As recently as five years ago, a column about midseason trades would have been more of a wish list than anything else. NFL teams rarely traded veteran players at all, let alone in the middle of campaigns. Last season alone, though, we saw Amari Cooper, Eli Apple, Damon Harrison, Josh Gordon, Golden Tate, Dante Fowler Jr., Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Demaryius Thomas all change teams during the season, and that’s without even counting the Khalil Mack megatrade, which took place eight days before the season began.
A wild offseason only stoked the trade winds further. With superstars holding out and/or unexpectedly leaving their teams over the past few weeks, the trade possibilities have grown more obvious. We still have just over three weeks to go before the trade deadline on Oct. 29, but now is about the time when teams should start thinking about whether they should make a move before things get too deep into the season.
I’ve gone through the league and identified 10 players who seem like plausible fits for trades for various reasons. When I wrote a similar piece last year, I unsurprisingly got none of the trades exactly right. Wide receiver Golden Tate did end up unexpectedly leaving the Lions, though he went to the Eagles, not the Titans. And linebacker Jamie Collins did end up reuniting with the Patriots, although that came via free agency. I don’t expect any of these trades to happen exactly, but this is a useful exercise into estimating what it might take for a team to make a swap and which players might be available in the market.
For each player, I’ve tried to identify at least one trade candidate that would make sense. I’ve tried to take each team’s trade history and particular style into mind. I’ll begin with one of the league’s most promising young defenders before working over to the offensive side of the ball:
Let’s start with the market’s most eligible player. The Jaguars have so far resisted trade talks for their star cornerback, but since he requested a trade after Week 3, he has yet to suit up for the team. The two-time Pro Bowler initially missed practice with an illness and then to witness the birth of his child, but he has officially missed games against the Broncos and Panthers with a back injury.
Owner Shahid Khan has publicly said he doesn’t want to trade Ramsey. The team has supported Ramsey over the past two weeks, but this is also an organization run by Tom Coughlin. Before the events of the past few weeks, Ramsey famously showed up to training camp in an armored truck with a hype man insisting the Florida State product was about to get a new deal. Personally, I found it wildly entertaining. I’m not sure Coughlin felt the same way.
The Jaguars hold most of the cards here, at least for now. Ramsey is still in the fourth year of his rookie deal. Jacksonville has already picked up his fifth-year option for 2020 and would be able to franchise him afterward. He is realistically years away from unrestricted free agency if the Jaguars don’t want him to leave.
The scenario that comes to mind for me, though, is Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans weren’t able to come to terms with Clowney on an extension as their franchise player, and by the time they eventually gave up on re-signing him, they had no leverage and were forced to eat half of his contract just to get a third-round pick and a pair of backup linebackers from Seattle. The Jaguars are some ways away from that point, but as they get closer to the end of Ramsey’s deal, his trade value is going to decline. (Ramsey, coincidentally, spent his Sunday in Houston with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.)
If the Jags think Ramsey isn’t going to re-sign with the team down the road, or if Coughlin has grown sick of him, they might find that Ramsey’s trade value is at its highest right now and make a move. There are a handful of teams with designs on competing for a title that could justify making a significant move for a player like Ramsey. I’m not going to do this for every player, but I’ll come up with three trades for Ramsey:
The trade: Kansas City Chiefs send a 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Ramsey and a 2021 second-round pick
If the Jaguars really do want two first-round picks for their star cornerback, they’re probably going to need to send back something in return. The Dolphins were able to get two firsts and a second-round pick for Laremy Tunsil, but they also needed to send Kenny Stills as part of the deal and were dealing with a coach masquerading as a personnel executive. It would be tough to recreate that sort of package, even given how talented Ramsey is as a player.
This is about as close as the Jags could get. The Chiefs are likely to be picking in the bottom of the first round, which reduces the value of these picks, and the Jaguars would be sending a second-rounder back, but this fits the criteria of getting two first-rounders in return for Ramsey. Kansas City is perennially in need of help at cornerback, and while it has mined the veteran free-agent charts for Bashaud Breeland and Mo Claiborne, Ramsey would be the last piece of the puzzle for a team that has a championship-caliber offense with Patrick Mahomes.
