For years, the NFL trade deadline came and went with little activity. Any excitement stemmed from hypothetical deals envisioned by fans and media, but few of them actually materialized. However a combination of factors — a roomier salary cap, the 2012 decision to push the deadline back until after Week 8 and general managers’ willingness to either add a key contributor or stockpile assets — have paved the way for more trades.
This year has already seen several notable swaps materialize, as the Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders, the Saints landed corner Eli Apple from the Giants and the Jaguars grabbed running back Carlos Hyde from the Browns.
With Tuesday’s deadline in mind, we proposed seven trades that contenders should make and detailed the plausibility (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being most plausible) of each:
Buccaneers trade WR DeSean Jackson to Texans
Just when Deshaun Watson starts to click, deep threat Will Fuller goes down for the year with a torn ACL. Jackson, however, would seem to be the perfect fill-in for the short term. Having passed Jerry Rice on Sunday for the most touchdowns of 60 yards or more (24) in a career, the three-time Pro Bowler leads all qualifying receivers with 22.8 yards per reception this season. Jackson’s speed would help keep things open for top target DeAndre Hopkins and rookie Keke Coutee. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are in a tailspin and have their receiving corps of the future in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Plausibility meter: 8. Jackson has already requested a trade, according to NFL Network, and Houston should be uniquely motivated to land him given its need and delicate status as a potential AFC contender. With Jackson’s contract not guaranteed in 2019 and the Texans having plenty of cap space, the only real hitch is whether general manager Brian Gaine believes the receiver is the right fit on the field and in the locker room.
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More: NFL trade deadline: Patriots could be buyers, while Raiders might continue to sell
Bills trade DE Jerry Hughes to Panthers
Despite a 2-5 start, general manager Brandon Beane doesn’t seem ready to ship off Buffalo’s veterans. In Hughes, however, he has a 30-year-old pass rusher whose value likely will have waned by the time the Bills are competitive. Carolina needs someone beyond Mario Addison and Julius Peppers to step up and provide additional pressure. Adding Hughes might give the Panthers some of the juice they’ll need to run down the Saints in the NFC South.
Plausibility meter: 6. Beane has experience trading with his former team, so facilitating a deal shouldn’t be difficult. But the Bills have consistently sent the message that they’re not in a selloff, and the defensive line might be one of the few redeeming elements of a hard-to-watch group.
Broncos trade LB Shane Ray to Rams
Most GMs would likely shy away from tinkering with an 8-0 team, but Les Snead has shown he’s unafraid to address a need. The top area of concern could be edge rusher given the pedestrian production of starters Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre (two combined sacks). Ray hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing, but he had a career-best eight sacks with Denver in 2016 under the guidance of current Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The plug-and-play potential, even if only as a rotational rusher, is certainly there for Los Angeles.
Plausibility meter: 8. Ray is stuck behind both Von Miller and first-round pick Bradley Chubb as he plays out the final year of his contract. As a non-playoff contender, Denver should get whatever it can for him and Shaquil Barrett, its other backup pass rusher, who also might be of interest to L.A.
Browns trade G Joel Bitonio to Falcons
A stabilizing presence at left guard, Bitonio briefly seemed like a potential successor to Joe Thomas at left tackle — a move which would have also allowed Cleveland rookie guard Austin Corbett to crack the starting lineup. Instead, Bitonio and guard Kevin Zeitler have made for an expensive tandem on the interior of an offensive front that isn’t pulling its weight. If he were to head to an Atlanta team still clawing for the playoffs despite losing six starters to injured reserve, Bitonio could reunite with former Browns center Alex Mack while providing a reliable replacement for Brandon Fusco. He also wouldn’t necessarily be a long-term commitment, as his contract isn’t guaranteed past 2019, when a pre-June 1 cut would incur just a $1.3 million dead cap charge.
Plausibility meter: 4. John Dorsey likes stockpiling picks, but subjecting rookie Baker Mayfield to increased pressure might be too high of a cost unless Bitonio could fetch an impressive return. It also seems like a stretch to suggest that a guard could save an Atlanta team getting gashed for nearly 420 yards per game on defense.
Titans trade LB Brian Orakpo to Packers
At 3-4, the Titans are 1½ games behind the Texans, though still in the mix for the AFC South (as well as for a potential wild-card spot). That makes it difficult to tell whether Tennessee sees itself as a buyer or a seller, as general manager Jon Robinson could either look to add a body at wide receiver or send off one of its impending free agents (or stand pat). Orakpo, 32, likely doesn’t fit into the team’s plans beyond this year. And while the Packers are tied for sixth in sacks with 23, the stats belie the true state of the pass rush. Green Bay needs more consistency generating pressure from the edge to compete in the NFC down the stretch.
Plausibility meter: 6. Derrick Morgan’s shoulder injury might complicate things for Tennessee, but Orakpo seems expendable, especially after rookie Harold Landry has proven himself deserving of more playing time. General manager Brian Gutekunst has been a little more freewheeling than predecessors Ted Thompson in Green Bay, though it’s unclear how aggressive he might be at this stage.
Cardinals trade CB Patrick Peterson to Eagles
The defending champs stand at 4-4 with a chance to atone for their first-half mistakes and reclaim the NFC East lead. If those traits aren’t enough to denote a team eager to add a contributor at the deadline, Howie Roseman’s trade-happy history and a recent move to clear cap space (an estimated $10 million is now available, according to overthecap.com) should be sufficient. Philadelphia has been linked to the likes of Bills running back LeSean McCoy and Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but its real swing should be for its greatest need: a corner who can be a long-term salve for an oft-scorched secondary. Peterson is probably a pipe dream in several respects, but he would be a boon for a defense that can’t count on its pass rush to bail it out on every dropback.
Plausibility meter: 1. Never say never, especially when Roseman is ready to make a move, but this deal is prohibitive from almost every angle. Start with the fact that both Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and owner Michael Bidwill have said in no uncertain terms they won’t be trading Peterson, and the cornerback himself has said publicly he’s focused on his future with Arizona … even if he might feel otherwise. And even if there were a window for the Eagles to pull off a this kind of move, they already look to be overbooked for 2019 and might not be able to hold onto Peterson long term.
Cardinals trade LB Haason Reddick to Patriots
Bill Belichick knows how to scour the bargain bin, and this week could provide plenty of opportunities to buy low for a long-term gain. New England might have bigger needs than a linebacker — including at running back, defensive end and cornerback. But Reddick, a former first rounder, would bring the kind of versatility Belichick prizes. Not only is he a capable blitzer, he also would be an asset covering running backs after the Patriots were burned by the likes of the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt (five catches, 105 yards and a TD) and the Bears’ Tarik Cohen (eight catches, 69 yards and a TD) in recent weeks.
Plausibility meter: 7. This might not be the route New England takes, but the AFC East leaders are known buyers who could stand to add some depth. And the Cardinals don’t seem particularly tied to Reddick, who doesn’t seem like a great fit for Wilks’ scheme.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz