Roster Moves Struggling NFL Teams Need to Make Right Now

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2021

Roster Moves Struggling NFL Teams Need to Make Right Now

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    NFL teams are never without options, which is an especially good feature of the league for some of its teams struggling the most through six weeks. 

    Those teams can utilize the waiver wire, trade market before the Nov. 2 deadline, sign free agents and shuffle around the depth chart to address problem areas. 

    Granted, some things are beyond repair. A couple of transactions aren't going to save the dramatic rebuild in Jacksonville. But some teams that could see a significant uptick in performance after slow starts with one or two moves. 

    Whether it's a team trying to turn things around or a rebuilder that needs to change philosophy to better position for the long term, the following franchises need to make noteworthy roster moves now, not later.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Trade for a WR

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    An inconsistent start for the Pittsburgh Steelers has featured a bad showing from Ben Roethlisberger during what could be his farewell tour. 

    Big Ben, barring the team's Week 5 win over a middling Denver Broncos, has looked like a player most teams would bench were he not a modern franchise great. And a ho-hum cast of weapons around him hasn't helped; JuJu Smith-Schuster ranked fourth on the team in receiving with just 129 yards before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5.

    The team won't keep pace in a stacked AFC North where high-flying offenses have all other teams on at least three wins and Baltimore on five. 

    In Pittsburgh's 3-3 start to the season, Diontae Johnson leads the receiving offense with 376 yards and three touchdowns. Removing JuJu from the equation means one less safety blanket for a quarterback who desperately needs it. 

    James Washington, who featured in trade buzz over the summer, isn't the answer. The team shouldn't gun for a Michael Thomas-caliber player, but floating a mid-round pick for a someone like Brandon Aiyuk in San Francisco could provide immediate help and boost the franchise's long-term outlook. 

Atlanta Falcons: Bench Mike Davis and Fabian Moreau

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    After awkwardly straddling the line between rebuild and contention this offseason, the Atlanta Falcons look like they don't stand much of a chance in the high-flying NFC South. 

    In the team's 2-3 start, there have been key underperformers on both sides of the ball.

    On offense, the team signed free-agent running back Mike Davis in the offseason, and he has responded with 204 yards on a 3.3 per-carry average over five games. He has easily been outplayed by Cordarrelle Patterson, a 30-year-old former wideout who has 173 yards on a 4.2 per-carry average and is also second on the team in receiving with 295 yards and four scores.

    And on defense, cornerback Fabian Moreau has played 91 percent of the defense's snaps over five games, earning a 44.9 Pro Football Focus grade (the "replaceable" player category starts at 59.0), allowing 20 catches on 28 targets. 

    Realistically, Atlanta can't make enough moves to contend this year. But better productivity on offense and removing an easy target for opposing offenses should help the team be more competitive each week. 

Indianapolis Colts: Trade Marlon Mack

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    During a 2-4 start, the Indianapolis Colts gave running back Marlon Mack just 25 carries and five targets. The former charted him third among backs and the latter tied for ninth among receivers. 

    Mack has been a constant in trade speculation after NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported the team and running back had mutually agreed to find a trade in September.

    Now is the time to complete a trade. 

    The Colts might've started 2-4, but that is good enough for second place in the AFC South. Carson Wentz  and pieces of the offensive line have been getting acclimated after a summer highlighted by injuries and multiple players landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list

    Mack, who averages 4.4. yards per carry for his career and is a good receiving option, isn't going to draw much on the trade market, especially on a one-year deal. But packaging Mack and a draft pick could net a player capable of helping either set of embattled trenches, if not a key secondary member for the team's struggling defense. 

New York Jets: Bench C.J. Mosley

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The 1-4 start for the New York Jets before the Week 6 bye has seen some understandable struggles on offense as first-round passer Zach Wilson has adapted to the pros. 

    But the struggling defense wasn't so easy to predict. Head coach Robert Saleh's defensive acumen didn't show up while allowing 24 or more points in four of the five contests. The defense also failed to record and interception and has just 13 sacks against so-so offenses like Carolina, New England and Denver. 

    One particularly sour point is veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley, who Saleh previously touted as a good fit in his 4-3 scheme despite signing to fit a 3-4 look under a different staff. While he leads the team in tackles with 45, Mosley has a brutal 35.7 PFF grade. He's already missed eight tackles (more than his total from 17 games over the last two seasons) and allowed 23 catches on 27 targets. 

    Benching Mosley or dramatically reducing his snap counts alone won't save New York's season, but he's a player opposing offenses game-plan to target and getting a little more athleticism and coverage ability in his spot could help the entire unit. 

Chicago Bears: Trade Allen Robinson II

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    During the team's 3-2 start that had them nipping at the heels of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, the Chicago Bears didn't do much to incorporate star wideout Allen Robinson II in the offense. 

    Robinson caught 17 of his 29 targets over that span, earning 181 yards and a score. He was second on the team in catches, yards and targets to Darnell Mooney while veteran Andy Dalton struggled and 2021 first-rounder Justin Fields learned on the fly. That didn't get much better in a Week 6 loss to Green Bay to dip to 3-3, as Robinson caught four passes for 53 yards and saw one fewer target than Mooney. 

    It would be easy to say the Bears should make some adjustments and things will get better. But this is also the same coaching staff that let Fields get sacked nine times while completing six passes in a Week 3 loss to Cleveland. 

    The relationship between the Bears and Robinson may not be so hot after failing to reach a long-term extension this summer. Moving him now wouldn't necessarily overhaul the offense, but it would mean guaranteeing some sort of compensation for his eventual departure. a

    Rather than settling for a draft pick, Chicago could also ask for a player in return who can help right away in a problem area. Think a high-upside wideout like Philadelphia's Jalen Reagor (plus draft picks) or help in the offensive trenches or secondary. 

Houston Texans: Bench Mark Ingram II

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans trounced a bad Jacksonville team in Week 1 before falling into predictable trends, losing the next five. 

    Veteran running back Mark Ingram has dominated the backfield. In the first five weeks, he had 68 rushes, while no other ball-carrier had more than 29 attempts. Yet he gained just 212 yards on a 3.1 per-carry average. 

    For comparison, David Johson averaged an even four yards over his 18 chances, and 24-year-old Scottie Phillips showed some major flashes during the preseason. 

    In Week 6, Ingram popped a little with 73 yards on 18 carries (4.1 average), but 24 of those yards came on a busted play that created an open gap. That occurred during a 31-3 shellacking at the hands of Indianapolis to fall to 1-5. 

    A running game alone isn't going to turn the season around for the Texans, and the lack of a passing threat, plus a shaky offensive line, isn't helping things. But Ingram carried it 72 times over 11 games last year and hasn't been a workhorse back since 2019. 

    A little more athleticism and versatility from the main back could give the Texans a bigger threat. In the case of Phillips, getting him as many touches as possible will allow the team to see if he's part of the long-term plan or not.

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