Louis Riddick weighs in on Jalen Ramsey’s saga with the Jaguars, saying it is truly becoming a distraction.
The trade: Baltimore Ravens send a 2020 first-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick (compensatory) and a 2022 first-round pick to the Jaguars for Ramsey and a 2022 fourth-round pick
Another team rumored to be in the Ramsey discussions, the Ravens have their own young quarterback to build around in Lamar Jackson. They also had what looked to be a suffocating defense after holding the Dolphins and Cardinals to 27 points through the first two weeks of the season, but offseason departures and in-season injuries have revealed some cracks in the armor of what has perennially been a great defense. The Ravens lost slot corner Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and haven’t had Jimmy Smith since Week 1. Starting safety Tony Jefferson also suffered an ACL injury yesterday and is likely to miss the rest of the season.
Baltimore was counting on its defensive backs to be the strength of their team. Instead, they’re quickly becoming a concern. Trading for Ramsey would be a drastic move, but in a wide-open AFC North, it would give the Ravens a better shot at competing now and in the seasons to come. Ramsey is a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, and the Ravens have been privileged enough to grow used to fielding multiple Hall of Famers on their defense. Earl Thomas is starting at safety, and the Ravens would have a chance to line up Ramsey and Marlon Humphrey as their starting cornerbacks moving forward. This deal lets Baltimore push one of the first-round picks all the way into 2022.
The trade: Los Angeles Rams send a 2020 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, 2022 second-round pick (conditional) and CB Marcus Peters to the Jaguars for Ramsey and a 2022 fourth-round pick (conditional)
If the Jaguars think they have a shot at competing for the AFC South and don’t want to give up a key talent for the remainder of 2019, though, there’s an interesting possibility with the Rams. It’s fair to say that Peters, once an All-Pro with the Chiefs, has never really found his comfort level in L.A. He struggled mightily for stretches in 2018 before eventually improving, but he has been a problem again in 2019. For one, he was the responsible party on the 67-yard Mike Evans touchdown in Week 4.
Peters is in his fifth-year option, and the Rams might not be in a place in which they want to extend his contract. Here’s where they could get creative. In recent years, the Rams have been aggressive about trading draft picks to acquire young talent on rookie deals in advance of giving those players extensions. One of those players was Peters, who was eventually accompanied to town by Brandin Cooks and former Jaguars end Dante Fowler. Trading for Ramsey would follow that strategy, assuming it hasn’t changed after the Rams extended Jared Goff this summer. Both Peters and fellow starting corner Aqib Talib are free agents after the season.
The Jaguars would get a first- and second-round pick for Ramsey and what amounts to a season-long audition for Peters, who the team could insert in the lineup as a replacement. The Jaguars could extend the audition by franchising Peters in 2020, which is why the 2022 picks come into play. If the Jags find that Peters is a long-term solution and he plays at least one game for the team in 2021, the conditional picks on both sides don’t transfer. If the Jags move on from Peters before the 2021 season, though, the Rams will swap their 2022 second-rounder with the Jags’ fourth-round pick.
Speaking of Rams cornerbacks, it’s hard to recall a free-agent signing that has gone worse than the Johnson deal in New York. Signed by a now-deposed Jets front office last offseason, Johnson was disappointing in his debut season in New York and was benched after the Week 1 loss to the Bills this season. He played just 12 defensive snaps over the ensuing two games, and while he was restored to the lineup Sunday, he had another poor game in coverage and committed two penalties.
It’s all but a sure thing that Johnson won’t be on the Jets in 2020, given that there’s no guaranteed money left in the 29-year-old’s deal after this season. Getting him off the roster in 2019, though, will probably require an in-season restructure. Johnson has an $8 million base salary, and while the trading team would only be on the hook for a prorated portion of that figure, it would still amount to more than $5.6 million over the remainder of the season. No team is going to give that up for a player the Jets don’t want around.
