

    After all, Fitzgerald managed 100-plus catches the last three seasons at an advanced age. A better offense with a consistent quarterback will almost certainly reignite Fitzgerald's production. 

    A move could work in the receiver's favor as well. While Fitzgerald obviously built a life in Arizona, a new team in the thick of the playoff picture could extend his career. The unknown can be worrisome, but Fitzgerald paired with Tom Brady or Drew Brees seems like matches made in heaven. 

    The future Hall of Fame wide receiver could finish the season somewhere other than Arizona. In fact, the Cardinals should make that happen. 

4. QB Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    There was constant chatter regarding the possibility of the Philadelphia Eagles trading Nick Foles this offseason. But general manager Howie Roseman never intended to move the Super Bowl LII MVP as starter Carson Wentz recovered from a season-ending knee injury. 

    "He's still on the team because he's an incredibly valuable member of the Philadelphia Eagles," Roseman said at the spring owners meetings, per NBC Sports Philadelphia's Dave Zangaro. "When you talk about that position and what's gone on, you've seen it in the free-agent market, you've seen it in the trade market. We're in the business of making sure we get the right value for the player. What our value is for a player is going to stick."

    Now is the time to find the right value. 

    Initially, the team's decision to keep Foles proved to be beneficial since he needed to start the first two games as Wentz's recovery continued. Now, he's nothing more than an overpriced backup.

    Plus, Foles' reworked contract contains a mutual option with which the team can pick up his 2019 salary at $20 million (unlikely) or the quarterback can buy his way out of the year to enter free agency. Basically, the most likely outcome is Foles entering free agency next year if the Eagles don't find a trade partner. 

    The Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins need upgrades behind center. By acquiring Foles now, the 29-year-old quarterback can be worked into the lineup, while the new team retains the option included in his current contract. The extended period also provides an opportunity to negotiate a longer-term extension. 

    There's something to be said about the foresight Roseman showed to keep Foles without jumping at any offer before the regular season began. But the team can't hold onto him any longer without minimizing his worth.

3. RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Le'Veon Bell should eventually get everything he wants from his prolonged holdout. Well, almost everything. 

    The running back knew another 400-touch campaign wasn't in his best long-term interests, so he's avoided stepping onto the field. Eventually, he's going to sign a long-term contract. He can't at the moment because of the franchise tag, but it will be forthcoming. What he almost certainly won't become is a Steeler for life. 

    There's no reason Pittsburgh should retain his services beyond this week. 

    James Conner already proved himself as a more-than-capable replacement. In fact, he's been better than Bell this season compared to last. Bell's decision also created a festering situation in the locker room in which multiple teammates spoke out against his approach. 

    The 26-year-old running back can add another element to Pittsburgh's offense if he chooses to report, but that hasn't been his goal for some time. 

    "One of the things we try to instill in our clients from the very beginning is understanding their value on and off the field," Bell's agent, Adisa Bakari, told The Undefeated's Jesse Washington. "Understanding your worth, understanding your value and being unapologetic about pursuing it."

    Bell is more than a typical running back. During the last two seasons, he developed into Pittsburgh's second-leading receiver. He's not just an outlet target, either. Bell can line up wide and run a near-complete route tree. 

    He's an offensive weapon and wants to be paid like one. The Steelers don't agree. 

    Since the situation remains unresolved and Bell's plans are unknown, Pittsburgh can benefit by dangling one of the game's best on the market to see if another franchise may be willing to give the player exactly what he wants. 

2. CB Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Patrick Peterson may reside at No. 2 on this list, but he'll likely draw the most interest around the league. 

    Cornerback is considered a premium position alongside quarterback, left tackle and edge-rusher. Peterson is still counted among the league's elite performers. According to Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson, the 28-year-old has allowed a 39.9 quarterback rating when targeted. 

    He remains the standard with seven straight Pro Bowl appearances. 

    Peterson is looking to escape the desert as well. The 28-year-old defender asked to traded and "desperately" wants out of Arizona, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Peterson released a statement Wednesday to dispel earlier reports. 

    A bevy of franchises should race to become the highest bidder since Peterson remains in his prime and has the skill set to play in any scheme. 

    "There are a boatload of teams that would love to trade for Pat," Peterson's cousin and former NFL cornerback Bryant McFadden said during an interview on the Doug & Wolf show for Arizona Sports 98.7. "The three best teams that have been pretty aggressive so far in a day’s time is of course the Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots."

    Head coach Steve Wilks said the Cardinals aren't trading Peterson, but general manager Steve Keim has to be intrigued by the possibilities after Amari Cooper warranted a first-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys. 

    The Cardinals are at the very beginning of the rebuilding process and have areas to address throughout the roster. Larry Fitzgerald, Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick are all potential trade targets. Moving Peterson to maximize value while the franchise resets, especially since he's unhappy, is the logical approach. 

    Only one player (because of positional value) can trump Peterson this year if he's truly available. 

1. QB Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

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    The Raiders couldn't, could they? 

    The more important question is: Should they? The answer is not as clear-cut when considering all of the factors that may lead to teams trying to pry Derek Carr away from Oakland. 

    Team sources told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson II "a fractured relationship" has developed between the quarterback and his teammates. Confidence appears to be waning in the 27-year-old signal-caller. This potentially stems from an on-field incident in which Carr suffered an injury and appeared on film to be crying. 

    The fact that Carr even had to defend himself in this instance is ridiculous, but it's out there. 

    Thompson reported rumblings heard within the Raiders organization about Carr not being viewed as the quarterback of the future. 

    These issues alone should immediately place Carr on the trade block. The Raiders must have a quarterback in which they can place their trust. The situation speaks less about Carr, though, and far more about the growing disharmony orchestrated by Gruden through multiple perplexing decisions. 

    But there is some logic to making a deal and starting over at the game's most important position. 

    Carr signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension before last season. As Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith noted, the quarterback accounts for nearly $87 million over the next four seasons. Baker Mayfield, whom the Cleveland Browns selected with the first overall pick in April's draft, signed a four-year, $32.68 million deal. 

    Gruden can select his quarterback with one of the three 2019 first-round picks the Raiders own and save over $50 million to reinvest in the rest of the roster. 

    If the team is going to be built in Gruden's image, Carr shouldn't stay in Oakland for long. 

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