1 Trade Each NFL Playoff Team Wishes It Could Make Before the PostseasonJanuary 3, 2022
1 Trade Each NFL Playoff Team Wishes It Could Make Before the Postseason
The National Football League's trade deadline comes roughly midway through the regular season and months before the playoffs. It's curious timing for a league in which teams constantly evolve.
Consider that at the November 2 deadline, the Kansas City Chiefs were 4-4 and featured a very problematic defense. The Chiefs defense has improved dramatically, and Kansas City proceeded to win seven straight before falling to the Cincinnati Bengals in a nail-biter Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens were 5-2 at the deadline and looking like a playoff lock. Baltimore has since fallen to 8-8.
Several teams are barely recognizable when compared to what they were in early November. If the trade deadline were at the end of the regular season instead of halfway through, we'd have entirely different lists of buyers and sellers—and perhaps a level of activity more akin to Major League Baseball's deadline frenzy.
Here, we'll examine this year's playoff teams—those that have already clinched and those in possession of top-seven conference spots—and one trade each might make if the market were still open.
We'll have a little fun with these hypothetical deals but try to keep them as realistic as possible. The Los Angeles Rams aren't trading Cooper Kupp to the Chiefs, no matter how much Kansas City wishes it could happen.
Team makeup, roster health, player potential and contract statuses will be considered here. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Arizona Cardinals: LB Mack Wilson
Before the start of the season, Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported that the Cleveland Browns had "taken calls on" linebacker Mack Wilson. While Wilson was not dealt before the deadline, he hasn't played a prominent role in Cleveland's defense.
Wilson has been a productive run-defender in limited action, though, totaling 40 tackles despite playing just 21 percent of the defensive snaps. He has been credited with only one missed tackle.
The Arizona Cardinals would like to bolster their run defense right about now. While Arizona has already clinched a playoff spot, it hasn't been playing particularly well in recent weeks—and defending the run has been a problem.
In losses to the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 14 and 15, the Cardinals surrendered 126 rushing yards in each game. For the season, they have allowed an average of 4.4 yards per carry, the 12th-highest average in the NFL.
Adding Wilson to a linebacker rotation that includes Jordan Hicks, Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins would help Arizona keep productive, fresh players on the field and help prevent the run defense from breaking down late in games.
With Wilson being a part-time player in Cleveland and set to enter the final year of his rookie deal, the Browns' asking price would likely be low. A Day 3 selection should get it done, and that's a small price to pay for run-game reinforcements heading into the postseason.
Buffalo Bills: DT Folorunso Fatukasi
Would the New York Jets be eager to help out a division rival? Probably not, but the Jets' season is over, and the Buffalo Bills are headed to the postseason. If the Bills came calling about defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi, the Jets would likely listen.
Fatukasi has been a terrific run-stuffing interior defender for the Jets and had 44 tackles, 20 solo stops and five tackles for loss coming into Week 17. However, he's scheduled to be a free agent in 2022 and could depart with New York getting nothing in return.
While Buffalo has invested heavily in its defensive line in recent years—using early picks on the likes of Ed Oliver, Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa—run defense has still been an issue during the 2021 season.
Buffalo ranks 19th in rushing yards allowed and 14th in yards per carry allowed. It has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns, sixth-most in the NFL. Between Weeks 13 and 16, the Bills defense surrendered an average of 165 rushing yards per game.
Fatukasi could rotate as an early-down run-defender, helping the Bills at least slow the bleeding on the ground in the postseason. Buffalo may need to overpay to gain an asset from a division rival, but with Fatukasi potentially departing in a couple of months, an early Day 3 pick might be enough to get a deal done.
Cincinnati Bengals: CB Stephon Gilmore
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was already traded once this season, from the New England Patriots to the Carolina Panthers. However, the Panthers are out of the playoff mix and have little reason to keep a player who is scheduled to hit the open market in the spring.
Were Gilmore available via trade now, the Cincinnati Bengals would make for a logical landing spot. Gilmore has been dealing with a groin injury and was inactive for Week 17, but he's capable of playing at a high level when healthy.
In coverage, Gilmore has allowed an opposing passer rating of only 78.6 this season. He has two passes defended and two interceptions in nine games with the Panthers.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have struggled to stop opposing passers at times. Cincinnati came into Week 17 ranked 29th in passing yards per game allowed. On Sunday against Kansas City, the Bengals allowed Patrick Mahomes to go 26-of-35 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
While Gilmore may not be the same elite defender he was when named Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago, he would be a tremendous hypothetical addition. Gilmore is a quality starter with a vast amount of the postseason experience the Bengals largely lack.