If the Jets restructure Johnson’s deal, though, they could move on from a frustrating player and save some small amount of money while picking up a late-round draft pick. If they can reduce his salary to the minimum, he would likely have some modest value in a swap. All we need is a team who could use help at corner …
The trade: Philadelphia Eagles send a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Jets for Johnson
Teams have torched the Philadelphia secondary this offseason. The Eagles have reportedly made offers to try to acquire Ramsey, which would be a surprising move given how Philly has typically deemphasized spending at cornerback to ramp up along the line of scrimmage and on the offensive side of the ball.
Howie Roseman is arguably the most aggressive and creative general manager in the league when it comes to trades, though, and taking a flier on Johnson without having to give up anything more than a future seventh-round pick would give the Eagles another option as they try to find cornerback help. In fact, let’s get to another viable Eagles deal …
One of the many frustrating picks in the bottom half of the first round in 2016, Burns was benched during a brutal streak last September and has been buried on the Steelers’ depth chart ever since. He has played just two defensive snaps through five games, and after the team declined his fifth-year option in May, it became clear that his professional future is away from Pittsburgh. Any team acquiring Burns would owe the 24-year-old only approximately $675,000 over the remainder of the season.
In May, I suggested that the Eagles should trade for Burns while using the leverage of the compensatory pick formula in their favor. The Eagles had signed linebacker L.J. Fort, but if they cut Fort, the Steelers would then lose the third-round pick they were projected to gain in the 2020 draft as part of losing Le’Veon Bell. (It’s a complicated formula.)
Well, in the meantime, the Eagles already have cut Fort. The Steelers can free up a compensatory pick by cutting wide receiver Donte Moncrief, whose role in the Pittsburgh offense has vanished after early-season drops. Moncrief was inactive for Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, and his release before the November deadline seems inevitable. The Eagles could still very well deal a late-round pick to their in-state brethren for Burns, but I think there’s a more logical deal with a team going nowhere …
The Steelers are down to undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger went on injured reserve and Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Rudolph will likely be back soon, but the Steelers already traded their first-round pick to the Dolphins to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’re expecting to compete this season and have little to gain from a losing season.
Acquiring the veteran quarterback Fitzpatrick wouldn’t give the Steelers an immediate fill-in, but he could either serve as a short-term replacement for Rudolph while he recovers or a veteran backup for the second-year quarterback if he gets injured again. It would be nice to come away with a quarterback who already knows the Pittsburgh scheme, but at this point, beggars can’t be choosers, and there’s not much left on the market.
The draft pick-hungry Dolphins get a minor swap of draft picks. They also take a flier on Burns. While they are deeper at cornerback than they are at any other position, using the rest of the season to evaluate a guy who once looked like he would be a starting-caliber corner seems like a good use of $675,000.
Speaking of the Dolphins, there are still a few trade candidates left on their roster. The likes of Fitzpatrick and wide receiver DeVante Parker could still be on the move, but there’s clear logic in moving on from Drake, who is a free agent after the season. The 25-year-old’s numbers have fallen off this season, which isn’t a surprise given Miami’s dismal offensive line. Any team acquiring the running back would owe about $1.4 million over the remainder of the season, and while the Dolphins wouldn’t get much for him, they could lock in a draft pick without having to worry about sitting out free agency as part of the compensatory pick formula this offseason.
The trade: Green Bay Packers send a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Dolphins for Drake and a 2020 seventh-round pick
If you saw Aaron Jones destroy the Cowboys on Sunday, you might argue that the last thing the Packers need right now is a running back. Jones was impressive in an every-down role, but the Packers have repeatedly said that they prefer to use a rotation at running back to keep Jones fresh. The only reason Jones played nearly 70% of the snaps Sunday was because backup running back Jamaal Williams was out with a concussion, and the Packers don’t yet trust sixth-round pick Dexter Williams for game day.
With Jamaal Williams’ status unclear, swapping late-round picks for Drake would give the Packers a versatile veteran behind Jones. The Packers also could come away with a compensatory pick for Drake after the season. While they have been active in free agency under Brian Gutekunst, the lofty raises coming to edge rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith next year suggest that the team will be less active on the market in 2020. Drake could turn out to be a profitable rental for Green Bay.
