Finding Homes for Players Who Need a Change of Scenery Before NFL Trade Deadline
Sometimes, a mutual parting of the ways is the best solution once two aggrieved parties reach a certain point in their relationship. This is true in professional football, as it is everyday life.
A realization must materialize before reaching that point, though. Disgruntled players often ask for a trade only to be rebuffed because their current organizations either don't want to discard their talent or don't perceive any potential deals to be fair.
Deadlines spur action. The NFL's trade deadline falls on Nov. 2.
A couple of high-profile deals in which individuals clearly needed or wanted to escape their environment already occurred when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded cornerback C.J. Henderson to the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles moved tight end Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals.
Seven others are currently in situations where they already asked for a trade or desperately need a fresh start to resume their careers and get back on track. Potential landing spots can often be found with coaching staffs that are familiar with the individuals in question, teams with significant needs at specific positions and/or organizations with the financial flexibility to make a move in an attempt to get better.
Deshaun Watson is adamant about not playing for the Houston Texans ever again. The Texans organization is clearly ready to move on from the quarterback.
A deal would have likely been done already, but Watson's ongoing legal troubles remain a major obstacle.
The NFL hasn't taken any action against Watson and, since before the start of training camp, has not publicly addressed the fact Watson faces 22 civil lawsuits from women who accused him of sexual assault or misconduct after hiring them to perform massages. The 26-year-old also faces 10 criminal complaints, including two from women who haven't filed lawsuits.
Technically, Watson can play for any team right now because he's not suspended or on the Commissioner's Exempt List. The Texans simply aren't playing him. Obviously, the inherent risk in a potential deal is immense, and contingencies would likely be part of any trade proposal.
Even so, something may get done before the trade deadline. The Miami Dolphins have maintained interest. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain reported a deal could be reached by the end of this week.
From a football perspective, Watson is counted among the league's best quarterbacks. Even though a team like the Dolphins already has a young and talented signal-caller on the roster in Tua Tagovailoa, Watson is an upgrade. Therein lies the difficulty of the decision.
True franchise quarterbacks are priceless in today's NFL. Watson's availability presents a rare opportunity to land one in his prime at a discounted price. Yet whichever organization decides to take a chance must understand the baggage that follows him and the potential blowback it'll receive for making the move. The team in question must be fully comfortable in its vetting process and believe in Watson the person as much as they do the quarterback.
Best New Fit: Miami Dolphins
The Indianapolis Colts backfield is crowded, and Marlon Mack looks to be the odd man out of the rotation.
Jonathan Taylor is clearly the lead back with Nyheim Hines often serving as the change-of-pace option.
Mack worked his way back from a torn Achilles tendon last season and has 27 touches through four appearances. But the impending free agent sees the writing on the wall. He's not going to be RB1 in Indianapolis. Thus, he requested a trade, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
Recent injury history aside, Mack is still 25 years old and a former 1,000-yard rusher. He's also on a one-year deal, so the Colts may try to get something of value for him now instead of likely letting him walk next offseason.
Nick Sirianni served as the Colts offensive coordinator when Mack ran for a career-high 1,091 yards during the 2019 campaign. Sirianni is now the Philadelphia Eagles head coach. The running back's familiarity with the coach and his system would make the transition far easier than if Mack went elsewhere.
Granted, the Eagles already have an established lead back in Miles Sanders. Plus, Kenneth Gainwell is a promising rookie. Even so, the Eagles value the running back position more than most organizations. A quality stable of backs will help take pressure off of quarterback Jalen Hurts as he develops.
If Mack isn't thrilled with that particular situation, he can always test free agency after the season and see where other opportunities might arise.
Best New Fit: Philadelphia Eagles
Timing will be the biggest impediment to a potential Michael Thomas trade.
The wide receiver continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery and remains on the New Orleans Saints' physically unable to perform list. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Thomas' return is expected to be "a couple weeks away."
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Saints would have to activate Thomas over the next 10 days to trade their top receiver, if they choose to do so.
Thomas has been one of the league's best receivers with record-setting performances through his first four seasons. Injuries derailed his 2020 campaign and continue to be an issue. Furthermore, the relationship between Thomas and the organization may be fractured.
Head coach Sean Payton vented some when Thomas finally chose to have his surgery in June. General manager Mickey Loomis wished the decision had come earlier as well. Prior to that point, Thomas reportedly ignored calls from the trainer, wide receivers coach and Payton, according to NOLA.com's Jeff Duncan.
In August, Thomas liked a tweet that said, "I think the Saints urged Michael Thomas not to get surgery last season in hopes to win a ring in [Drew] Brees' last year. Now they blame him for not being healthy."
Supposedly, Thomas and Payton met to smooth over their differences in August, per Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson. Clearly, there is some tension here to some extent, and another team should make an offer so both parties can start anew.
The Detriot Lions' 0-6 record doesn't make them the most appealing landing spot. However, the team is in desperate need of wide receiver help. Plus, Thomas has a previous history with head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who were both on the Saints staff.
Best New Fit: Detroit Lions
N'Keal Harry is the only wide receiver Bill Belichick has ever drafted in the first round during his time in New England. He may have discouraged the coach from ever doing so again.
Harry has been a major disappointment with 47 catches in his first 24 NFL games. An average of fewer than two catches per contest doesn't speak well of talent the Patriots really liked a short time ago.
