NFL Trade Packages to Create the Next Great Defenses

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2022

NFL Trade Packages to Create the Next Great Defenses

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    Even in a league defined by wildly successful passing attacks and high-scoring offenses, defense still matters in the pursuit of a championship.

    The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams both made it to the Super Bowl on the backs of strong defenses. The Rams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy because Aaron Donald got pressure on Joe Burrow with the game on the line.

    While the Rams drafted and developed Donald on their own, it was a defense that was built, in part, by some aggressive trades. The unit wouldn't be what it was without the contributions of Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey—both of whom were acquired via trade.

    Looking across the NFL landscape, there are a few teams that could borrow from the Rams' playbook. These teams have some key pieces in place to build the kind of stingy defense that can lead a playoff run and could use that one missing piece to put them over the top.

Cleveland Browns Acquire DT Grady Jarrett

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    Cleveland Browns Receive: Grady Jarrett

    Atlanta Falcons Receive: 2022 second-round pick (No. 44 overall), 2023 third-round pick

    The Cleveland Browns either have elite or promising players at each level of the defense. Myles Garrett is one of the league's best pass-rushers. Jadeveon Clowney—if the team can re-sign him—is a great running mate for him on the outside.

    The secondary has a rising star in Denzel Ward, and Greg Newsome II had a promising rookie campaign.

    Last year's free-agent additions John Johnson III and Troy Hill helped the team finish a respectable 13th in passer rating allowed (89.4). Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah looked like a future star with Pro Football Focus' ninth-highest grade for a linebacker.

    The one thing that's missing is an interior pass-rusher. Grady Jarrett's raw numbers were down last year, but he's still one of the best in the business.

    Jarrett notched just one sack for the Atlanta Falcons this past season, but he was still fifth among all defensive tackles in ESPN's pass rush win rate metric. The Falcons moved to a 3-4 base alignment, which could explain some of the dip in production.

    Trading Jarrett would be big for the Falcons' cap situation. He carries a $23.8 million cap hit, and the Falcons would only have to pay $7.3 million of it if they move him.

    The Browns have $18.7 million in cap space but can clear up to $36.9 million in simple restructures, per Over The Cap. That would give the Browns the opportunity to trade for Jarrett and re-sign Jadeveon Clowney.

    The pass-rushing trio of Garrett, Clowney and Jarrett would be a nightmare for opposing offenses.

Dallas Cowboys Acquire CB Marcus Peters in Blockbuster Deal

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    Dallas Cowboys Receive: Marcus Peters, 2022 third-round pick (No. 76 overall)

    Baltimore Ravens Receive: Amari Cooper

    The Baltimore Ravens could use a proven No. 1 receiver. Marquise Brown needed 146 targets just to crack 1,000 yards this past season, and 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman still has a lot to prove after a 515-yard campaign in his rookie year.

    The Dallas Cowboys could use a lockdown corner to team up with All-Pro corner Trevon Diggs.

    The two sides could both fill major holes while having solid backup plans in place after this trade. The Ravens played without Marcus Peters for the entire 2021 campaign as he recovered from a torn ACL. They found a worthy replacement in Anthony Averett who allowed a passer rating of 77.5 on 101 targets.

    The Cowboys have Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson set to hit free agency. CeeDee Lamb is now the team's top receiver, while Amari Cooper's $22 million cap hit doesn't make sense and will make it difficult to retain either.

    Per Over The Cap, trading Cooper would cost them $6 million in dead cap but free up $16 million. Trading Peters would cost the Ravens $5.5 million in dead cap but save $10 million. Dallas could then work out an extension that would soften that $10 million cap hit and still have money to put toward retaining Gallup or Wilson.

    Peters' health could be a concern, but he doesn't have a lengthy history of injuries.He played all but two games (calf strain) in 2020 and was an All-Pro selection in 2019.

    The duo of Diggs and Peters would give the Cowboys two ball-hawking corners capable of leading the league in interceptions. Combined with newfound superstar Micah Parsons, Dallas would have a lethal combination of coverage and pressure.

Las Vegas Raiders Acquire CB Xavien Howard

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    Las Vegas Raiders Receive: Xavien Howard, 2023 third-round pick

    Miami Dolphins Receive: 2022 first-round pick (No. 22 overall), 2023 second-round pick

    Josh McDaniels is coming from New England, where the Patriots were blessed with a number of shutdown corners during his time there.