Another running back who could possibly make a quick return to the market, Gordon’s future with the Chargers remains in question. His holdout turned out to be a waste of time, as the Chargers didn’t give in to his demands, while Austin Ekeler impressed as the primary back in Gordon’s absence. In his 2019 debut Sunday, Gordon carried the ball 12 times for 31 yards and turned six targets into seven receiving yards in a 20-13 loss to the Broncos. The loss dropped the Chargers to 2-3 in advance of a home game against the Steelers on Sunday.
The former first-round pick has just under $3.3 million left in prorated salary on his deal. I don’t think the Chargers are desperate to move on from Gordon — they could wait out this final year and then either franchise him or pick up a compensatory pick in the 2021 draft — but if he struggles and the Chargers lose to the Steelers and Titans in advance of the Oct. 29 trade deadline, would L.A. consider moving on from Gordon and going with Ekeler as its starter?
After beating the Titans on Sunday, the 4-1 Bills have an 74.3% shot of making it to the playoffs, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. FPI had the Bills at only 18% before the season, so the hot start has them in a different place and with different expectations than where they were before 2019 began.
Getting Gordon would give the Bills another valuable option for Josh Allen, who rebounded from a dismal performance against the Patriots in Week 4 with arguably his best game of the year against the Titans in Week 5. Allen’s struggles against the Pats pointed out just how much Buffalo will need its running game and receivers to make an impact with the ball in their hands against top-level competition.
Buffalo has Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary in the backfield, but Gore is 36 and Singletary has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. Can the Bills get by with that duo into January? Maybe. Gore and Singletary could still have viable roles in the offense even after adding Gordon, though, and the Bills could either choose to re-sign the Chargers standout or go after a compensatory pick during the offseason.
Arguably the most notable player who could get traded this season, Green has yet to play this season after undergoing ankle surgery in July. The 31-year-old is also in the final season of the four-year, $60 million extension he signed with the Bengals in 2015, and while draft classmate Julio Jones came to terms with the Falcons on a new deal last month, Green hasn’t done the same with the Bengals. With Cincinnati 0-5 and possibly prepared to rebuild with a new quarterback if it moves on from Andy Dalton, it might make sense to trade Green if the price is right.
Naturally, the easy joke is to just assume the Patriots will end up with Green. He is very talented, and the Patriots need a wideout. Typically, the Pats get their way. The easy logic led to the Patriots signing Antonio Brown, though that lasted for only two weeks. I think there’s a more logical fit for Green than New England, however …
The trade: San Francisco 49ers trade a 2020 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick to the Bengals for Green and a 2020 second-round pick
The plan has always been for Kyle Shanahan to have a dominant wide receiver in San Francisco. For the majority of his career as a coordinator, he was able to funnel targets to his “X” receiver. In Houston, it was Andre Johnson. After two years in Washington, Shanahan and his father signed Pierre Garcon. Josh Gordon was supposed to be that guy in Cleveland, then Jones was the prototypical wideout for Shanahan in Atlanta. Shanahan signed Garcon to join him in San Francisco, but injuries limited him to just 16 games over two seasons with the 49ers before the team declined his option in February.
While the 49ers are 3-0, they don’t have much of an identity at wide receiver. No wideout has played more than 62% of the snaps for the 49ers this season, and Shanahan has given each of the five wide receivers on his roster meaningful playing time. There’s nothing inherently wrong about that plan, but it’s not how the offensive guru has approached his receiving corps in years past.
With the 49ers’ playoff chances spiking from 30.8% before the season to 71.2% percent in advance of Monday night’s game against the Browns, trading for Green in the hopes he can make an impact during the second half of the season makes a lot more sense. Trading for a focal point in Green would give the 49ers two top-tier pass-catchers (along with George Kittle) and allow players such as Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin to move into complementary roles, where they might be more productive. The 49ers have been one of the most run-happy teams in the league; adding Green would make Jimmy Garoppolo‘s life easier, too.
