NFL Teams That Need to Make a Trade to Contend in 2021

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2021

NFL Teams That Need to Make a Trade to Contend in 2021

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    One trade can change everything for an NFL team. 

    Sometimes, it's not obvious right away, like when the Kansas City Chiefs acquired the No. 10 pick from the Buffalo Bills in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes.  

    But for teams with immediate contention aspirations, sometimes it is, like when the Chicago Bears made a win-now move by trading for pass-rusher Khalil Mack. This offseason, the Tennessee Titans hope the trade for Julio Jones moves the needle enough to secure a Lombardi Trophy.

    Like the Titans, a few teams have rosters seemingly primed for contention, minus one or two key aspects that a headline-making trade could fix. The following squads could make deals that push them into contention for the playoffs in 2021.

Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos seem to have it all. 

    They possess an elite cast of skill-position weapons, highlighted by Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant, plus a sturdy offensive line with Garett Bolles, who had a breakout 2020 campaign. The Von Miller-led defense should generate plenty of pass rush, and the secondary has elite safety Justin Simmons.

    But quarterback is an issue. 

    The team has named veteran Teddy Bridgewater the starter over Drew Lock, which is a somewhat perplexing path after Denver passed on taking Justin Fields in the top 10 of this year's draft. Bridgewater only lasted one season with the Carolina Panthers for a reason. He threw just 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions over 15 appearances. 

    If Denver wants to win now, it needs to make a major move at the most important position.

    Maybe that's offering a pair of first-round picks to the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson, who remains a staple of trade rumors despite the 22 civil lawsuits filed against him by women alleging sexual assault or misconduct. It is uncertain if he will play in 2021, however; Watson will not be deposed until at least February 2022.

    At this point, the Broncos could aim for Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers, who selected North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick this year. Something like a second-round pick could get the deal done, netting Denver a guy who led his team to a Super Bowl in 2019.

New York Giants

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The New York Giants don't immediately come to mind as a contender. But they belong to an NFC East division that sent a seven-win team to the playoffs in 2020, and their roster looks relatively stacked.

    They have Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney at wideout around the still-developing Daniel Jones, as well as Kyle Rudolph at tight end and Saquon Barkley in the backfield. There's also the Leonard Williams-led defensive front and guys like James Bradberry, Adoree' Jackson and Logan Ryan in the secondary. 

    But the offensive line is a problem. The Giants haven't done a good enough job up front, and big-money acquisition Nate Solder doesn't appear to be panning out.

    Upgrading the line could be as simple as dealing a mid-round pick to a rebuilder like the Jacksonville Jaguars for a player on the interior like Andrew Norwell.

    Jones threw 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie, and he has a strong cast of weapons. Giving him time to develop after he took 45 sacks over 14 games last year could result in a big leap in the standings. 

Las Vegas Raiders

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have to do something to separate themselves in the brutal AFC West.

    Derek Carr threw for 4,103 yards last year, while Josh Jacobs ran for 1,065. Kenyan Drake joined Jacobs in the backfield this offseason, tight end Darren Waller caught 73.8 percent of his passes for nearly 1,200 yards last season, and the wide receiver corps is stacked. 

    The front office made an attempt to revamp an offensive line that finished 24th last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the defense added Yannick Ngakoue to boost a Maxx Crosby-focused pass rush that recorded the fourth-fewest sacks in 2020. 

    Cornerback, though, is a premium spot that is projected to be a weak point. Casey Hayward struggled last year for the Los Angeles Chargers, recording a 59.5 grade at PFF to put him in the "replaceable" category. Nevin Lawson had a 55.6, and Trayvon Mullen Jr. finished at 55.3

    Luckily for the Raiders, Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots has been a staple of trade speculation since last year's deadline. He enters 2021 on the final year of his deal and skipped mandatory camps in June. 

    Acquiring Gilmore wouldn't come cheap (perhaps in the second-round range), but he could boost a weak unit on a team that has potential to make a run if it gets hot at the right time.

    The AFC West is loaded, but the Raiders aren't the only team with a remade offensive line that could backfire—Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers did the same this summer, while Denver has major question marks under center. There could be an opening for the Raiders, provided they can shore up a key problem on the depth chart.        

Carolina Panthers

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Quarterback is an issue for the Carolina Panthers too. 

    Yes, they acquired 2018 third overall pick Sam Darnold this summer from the New York Jets, and he's still just 24 years old while heading into his fourth season.

    And yes, the roster boasts plenty of talent, from Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Christian McCaffrey on offense to quality pass-rushers like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Haason Reddick. There's also a fast-rising defensive back in Jeremy Chinn. 

    But Carolina is banking too much on Darnold, who produced a 59.8 percent completion rate with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions over a three-year slog with a rebuilding Jets team. He averaged a paltry 6.6 yards per pass attempt. 

    Like Denver, it makes sense for the Panthers to see if the 49ers will embrace the future with Trey Lance and deal Jimmy Garoppolo. Such a move would yank the rug out from under Darnold, but it's hard not to like the upside of such an acquisition under offensive coordinator Joe Brady.    

Chicago Bears

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    The future is now given the brief glimpses of greatness from 11th overall pick Justin Fields, and contention might be on the table too. 

    The 22-year-old rookie quarterback is the type of talent who looks like he can overcome certain roster issues, including what appears to be a bottom-10 offensive line. That's assuming he eventually sees the field in 2021 after the Bears named veteran Andy Dalton their starter. Fields will also be throwing to wide receiver Allen Robinson II and has a deep running back room. 

    But it wouldn't hurt to see the defense get a little better. A Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn-based front only led to a ho-hum 35 sacks last season, and Chicago lost cornerback Kyle Fuller in free agency after releasing him to free up cap space. They did not draft on the defensive side of the ball until the sixth round.

    New arrival Desmond Trufant had a 38.4 PFF grade last year in Detroit, and Jaylon Johnson recorded a grade of 54.9, meaning both are considered replaceable.   

    Better coverage could help the pressure hit home more, which would put a high-upside offense in better positions to succeed. That would mean sacrificing long-term assets for a Stephon Gilmore-type presence. 

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