Predicting the NFL's Most Active Teams Around the Trade Deadline
Based on the seemingly never-ending intrigue around the NFL trade block in 2020, the trade deadline itself appears like a lock to be more active than usual.
Trade activity didn't slow this summer despite the unorthodox nature of the offseason, as big names such as Yannick Ngakoue and Jamal Adams were moved.
Struggling teams with salary-cap situations to think about and rebuilding strategies to follow might be willing to give up talented players to teams that fancy themselves contenders. And contenders usually don't mind taking on extra cap weight if it means pursuing a Lombardi Trophy in the short term.
The following teams are contenders or future rebuilders that project to be the most active around the trade deadline.
It just isn't working out for Dan Quinn—no matter how much money the Atlanta Falcons pump into 2016 MVP Matt Ryan's supporting cast.
The head coach is now firmly on the hot seat after an 0-3 start in which his team has coughed up two double-digit leads. He's in his sixth season, and his career record is 43-40, which has spoiled the goodwill of that Super Bowl appearance in 2016.
And if the Quinn era comes to an end, the Falcons might be looking at a massive rebuild given their cap outlook. The Falcons have just $2.9 million in free space and are projected to be $25.3 million over next season's cap.
This offseason, they let Vic Beasley Jr. and Austin Hooper go. Alex Mack, Keanu Neal and Todd Gurley will be free agents after this season, so the Falcons might be willing to offer them and others to contenders as they try to get at least something in exchange before their possible departures.
When it comes to contenders that want to go all in, the Dallas Cowboys might get desperate enough to pull off a big move or two.
Jerry Jones and Co. didn't spend all that money on keeping Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to kick off the Mike McCarthy era 1-2.
But there is an interesting wrinkle: Through three weeks, the Cowboys have half the total wins in the NFC East, so the division is still very much in play while rebuilders Washington and New York struggle and Philadelphia flops.
One of the biggest problems for Dallas, though, is the health of the offensive tackles in front of Prescott. Cameron Erving and La'el Collins are on injured reserve, and the latter potentially still needs surgery.
That's enough to prompt an emergency trade for someone such as the Minnesota Vikings' Riley Reiff, especially with interior linemen forced to slide outside. Connor Williams (55.0 Pro Football Focus grade) and Joe Looney (62.5) have hurt the offense, so a short-minded move might push the Cowboys to the top of the division.
Head coach-general manager Bill O'Brien and the Houston Texans are 0-3. Deshaun Watson has already taken a beating, suffering 13 sacks while throwing just four touchdowns with three interceptions. Conventional wisdom says the idea to trade DeAndre Hopkins and acquire Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks could be the final blow for O'Brien.
He is only 52-47 overall, and now his team is in last place in a top-heavy AFC South. The Texans have just $8.8 million in cap space and are projected to be $11.0 million over the cap next season.
The time to get serious about Watson's supporting cast was the day he was drafted. And while the Laremy Tunsil trade was a good step, it was clearly not enough. Houston still has to play Green Bay, New England and all six of its AFC South games, so it might be wise to throw up the white flag and accumulate draft capital.
Cooks, for example, will be a top-four cap hit on the team next season at $12 million. Cobb ($10.6 million) and running back David Johnson ($9 million) are up there too and also have traits win-now teams may desire. If a new coach-general manager combo arrives and wants to go with a different schematic approach, it may choose to repurpose those funds while reshaping the roster around Watson.
An 0-3 start isn't what the Minnesota Vikings envisioned when they gave big money to Kirk Cousins for an extension and traded for Yannick Ngakoue.
The Vikings are more than $200,00 over the cap this year and projected to be $9.7 million over in 2021, so the front office needs to get creative. Minnesota has been blown out twice and hasn't even faced its NFC South opponents yet. It also has five more NFC North games and the Seattle Seahawks on its schedule.
Mike Zimmer has authored four winning seasons in six tries, but given that the division boasts two 3-0 teams already, the trade deadline might mean selling time.
Ngakoue and star safety Anthony Harris, on the verge of free agency, don't even count against that negative cap balance next season, so they could be dangled to see what offers are out there.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers might decide they need reinforcements by the time the trade deadline arrives.
The Niners are 2-1 in a division in which that's the worst record. But they've lost Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas to season-ending knee injuries. And now fellow pass-rusher Dee Ford is out with a back injury.
That's 17.5 sacks from a season ago on the shelf at a critical time for the 49ers as they hope to contend for the Super Bowl again. But San Francisco has lost to a strong Arizona team and picked up wins against the terrible teams from New York.
The 49ers did sign Ezekiel Ansah on September 21, but he had just 6.5 sacks in 18 games in 2018 and 2019. That's not going to cut it in a division with Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson.
Given how close the 49ers came to winning it all last year and how tough the NFC West is this year, the front office may give up picks to a team such as Washington in exchange for a veteran such as Ryan Kerrigan (who is in the final year of his contract with first-rounders Montez Sweat and Chase Young ready to take over) to bolster the pressure the defense can provide on a weekly basis.
Salary cap information via Spotrac