A first-round pick for Green, even given his advancing age and the need for a new deal, would give the 49ers one of the few pieces they lack. I’m throwing in the swap of second-round picks, mostly so the 49ers don’t have to go without first- and second-round picks in 2020 after trading the latter for Dee Ford. It’s also an upgrade for the Niners, as the Bengals are likely to finish with one of the juiciest second-round picks given their 0-5 start and the range of possibilities for the 49ers during the 2020 season. Cincinnati would get another first-round pick, which it could use to help move up for its new quarterback or to find that passer another weapon.
One of the most impressive comebacks of the year belongs to Sanders, who tore his Achilles in December and seemed unlikely to be ready for the start of the 2019 season. Instead, he came back during preseason and hasn’t missed a beat. Despite playing in what might charitably be described as a conservative offense under Joe Flacco, the 32-year-old Sanders has 24 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns this season. Sanders has been limited in practices with a quad injury, but he certainly looks healthy enough to finish the final year of his current deal.
He has a little more than $7.2 million in prorated salary left in 2019, which reduces his trade value and makes it more likely that he wouldn’t be dealt until the final days before the deadline. If a team waited until after Week 8 to trade for Sanders, though, it would owe only $5.4 million. I can think of one team that needs help at receiver and once expressed interest in Sanders …
The trade: New England Patriots trade a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Broncos for Sanders
Sanders’ versatility and ability to move around the formation appeals to the Patriots, who once signed Sanders to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent during his time with the Steelers. It’s unclear how much cap space the Patriots have given the Antonio Brown grievance, but they might need the Broncos to restructure Sanders’ deal to absorb some of the remaining base salary, which would influence the quality of the picks heading back to Denver.
The Patriots will get back rookie first-round pick N’Keal Harry at midseason, but with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett all banged up, adding Sanders would make a lot of sense for Tom Brady & Co.
After Gordon returned from his holdout, the last veteran refusing to report is Williams. Washington’s star left tackle has shown no signs of softening his stance and returning to the team, and it’s difficult to see what would coax the seven-time Pro Bowler back onto the field with the team 0-5. Reports have alternately suggested that he wants a new contract and/or that he is frustrated with the team’s medical staff.
Washington could choose to toll Williams’s contract if he doesn’t return to the team, which would leave him where he is now, with two years and just under $22 million remaining on his current deal. They’ve reportedly rebuffed trade offers for him, which is understandable given that they don’t have a long-term replacement at left tackle and would likely see trading their former first-round pick as rewarding him for bad behavior.
If Washington does trade Williams, though, there are plenty of teams who should be interested. One obvious candidate?
The trade: Cleveland Browns trade a 2020 first-round pick to Washington for Williams
The Patriots would also seemingly be interested in Williams, but it’s difficult to make the pieces come together. They’re already committed to the injured Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, who should be back in November, and the Pats don’t have the cap flexibility to clear out room for Williams unless they simultaneously trade for Williams and give him a new extension immediately. (I don’t think Washington would be willing to eat money as part of a deal.)
One team that still does have cap space, though, is Cleveland. The Browns are getting by with Greg Robinson at left tackle, but he has already been ejected once and has 45 yards in penalties through four games. With Cleveland in prime position to win an injury-riddled AFC North, its biggest weakness remains along the offensive line. Trading for Williams would suddenly give Baker Mayfield a plus offensive tackle who should remain a standout for several years to come.
I’ll sneak one more offensive lineman in here. Price hasn’t lived up to expectations since the Bengals took him with the 21st pick of the 2018 draft. Expected to step in as the starting center, Price struggled during his rookie season and then failed to win a competition for the job in August, losing out to Trey Hopkins. Price has seen action instead at left guard behind Michael Jordan, but he didn’t play a single offensive snap against the Cardinals on Sunday and has played just 29.3% of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps all season.
The trade: Kansas City Chiefs trade a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Bengals for Price
If anyone is fond of taking on talented reclamation projects along the offensive line, it’s the Chiefs and offensive line coach Andy Heck. Kansas City made a similar trade in 2017 for Cam Erving, a first-round pick at center who failed to impress in Cleveland across multiple offensive line spots. He has impressed enough with the Chiefs to earn a contract extension, though he’s stretched in his current role as the team’s left tackle in place of the injured Eric Fisher.