The Panthers acquired Gilmore for a 2023 sixth-round pick. Carolina would probably now jump at the chance to turn him into a 2022 Day 3 selection.
Dallas Cowboys: OT Andre Dillard
As was the case with Mack Wilson, trade buzz surrounded Philadelphia Eagles backup left tackle Andre Dillard earlier in the year.
"The Eagles won't give him away, and there are scenarios where he's a part of their future, anyway," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport wrote in late October. "But teams believe a quality second-day pick would be enough to pry Dillard away."
While doing a deal with a division rival could be tricky, the Dallas Cowboys would love to have more depth along the offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith is back in the lineup but just missed Weeks 15 and 16 with an ankle injury.
This would purely be an insurance move for Dallas, but having depth in the playoffs is important. If there's one thing that might stop the surging Cowboys right now, it would be the dreaded injury bug.
Dillard hasn't played on offense for the Eagles since the trade deadline, and while he doesn't have a ton of starting experience, the 2019 first-round pick has physical upside. Swing tackle Terence Steele has filled in admirably at both tackle spots this season, but adding Dillard would give Dallas even more insurance for a potential Super Bowl run.
The Cowboys may have to pay a premium to pry Dillard away from a rival, but with him not seeing the field in Philadelphia, a third-round pick would probably get it done.
Green Bay Packers: DE Jadeveon Clowney
The Browns signed Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal this offseason to improve its pass rush opposite Myles Garrett. Clowney has delivered in that department—he has five sacks and 24 quarterback pressures—but he's also been a terrific run defender on the edge.
Clowney has 29 tackles, 18 solo stops and nine tackles for loss in 12 games.
Green Bay has been gashed on the ground over the last month and surrendered 219 rushing yards to the Browns in Week 16. Entering Sunday, the Packers had allowed 4.8 yards per carry, tied for the highest average in the NFL.
Green Bay shut down the Minnesota Vikings ground game, but it's worth noting that Minnesota was starting backup quarterback Sean Mannion and was unable to back off the Packers defense.
The Packers have also played most of the season without pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith, who has been out since late September following back surgery. Clowney could help bolster Green Bay's run defense while rotating with Rashan Gary and Preston Smith to rush the passer. Za'Darius Smith could return in the postseason, but there's no guarantee.
There's also no guarantee that Clowney will return to the Browns in 2022, so Cleveland could be inclined to get something in return while it can. Green Bay might have to surrender enough to offset any potential compensatory pick Cleveland might receive, but it should in this scenario.
Aaron Rodgers won't quarterback in Green Bay forever, and the Packers have a prime opportunity to deliver his second Lombardi Trophy this season. Sending a third- or fourth-round pick to Cleveland would represent a small price if it helps the Packers thrive in the postseason.
Indianapolis Colts: LB Reggie Ragland
Like the Cardinals and the Packers, the Indianapolis Colts would love to have some additional run support heading into the final week of the season.
Indianapolis hasn't been run over every single week, but it has surrendered at least 100 rushing yards in eight different games. For the season, the Colts have given up an average of 4.5 yards per carry, the eighth-highest in the NFL.
The Colts might not be eager to part with prime draft capital, since they're sending their first-round pick to Philadelphia in the Carson Wentz trade. However, adding New York Giants linebacker Reggie Ragland would likely be a budget maneuver.
Ragland is playing on a one-year deal and may be gone in the offseason anyway. He also fell out of the rotation in Week 16 after recent addition Jaylon Smith made his first start for New York.
With the Giants, Ragland has played 45 percent of the defensive snaps this season. He has logged 66 tackles, 38 solo stops and two tackles for loss. Given his contract and playing status with the Giants, Ragland could likely be had for a late Day 3 pick in this hypothetical scenario.
The Colts have a star in linebacker Darius Leonard, but adding Ragland could further bolster Indianapolis' run defense at the second level.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Brandin Cooks
The Kansas City Chiefs have been searching for a potent No. 3 receiver to partner with Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and tight end Travis Kelce. This is why they took a flier on Josh Gordon in 2021, though the experiment hasn't yielded much in the way of production.
