Early Predictions for the 2019 NFL Trade Deadline
Make a trade or fall behind the competition.
This thought used to be anathema to NFL general managers. Not anymore. General managers don't have but a year or two to rebuild their roster. Super Bowl windows slam shut fast (unless you're the New England Patriots). The NFL is a win-now league, and team-building reflects that current understanding.
The days of a four- or five-year rebuild are long gone as owners become more impatient and players hold more power in the decision-making process.
"The NBA is coming to the NFL," Los Angeles Rams president Kevin Demoff told NBC Sports' Peter King after trading three future draft picks, including a pair of first-round selections, for cornerback Jalen Ramsey last week. "... Prior team-building formulas, where you basically had guys for their careers, is pretty much over.
"Today, it's easier to find ways to measure performance. There's a rise of analytics, there's better technology, better and more accurate data. What we've found is you can find undervalued players easier than before. So I think football people are getting better at synthesizing data to find players."
As a result, front offices are far more willing to make deals in an attempt to improve their squads, even if it comes at the expense of losing a superstar player.
With that said, Ramsey was the biggest domino to fall before the Oct. 29 trade deadline. Whereas, the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins don't appear willing to move wide receiver A.J. Green or left tackle Trent Williams, respectively.
Instead, the following proposed trades make far more sense among organizations ready for change.
RB Kenyan Drake to the Tennessee Titans
Predicted Trade: Miami Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake for a 2020 third-round draft pick
Only a game and a half separate the first-place Indianapolis Colts from the last-place Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
The Titans should make moves to keep up in the most wide-open race among the eight divisions.
Tennessee started by replacing Marcus Mariota with Ryan Tannehill, which worked in the team's favor during a stunning 23-20 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Chargers. But a quarterback swap shouldn't be the only change the Titans make if they're going to flip the script.
Derrick Henry ranks third overall with 135 carries so far this season. Dion Lewis is basically an afterthought in offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's scheme with only 31 total touches through seven contests. Henry needs help, which Lewis no longer provides.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Titans opened trade conversations with the Miami Dolphins for Kenyan Drake. Initially, Drake's arrival could deepen the Titans' running back stable and provide another versatile weapon. Eventually, he could replace Lewis if Tennessee is interested in re-signing him beyond the 2019 campaign.
By releasing Lewis after this season, the Titans would save over $4 million against the 2020 salary cap. Drake, who leads the Dolphins' pitiful offense with 69 touches and 348 total yards, is bigger, more explosive and over three years younger than the veteran back.
With another potential trade, the beat goes on for the rebuilding Dolphins.
WR Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers
UPDATE: San Francisco 49ers traded 2020 third- and fourth-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders and a 2020 fifth-round pick, per Denver 9News' Mike Klis.
The San Francisco 49ers aren't a complete squad despite their 6-0 start.
The defense has played exceptionally well, and Kyle Shanahan's run game serves as the perfect complement. But the head coach/play-caller could open up the offense more if he had consistent options at wide receiver.
Currently, the 49ers lack an explosive passing game. Though the receivers aren't reliable and both starting offensive tackles are injured, this is, to some degree, by design. The 49ers have attempted the second-fewest passes so far this season.
Eventually, Shanahan will want to open up the scheme a little more to create opportunity.
Emmanuel Sanders can play outside or in the slot and immediately steps in as the 49ers No. 1 target after the organization missed out on a Shanahan favorite in Mohamed Sanu, per MMQB's Albert Breer.
Previous Prediction: Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders to the Carolina Panthers for 2020 second- and sixth-round draft picks
Emmanuel Sanders will likely be one of the most popular names among suitors in the coming week. Multiple playoff-caliber squads are in need of wide receiver improvements, and the Denver Broncos are close to a fire sale after a 2-5 start with little to no hope of significant improvement.
The New England Patriots are a logical pairing for Sanders, but the organization lacks financial flexibility. Currently, they are $6.6 million under this year's salary cap, while Sanders' prorated contract would cost his new team $6.63 million, per Spotrac. Obviously, the Patriots can message their cap number to acquire Sanders if they chose to do so, but their overall financial flexibility beyond that point would be negligible.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers are logical options.
The Panthers are the best fit because they could use a veteran complement to DJ Moore, need to ease Christian McCaffrey's usage and should add another weapon to help Kyle Allen or Cam Newton.
At 4-2, Carolina remains within striking distance of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints. The Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera don't have the same long-term security as the other teams mentioned. They're playing for this year, though the NFC is loaded.
Sanders' potential addition alongside Moore, McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and Greg Olsen (when healthy) would provide plenty of firepower to place the offense and its starting quarterback, whoever that may be over the second half of the season, in a position to succeed with the 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts and Saints (twice) still on the schedule.
OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai to the Cleveland Browns
Predicted Trade: Philadelphia Eagles OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai for a 2020 fourth-round draft pick and LB Genard Avery
If the Cleveland Browns aren't in desperation mode after an underwhelming 2-4 start, they're close.
Many things have gone wrong so far this season, but the offensive line remains Cleveland's weakest unit. General manager John Dorsey knows some type of change along the front five is necessary.
According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Dorsey made repeated overtures for Trent Williams, but Washington remains unwilling to trade the seven-time Pro Bowl blocker. On top of that, the Browns appear on the verge of benching starting left tackle Greg Robinson, per Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot.
"I would like Greg to be more consistent," Dorsey said. "Just be more consistent as a football player."
Starting-caliber left tackles aren't readily available, though, so the Browns' options are limited. They must look toward teams with exceptional offensive line depth, which most don't have.