    Whether it's J.C. Jackson, Stephon Gilmore or even Malcolm Butler, the Pats have featured multiple Pro Bowl selections on the outside. It would make sense that McDaniels would want to find his own version of that as he and general manager Dave Ziegler look to put their stamp on the franchise.

    McDaniels is known as an offensive guy, but there's potential for him to field a great defense in Year 1 with a few moves.

    The Las Vegas Raiders already have an impressive pair of pass-rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby.

    They could form a formidable duo at corner as well. Casey Hayward is set to become a free agent, but he had a great season even at 32 years old, holding opposing passers to a 57.1 completion percentage. After finding success in Las Vegas, he should want to re-sign.

    Making a move for Xavien Howard would make the secondary legitimately scary. He took a step back from his 2020 All-Pro campaign but still had five interceptions and only gave up a 52.7 completion percentage when targeted in 2021.

    Howard was named by ESPN's Jeremy Fowler as an under-the-rader trade candidate for 2022. He was unhappy with his contract last season but wasn't traded after the Dolphins added more money to his 2021 earnings through incentives.

Los Angeles Chargers Acquire DE/OLB Robert Quinn

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    Los Angeles Chargers Receive: Robert Quinn

    Chicago Bears Receive: 2022 third-round pick (No. 79 overall), 2022 fifth-round pick (No. 159 overall)

    The Rams officially pushed their chips to the middle of the table when they parted ways with a second- and third-round pick to get 32-year-old Von Miller.

    The other team in Los Angeles could pull off a similar move as it gears up to make a run at glory during Justin Herbert's rookie-contract window.

    Robert Quinn is not an obvious trade candidate. He just set the franchise record for sacks in a season with 18.5. However, he is 31 years old, only had two sacks in 2020 and still has three years left on his deal with cap hits of more than $17 million per season.

    Quinn's contract is massive. Add in the fact that the Chicago Bears only have five picks in the 2022 draft, and new general manager Ryan Poles may want to listen to offers.

    Quinn would be a huge boost for the Chargers as a pass-rusher and run-defender. Not only was Quinn disruptive against the pass, but his 17 tackles for loss ranked sixth in the league.

    The Chargers have an elite pass-rusher in Joey Bosa. Despite his 10.5 sacks, the Chargers were 20th in the category while ranking 28th in yards allowed per rush.

    With $56.3 million in cap space, the Chargers have the ability to add even more pieces to the defense. Run-stuffing interior defenders and linebackers can be found at affordable deals. But that cap space could also be used to take on a big contract like Quinn's.

Washington Commanders Trade Up to Draft CB Derek Stingley Jr.

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    Washington Commanders Receive: 2022 first-round pick (No. 6 overall)

    Carolina Panthers Receive: 2022 first-round pick (No. 11 overall), 2022 third-round pick (No. 73) and 2022 sixth-round pick (No. 187 overall)

    There's a case to be made that if the Washington Commanders are going to trade up in this draft, it's going to be for a quarterback. But this year's quarterback class doesn't have a slam-dunk prospect who is going to turn the franchise around.

    The Commanders do have the foundation of an incredible defense, though.

    Their defensive line features four first-round picks in Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Young and Sweat were both hampered by injuries last season and only combined for 6.5 sacks in 19 games.

    But given their previous success, you'd be hard-pressed to name a pass-rushing duo aged 25 and under you'd rather have.

    Throw in 2021 first-round linebacker Jamin Davis, and Washington has committed serious resources to the defensive front.

    A similar commitment to the secondary could result in an elite unit. Kendall Fuller was PFF's third-highest-graded cornerback last season. Adding Derek Stingley Jr. (scouting report) to the mix would give them another first-round talent and a dominant pair of cover corners.

    Stingley earned the highest grade in the country from PFF as a freshman at LSU. He only played in three games this past season as a junior because of a foot injury, but when healthy, he's an elite cornerback prospect who could be a top-five selection.

    If he falls out of the top five, it would be worth it for Washington to swing a deal to continue building an elite defense and find its quarterback through free agency or trading for a veteran.

    Carolina should be a willing trade partner in that scenario. The Panthers could recoup some of the draft picks they've lost in trades for Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson. They have just one pick (No. 6) in the top 100.