"[He's been] a productive player over a three-year period," former Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio told reporters after the organization made Harry the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft. "... He's a big, strong receiver with good hands, good with the ball after the catch and he had a chance to play against some decent people in the Pac-12, so we'll get him out here and try to get him the program and get him moving."
Harry's greatest asset has always been his ability to body up defensive backs to high-point the football. Most wide receivers can't physically overwhelm professional corners the way they did at the collegiate level, though. Harry is a good example of a top prospect who struggles to create separation.
At the time, Caserio mentioned Harry's ability to play the ball in the air, which the team believed could help him translate. It hasn't so far, but the wide receiver is only 23 years old. His agent requested a trade this offseason after the Patriots signed Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency.
If anyone still believes in Harry's ability, Caserio could be the guy. Since the latter now serves as the Houston Texans general manager, he can buy low in hopes of a big return.
Besides, the Texans have nothing at wide receiver beyond Brandin Cooks. The franchise may have a fire sale prior to the deadline, but a low-risk investment in a player with first-round pedigree is the type of move the Texans should be making.
Best New Fit: Houston Texans
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock prioritized all the wrong things when he chose defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
"He's what I call a glue player," Mayock said after drafting the defensive lineman (h/t Silver and Black Pride's Tyler Green). "... That's the kind of guy, to me, who has more value than you can even put a number on."
No one questions Ferrell's work ethic, effort or contributions to the locker room. However, a top-10 edge prospect should be considered a premium pass-rusher because that's where the real value lies. At the time, Ferrell was considered an above-average edge-rusher, but he didn't show the consistent explosiveness or flexibility to warrant top-five consideration. Thus, his selection became the subject of ridicule as a perceived reach.
The best way to silence critics is by producing. Ferrell hasn't. In fact, that criticism only grew louder over time. He's managed 6.5 sacks in 31 career games. To make matters worse, the first-round pick opened the season on the team's inactive list.
To be fair, Ferrell isn't at fault for Mayock's decision. His draft slotting created unfair expectations for the now-24-year-old defender. He was never going to be a pass-rusher on par with Myles Garrett or the Bosas, who were top-five picks.
However, a fresh start elsewhere should help alleviate the pressure on Ferrell and just allow him to play.
The Cleveland Browns should flip a draft pick the Raiders' way to get a developmental prospect who can learn behind Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney and play alongside Takkarist McKinley as part of the rotation. The Browns may still polish Ferrell into a diamond and not need as much defensive line help next offseason when Clowney and McKinley are free agents.
Best New Fit: Cleveland Browns
Anytime a transition in leadership occurs, certain individuals fall by the wayside as new principles, philosophies and schemes are integrated into the organization's fabric.
Marcus Maye is now two coaching staffs removed from the group that originally drafted him with a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. The New York Jets may have placed the franchise tag on the safety this offseason in fear of losing him, but the possibility of parting ways seems more and more likely as the trade deadline nears.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Maye "would welcome a move to a contender." Options are limited based on that qualification and the complications that come with finding franchises capable of taking on the prorated portion of his $10.6 million salary.
The 2-4 Seattle Seahawks aren't the obvious choice. But they're a winning franchise that should get back on track once Russell Wilson returns to the lineup (whenever that may be). Three factors work in Seattle's favor.
First, the team has built a winning culture under head coach Pete Carroll. Second, the league's 32nd-ranked defense needs help at every level. Finally, Maye can reunite with his former Jets teammate Jamal Adams and give Seattle an outstanding safety duo.
"Brotha, just keep being u. Show the world why you're the best [free safety] in the game," Adams tweeted at Maye in June. "U deserve everything coming your way. I'ma miss balling with u the most. Believe that!"
The Seahawks aren't a team to roll over, and general manager John Schneider is known for making deals. Maye's inclusion should immediately improve the defense and take some pressure off the offense with Geno Smith leading the way.
Best New Fit: Seattle Seahawks
Xavien Howard and the Miami Dolphins have experienced their fair share of ups and downs already this year, and they may not be done. A 1-5 start could have the Dolphins rethinking their approach to this season.
The two sides were already at odds this offseason when Howard felt slighted and wanted a revised contract reflective of his value as a first-team All-Pro, especially since teammate Byron Jones signed a more lucrative deal a year later. At the time, Howard demanded a trade. The Dolphins, specifically head coach Brian Flores, didn't want to move on from last season's interception king.
Eventually, the Dolphins obliged Howard and restructured his contract to increase and fully guarantee this year's salary and add some incentives.
Carrying Howard's contract isn't as justifiable when the team isn't winning and he's not playing as well. Now may be the best time to finally give the defensive back what he wanted in the first place.
To be clear, it's no small feat for a team to take on the prorated portion of Howard's remaining salary. Some roster management and contract discussions must take place for things to eventually work. However, demand for a quality corner is nearly universal around the league.
The Green Bay Packers are a contender in need of significant cornerback help. Jaire Alexander continues to recover from a shoulder injury. Kevin King isn't a starting-caliber outside corner. And rookie Eric Stokes is still learning the ropes. The need is so obvious that others around the league think a deal for Howard makes too much sense.
"Xavien is a guy I'd trade for if I'm Green Bay," a front-office executive told The Athletic's Mike Sando. "Traditionally, you are not getting a guy of that caliber to come to Green Bay in free agency, right? You need to acquire guys via the draft or trade. Especially in the future, if [Aaron] Rodgers is not there."
Best New Fit: Green Bay Packers