Entering Week 17, Gordon had only five catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.
While Byron Pringle has emerged as an additional weapon—he had 477 yards and five touchdowns entering Sunday—the Chiefs would likely jump at the chance to add a wideout like Brandin Cooks before the playoffs.
In a very underwhelming Houston Texans offense, Cooks has managed to remain productive. Following Houston's Week 17 tilt against the San Francisco 49ers, he has 87 receptions, six touchdowns and has 1,011 receiving yards—the sixth 1,000-yard season of his career.
ESPN's Dan Graziano reported before the deadline that Houston wasn't looking to move Cooks unless it got "bowled over" by an offer. Now that Houston is out of the mix for the postseason and the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, the Texans might reconsider.
Cooks is under contract through 2022 and probably wouldn't come at a bargain-basement price. If Kansas City could snap him up for, say, a second-round pick, it could forge a receiving corps that opponents couldn't hope to contain.
Los Angeles Chargers: LB Christian Kirksey
The Los Angeles Chargers took a big step toward making the postseason with a strong 34-13 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. If the season ended now, L.A. would be in, but its run defense remains a cause for concern.
The Chargers came into Sunday ranked 29th in yards per carry and rushing yards per game allowed. They did hold Denver to just 83 rushing yards, but this hasn't been the norm. Los Angeles has allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards only four other times this season.
If the Chargers could make a trade, they might look to tackling machine Christian Kirksey. The Houston Texans linebacker spent time on injured reserve with a fractured thumb and on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but he still managed to amass 76 tackles through the first 16 weeks.
Kirksey has also been solid if unspectacular in coverage this season, allowing an opposing passer rating of 90.6.
The Texans have been out of postseason contention for some time, and Kirksey could look for greener pastures in free agency in 2022. Adding to Houston's draft capital with an early Day 3 pick would likely be enough to bring Kirskey to Los Angeles.
Kirksey has a proven ability to find the ball-carrier—he has twice posted more than 130 tackles in a season—and could add some respectability to the Chargers ground defense.
Los Angeles Rams: C Justin Britt
The Los Angeles Rams have not been shy about adding pieces in 2021. Since the start of the offseason, they have traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford, traded for edge-rusher Von Miller and signed wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
Given L.A.'s win-now approach, it could conceivably trade for any player right now if able and if the Rams believed it would spark a Super Bowl run.
Texans center Justin Britt would be a logical target. The Rams offensive line has been vulnerable to interior pressure this season, and starting center Brian Allen has been a liability. He is responsible for five penalties and five sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen has also been dealing with a knee injury.
Britt, meanwhile, has been solid for the Texans when healthy. He spent time on injured reserve with his own knee ailment but allowed just one sack in his first 547 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Rams are short on draft capital—they don't currently possess a pick in the first four rounds—but Britt shouldn't be an expensive option. The 30-year-old is playing on a one-year deal for a Texans team in the midst of a full-on rebuild.
Something like a 2022 fifth-rounder and a 2023 fourth-rounder would probably pry Britt away from Houston at this point in the season.
New England Patriots: DL Calais Campbell
The Baltimore Ravens are likely to miss the postseason, which might prompt them to start selling off impending free agents if an end-of-season trade deadline existed. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell would be a hypothetical trade chip, as he's in the final year of a two-year deal.
If Campbell were available, he'd make a fine addition to the New England Patriots' defensive-line rotation. While not the dominant edge-defender he once was, Campbell is still a stout run-defender who can occasionally bring pressure.
Campbell has totaled 43 tackles, 24 solo stops, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have been susceptible to the run. New England has regularly stonewalled opposing passing attacks, but it has been hammered by the ground game.
New England ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed and 26th in yards per attempt allowed. Between Weeks 12 and 17, the Patriots allowed an average of 158 rushing yards per contest. New England was better against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, but they were without star ball-carrier James Robinson (torn Achilles).
With Campbell possibly on his way out of Baltimore, an early Day 3 selection might be enough for New England to pair him with former teammate Matthew Judon in its front seven.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Marlon Mack
If the season ended today, the Philadelphia Eagles would be in the playoffs. While Philadelphia showed on Sunday that it can run the ball without starting back Miles Sanders—the Eagles rushed for 118 against the Washington Football Team—Sanders' broken hand is problematic.
If the Eagles were able to make a trade right now, they'd probably scoop up Colts running back Marlon Mack.
