NFL Free Agents Who Can Bail Out Teams That Can't Strike a Deadline Trade
The NFL's Nov. 2 trade deadline is approaching. While the league doesn't always see a ton of activity at the deadline, the potential for blockbuster deals exists. The Carolina Panthers have dealt for cornerbacks CJ Henderson and Stephon Gilmore this year. In 2019, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Williams, Emmanuel Sanders and Mohamed Sanu moved in-season.
Unfortunately, not every NFL buyer has the assets needed to work a trade. Some franchises are light on draft capital, while others are in a financial bind.
According to Spotrac, 16 teams have less than $5 million in cap space.
While franchises can usually find creative solutions when it comes time to make a trade, the free-agent market should be the first choice for some. Quality players are available, and many of them warrant a test drive before trades become the only solution.
We'll examine the best free agents—based on factors like past performance and upside—and how they mesh with some of the latest trade buzz.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
TE Tyler Eifert
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was traded to the Arizona Cardinals on Friday. Ertz had been the subject of trade speculation during the offseason, and according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, both he and Dallas Goedert had been linked to the trade market.
"Sources say tight end Zach Ertz thought he was getting traded at least twice in the offseason before things calmed down, and the Minnesota Vikings inquired about the Eagles' other tight end, Dallas Goedert, before eventually landing on Chris Herndon in an August deal with the New York Jets," Fowler wrote.
According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, teams had been calling about acquiring one of Philadelphia's tight ends. However, the Eagles aren't likely to trade Goedert with Ertz now gone.
Teams that missed out on the Eagles tight ends should take a long look at free-agent tight end Tyler Eifert. Though Eifert has not returned to the Pro Bowl form he flashed in 2015, he's been healthy over the past two seasons, which is huge.
Injuries held Eifert to 14 games from 2016 to 2018. However, he has appeared in 31 games over the last two seasons and played 53 percent of the offensive snaps with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020.
Eifert, who had 349 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 2020, is athletic, experienced and—perhaps most importantly—free to sign with any team.
RB Todd Gurley
There's a reasonable chance that we'll see a running back or two traded before the deadline. The Chicago Bears are without David Montgomery (knee), and the Kansas City Chiefs placed Clyde Edwards-Helaire on injured reserve this week with an MCL sprain.
If a team like Kansas City or Chicago is thinking about trading for a running back, though, it should first kick the tires on three-time Pro Bowler Todd Gurley.
While Gurley last played at an elite level during the 2018 season, he has shown over the past two years that he can handle a sizable workload. He only averaged 3.5 yards per carry with the Atlanta Falcons last season, but he carried the ball 195 times while logging 25 receptions and scoring nine touchdowns.
For teams that want a back who can handle a significant role, Gurley is perfectly capable and won't cost any trade capital.
QB Cam Newton
According to Fowler, the Bears would "love" to move third-string quarterback Nick Foles.
"They've leaked that they'd listen to offers. They might as well have sent flares into the sky with the message 'Call us' in orange letters above each NFL team facility," Fowler wrote.
Foles could make sense for a couple of teams. He's a former Super Bowl MVP with 55 regular-season starts. The Washington Football Team is still playing without Ryan Fitzpatrick (hip), while Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is out indefinitely following finger surgery.
An obvious free-agent alternative to Foles is three-time Pro Bowler Cam Newton. While Newton isn't the MVP-caliber player he was in 2015, he showed last season that he is a serviceable starter. In a bad New England Patriots offense, he rushed for 12 touchdowns and helped New England achieve seven wins.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport suggested before the season that Newton's high profile and big personality could keep him out of consideration for backup roles.
"You would also say, do you want Cam Newton, who has been a megastar, someone who is magnetic in the locker room … do you want him as a backup quarterback?" Rapoport said on NFL Network.
Concerns are justifiable, but bringing in Newton to be a short-term starter or to finish the season would make a lot of sense. In such a situation, he could help galvanize a locker room instead of being a distraction.
ILB Benardrick Mckinney
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported during the preseason that the Cleveland Browns had "taken calls on" inside linebacker Mack Wilson. Per Fowler, teams are still "monitoring" Wilson's situation.
While Wilson is an intriguing 23-year-old player—one with 134 tackles, nine passes defended and an interception on his resume—teams that don't want to invest trade capital have another option. Veteran inside linebacker Benardrick Mckinney was released by the Miami Dolphins before the season started and remains available.
McKinney appeared in four games with the Houston Texans last year before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. However, he played 14 games the previous year and finished with 101 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and five quarterback pressures.
In 2018, McKinney was a Pro Bowler.
While he didn't stick in Miami after the Dolphins acquired in an offseason trade with Houston, he left a positive impression.
"I have a lot of appreciation for his hard work," Dolphins coach Brian Flores told reporters. "There is a lot that goes into it. Position, salary cap, kicking game."
At 28 years old, McKinney should have plenty of football ahead of him.
OT Mitchell Schwartz
We could see some offensive-line movement before the deadline. Breer reported before the season that Philadelphia was "taking calls" about trading offensive linemen, though a rash of injuries has likely changed that situation. The Panthers, meanwhile, are looking for O-line help, according to Fowler.
Free-agent right tackle Mitchell Schwartz wouldn't have substantial value in Carolina, where Taylor Moton is playing well with two penalties and no sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. However, he would be a tremendous asset for any team that seeks assistance at right tackle.
Schwartz missed 10 games with a back injury last season, but he hadn't previously missed a start because of injury. While never a Pro Bowler, Schwartz was a first-team All-Pro in 2018 and has earned the respect of opposing pass-rushers.
"Playing against Mitchell Schwartz and the Kansas City Chiefs was always a tough time for me. ... And it's shocking to me that Mitchell Schwartz is not on a team right now, because I know he still has some good football left," Denver Broncos star Von Miller told The Colin Cowherd Podcast.
It is indeed surprising that Schwartz isn't on a roster. A team should change that if it is considering trading for a right tackle.
CB Buster Skrine
Cornerback is another position likely to be targeted at the deadline. According to Fowler, the Seahawks, Texans, Buffalo Bills, New York Giants and New York Jets are among teams that have "actively monitored the cornerback market" this season. Teams called the Denver Broncos about Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan during the preseason, per Fowler.
According to David Lombardi of The Athletic, the San Francisco 49ers have inquired about Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler at least once this season.
Before trading for a player like Fuller or Dantzler, teams should take a look at free-agent slot corner Buster Skrine. While Skrine isn't a premier perimeter corner, he has loads of experience playing both inside and outside and could elevate a team's secondary depth.
Skrine appeared in one game with the 49ers this year before being released. He has played 152 regular-season games and made 92 starts.
While Skrine hasn't posted an interception since the 2017 season, he has nine in his career to go with 85 passes defended.
CB Desmond Trufant
Teams looking for perimeter corner help should consider 2015 Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant.
The New Orleans Saints picked up Trufant before the season, but he only appeared in two games before being released. Injuries have been a problem—he missed 17 games between 2019 and 2020—but he is healthy now.
And when he is healthy, he can be a quality starter on the outside. The 31-year-old allowed a passer rating of 63.5 with New Orleans, though he played just 16 percent of the defensive snaps.
In 2018, Trufant started all 16 games for the Falcons and allowed a passer rating of 87.6 with 12 passes defended.
Would a team prefer to have a corner like Fuller, who has two Pro Bowl appearances and has never missed a game outside of the 2016 campaign he missed following knee surgery? Probably, but acquiring a proven starter on the trade market won't be cheap. As is the case with every player on this list, teams should see if Trufant can be a budget-friendly contributor before weighing their trade options.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.