The Chiefs lost starting guard Andrew Wylie during their loss to the Colts on Sunday night, and while it’s unclear whether the injury is serious, any significant absence would tax an already-thin line. It would hardly be shocking to see the Chiefs pursue someone like Price to serve as a utility lineman on the interior while eventually hoping to groom the Ohio State product into a starter.
Let’s finish with a big name and make something ridiculous. It was a wild week for Diggs, who missed practice in midweek with what was said at the time to be an illness. The Vikings fined him for missing practice, which should tell you what they think about the illness. He was active for Sunday’s win over the Giants and suggested afterward that he wanted to stay in Minnesota, though he did follow that comment with a wink.
The chances that the Vikings trade Diggs, at least during the regular season, are slim. He’s a valuable player on a team that expects to contend for a Super Bowl. Minnesota has little help at wideout behind him, so if they traded the Maryland product, they would be down to Adam Thielen and the likes of Laquon Treadwell, Olabisi Johnson and Davion Davis starting across from him. No Vikings fan wants to see more Treadwell. Minnesota would play more 12 personnel without Diggs, but it would realistically need to get a wide receiver back as part of the deal.
Stefon Diggs expresses his pleasure with the win vs. the Giants and gives reporters a wink after he tells them he wants to stay in Minnesota.
I don’t think a Diggs trade is realistic, so let’s go all the way in the other direction and make a three-way swap:
The trade: Oakland Raiders get Diggs from the Vikings and a 2020 sixth-round pick from Dolphins
Minnesota Vikings get DeVante Parker from the Dolphins and the lesser of 2020 first-round picks from the Raiders
Miami Dolphins get 2020 fourth-round picks from both the Vikings and Dolphins
Let’s start with the Vikings. Trading Diggs frees up $6 million or so in cap room, which gives them enough space to absorb the first year of Parker’s two-year deal. While Parker has been frustrating in years past and probably won’t ever have the breakout some were projecting for him in Miami, he has unquestioned physical talent and is the sort of wideout who can make teams pay vertically for pushing a safety into the box when the Vikings use play-action. He also has no guaranteed money left on his deal after this season.
I can’t imagine the Vikings taking anything less than a first-round pick as part of the deal. The Raiders have both their own first-rounder and the first-round pick they’ll receive from the Bears as part of the Khalil Mack trade. The Raiders could hold onto the better of those two picks as part of this deal, though they’ll swap their fourth-round pick with a sixth-rounder from the Dolphins to help pay the freight for getting Parker to Minnesota. The Dolphins, in pick accrual mode, should be pleased with their return for a wideout who likely doesn’t figure into their long-term plans.
Would the Raiders trade significant draft capital for a disgruntled wideout who is skipping practice months after the Antonio Brown fiasco? At the very least, star tackle Trent Brown seems to think so.
It’s too simplistic to compare Brown and Diggs; for one, Brown’s behavior in the building in Oakland doesn’t appear to be similar to what Diggs has done in Minnesota or even how Brown acted in Pittsburgh. When the Raiders acquired Brown, they were trading for a 31-year-old who signed a new contract upon arrival. Diggs is 25 and just over a year into a five-year extension. I can’t fault the Raiders for trading for Brown, but it was a risk that obviously failed to pan out.
Taking one risk doesn’t mean you should never take a risk again, especially on a player with Diggs’ upside. The Raiders need help at wide receiver, especially given that Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson were both unable to play against the Bears in London. With the Raiders winning and the Chiefs and Chargers both losing, Oakland now has a 23.6% shot of making the playoffs this season. I don’t know if I’d sell out my future to try to make it to the postseason one last time in the Bay Area, but Diggs is a player who can theoretically help now and help after the move to Las Vegas, too.
There’s probably not a realistic chance of the Vikings trading Diggs in midseason. Then again, I didn’t think that Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. were going to get traded this offseason, and both those deals happened in the same month. We are blessed to live in strange NFL times.