Mack has fallen out of the rotation this season as Jonathan Taylor has become a workhorse in the truest sense. Mack and the Colts were both reportedly interested in a trade before the deadline.
"The feeling around Indianapolis is the Colts want to do right by running back Marlon Mack, who has requested a trade, but there is not much interest just yet," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "Things could pick up closer to the deadline, and a conditional late-round pick probably gets it done."
Mack, who played under Eagles coach Nick Sirianni in Indianapolis, would be a terrific piece of insurance as Sanders works his way back. Though he has seen very little action this year and suffered a torn Achilles in early 2020, Mack was a 1,000-yard runner two seasons ago.
With the Colts already open to moving Mack, the Eagles would likely be able to get him for proverbial peanuts—a conditional Day 3 pick would likely get it done.
San Francisco 49ers: LB Anthony Walker
If the San Francisco 49ers beat the Rams in Week 18, they'll be in the playoffs. The current No. 6 seed hasn't been putrid against the run, but the 49ers have struggled at times and are dealing with injuries at the linebacker position.
San Francisco came into Sunday ranked 11th in rushing yards allowed and had surrendered 17 rushing touchdowns, seventh-most in the NFL. After surrendering just 86 rushing yards to the underwhelming Houston Texans, San Francisco ranks 10th in rushing yards allowed.
Linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow) and Dre Greenlaw (groin) were both inactive Sunday. Greenlaw has been limited to only two games this season.
With the Browns officially eliminated from playoff contention, Cleveland could be inclined to part with standout linebacker Anthony Walker. Walker is playing on a one-year deal and could depart in the offseason anyway.
In 11 games this season, Walker has totaled 97 tackles and 63 solo stops. While he doesn't make plays in the backfield often—he has only one sack and two tackles for loss—he could help limit opposing ball-carriers at the second level.
With the Browns out and Walker headed to free agency, an early Day 3 pick would likely net San Francisco a playoff rental.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Allen Robinson II
Wide receiver Allen Robinson II was given the franchise tag in 2021. However, he has fallen out of the offensive game plan as Darnell Mooney has emerged as Chicago's new top target.
After topping 1,100 receiving yards in both 2019 and 2020, Allen has produced just 388 yards and one touchdown.
Robinson could thrive as a perimeter target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however. Tampa recently lost star wideout Chris Godwin to a torn ACL and now has an opening on the outside opposite Mike Evans.
The Buccaneers also parted ways with receiver Antonio Brown following a sideline outburst Sunday against the New York Jets.
Robinson might not equal Godwin's production in Tampa, but he represents the best realistic option the Buccaneers would have—in the theoretical sense, anyway. With Robinson playing on a one-year deal and being underutilized in Chicago, the asking price for the 28-year-old would be low.
Hypothetically, Tampa could probably get Robinson for an early Day 3 pick.
Now, it's worth noting that Robinson has battled COVID-19 and still doesn't feel 100 percent. Ideally, though, he would be able to return to form during Tampa's postseason run.
The Bears may be staring down their final game with Robinson in the lineup, but it would be fun to see what Tom Brady could get out of him in the playoffs if a trade could occur.
Tennessee Titans: CB Kyle Fuller
Cornerback Kyle Fuller has fallen out of favor with the Denver Broncos, and there was talk of a trade before the deadline.
"Ronald Darby is healthy, and Fuller has been the odd man out," Rapoport wrote. "With so many cornerback-needy teams, could Fuller be a trade target this time? For the right price, perhaps."
While Fuller hasn't been as effective as he was in Chicago last season—he allowed an opposing passer rating of just 89.8 in 2020—he would still be a fine addition to a Tennessee Titans secondary that has struggled.
The Titans rank 16th in yards per pass attempt allowed and 23rd in passing yards per game allowed. They also lost rookie first-round cornerback Caleb Farley to a torn ACL in Week 6.
While Fuller wouldn't totally fix Tennessee's defensive issues, he's an experienced starter who could help bolster the back end. Fuller would also be a relatively cheap option, as he isn't being regularly utilized by Denver and only played nine defensive snaps in Weeks 15 and 16 combined.
Fuller is also set to be a free agent in the spring. Tennessee could likely pick up Fuller for a low price, possibly an early Day 3 draft selection. Doing so would be worth it, as pass defense is the Titans' biggest liability heading into the playoffs.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract information via Spotrac.