The Philadelphia Eagles are different, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the ultimate utility lineman with plenty of starting experience. He started at left tackle for an injured Jason Peters during the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl run. He's also played right tackle and guard.
Why would the Eagles trade a 26-year-old blocker with scheme versatility?
He's a free agent after this season and will likely look to become a full-time starter. Plus, with multiple young backup options on the roster, the team would still have depth at tackle once Peters is healthy. The Browns can also throw in Avery, who showed promise as a rookie pass-rusher, but fell out of the team's rotation under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
TE O.J. Howard to the Seattle Seahawks
Predicted Trade: Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard for 2020 second- and 2021 third-round draft picks
The Seattle Seahawks' Will Dissly is an exciting, young tight end, but he can't stay healthy. Last year's fourth-round pick has started strong in each of his two seasons, only to land on injured reserve with significant, albeit different, leg injuries.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks are believed to be in the tight end market. Seattle's positional group currently consists of Luke Willson, Jacob Hollister and conversion project Tyrone Swoopes, who's on the practice squad. That's not an inspiring group.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the league's deepest tight end room with 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair and Tanner Hudson.
Here's the problem: The tight ends aren't a huge part of head coach Bruce Arians' passing attack. Despite his immense amount of natural talent, quarterback Jameis Winston has targeted Howard just 18 times so far. Twenty-nine other tight ends across the league have been targeted more often.
Organizations don't like giving up on top draft picks so early in the process, but the Buccaneers aren't using Howard to his fullest, whereas the Seahawks own three picks in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft to use as enticements.
If the Buccaneers don't make Howard available, a strong blocking option with some versatility, like the Miami Dolphins' Nick O'Leary, would make sense as a potential target.
TE Tyler Eifert to the New Orleans Saints
Predicted Trade: Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert for a 2020 fourth-round draft pick
Tyler Eifert is no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end and hasn't been for a long time. His team, the Cincinnati Bengals, is no longer a playoff-caliber squad and hasn't been for a long time.
This match no longer makes sense.
The Bengals are 0-7 and in the early stages of a rebuild. Plus, they carry four tight ends on their active roster. C.J. Uzomah signed a three-year, $18.3 million extension this past offseason. The front office chose Drew Sample in the second round of April's draft. Cethan Carter serves as a core-four special teams performer.
To further emphasize Cincinnati's tight end depth, the Bengals carry three more on their practice squad: Mason Schreck, Moritz Bohringer and Jordan Franks.
A move involving Eifert, who is currently playing on a one-year deal, makes sense since he will likely not be on the team next season.
The New Orleans Saints are searching for a potential offensive weapon at the position since Jared Cook continues to recover from an ankle injury. Even upon the incumbent tight end's return, head coach/play-caller Sean Payton could scheme multiple plays with 12 personnel to utilize both Cook and Eifert.
According to The Athletic's Katherine Terrell, the Saints have previously shown interest in Eifert.
After missing 34 games to injuries the past three seasons, he is finally healthy and has played in all seven contests this year. He ranks fifth on the Bengals with 118 yards on 17 receptions.
LB Vic Beasley Jr. to the Oakland Raiders
Predicted Trade: Atlanta Falcons LB Vic Beasley Jr. for 2020 fifth- and seventh-round draft picks.
The Oakland Raiders are searching for linebacker and pass-rush help, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Didn't the Raiders already have...?
[Insert Michael Jordan laughing GIF]
OK, OK. Seriously.
Yes, the Raiders foolishly traded away Khalil Mack, and they're still looking to replace some of the production they lost upon his departure. Once again, they rank among the league's worst with only 10 sacks. Franchise-changing edge-defenders aren't easy to find.
However, a former league sack leader who doubles as an early-down linebacker is available, per ESPN's Vaughn McClure.
Three years ago, the Atlanta Falcons' Vic Beasley Jr. registered a league-high 15.5 sacks. He's been a disappointment ever since with only 11.5 sacks over his next 37 games.
The Raiders have more than enough salary-cap space to take on the rest of Beasley's $12.81 million base salary. A change of scenery while rushing opposite another former Clemson Tiger in Clelin Ferrell might be exactly what the 2015 No. 8 overall pick needs to jump-start his career.
If not, he's a free agent after this season, and the Raiders could move on after giving a formerly elite prospect another chance.
CB Chris Harris Jr. to the Philadelphia Eagles
Predicted Trade: Denver Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. for 2020 third- and fifth-round draft picks
The Broncos are less inclined to move cornerback Chris Harris Jr. than wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, according to Denver 9News' Mike Klis. The front office's position makes sense in theory because Harris is still a high-end, versatile coverage corner.
Even so, the 30-year-old is a free agent after this season, the Broncos aren't going anywhere right now, and the organization could potentially recoup more in a trade than a (2021) compensatory draft pick.
The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, are desperate for secondary depth. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the franchise offered a pair of first-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey but was outbid by the Los Angeles Rams.
Philadelphia ranks 27th overall in pass defense, and the team's cornerback room is riddled with injuries.
The Eagles activated Ronald Darby (hamstring) and Jalen Mills (foot) Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but Darby didn't play. Avonte Maddox continues to recover from a concussion and shoulder injury as well.
Sidney Jones didn't play a single snap despite not being listed on the injury report, and the front office decided to release Orlando Scandrick on Monday, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
The combination of recovering defensive backs and disappointing performances should force the organization's hand. Harris could step in immediately as an outside corner until Darby is completely cleared then move inside to nickel corner once the unit's top option returns to the lineup.