Ten buyers and sellers ahead of 2021 NFL trade deadline
As the NFL cruises toward the Nov. 2 trade deadline, less than a fortnight away, clubs have one last chance to make a big splash or jump ship on the 2021 season.
Much like the buzz around free agency, trade speculation brings a cornucopia of discussion topics for fans and media to digest between actual games. Fans love the prospect of the new, the optimism that comes with adding a critical piece, and what it can mean for the future.
Unfortunately, unlike other major American sports, the NFL trade deadline usually comes and goes with a faint whisper. A slew of reasons leads to inaction for most NFL teams.
The deadline being so early in the season -- before Week 9 of a 17-game season -- means fewer teams are out of the playoff race, leading to less selling (entering Week 7, 26 teams are within at least a game of a postseason spot). The compensatory pick model behooves some teams to let veterans walk in free agency rather than trading them during the season. Many general managers overvalue future picks. The lack of one player making an overwhelming difference in a game with 22 players on the field lessens the desire to make splash trades. And a lack of salary cap space to take on big contracts is a significant impediment -- particularly this year with just 11 teams currently having more than $7 million in space, per Over The Cap.
However, just because in-season trades are infrequent in the NFL doesn't mean clubs won't explore them. Teams have needs all over the field as they scratch and claw to remain in contention. Seemingly every club has a "Reliable Healthy Cornerback(s) Needed" sign hanging in their store windows. Need an offensive lineman? Good luck. So does the team next to you.
Buzz will happen, even if it leads nowhere.
With that, let's take a gander at five teams that should be buyers at the deadline and five that could be sellers.
The club's best defensive performance of the season against a decaying Washington team shouldn't stop K.C. from adding much-needed help to a unit that's been waxed regularly to open the season. The back end has been a mess, and upgrading the corner position feels vital if the Chiefs are to avoid the defense being a playoff-imploding Achilles' heel against better teams. Juan Thornhill played well moving into the starting safety position last week, but it's another area GM Brett Veach could look to upgrade. And pass-rush consistency has been a concern in part due to injuries. Could Veach pry DE Emmanuel Ogbah out of Miami? Like basically every team on this list, the salary cap (Chiefs sit $2.8 million under the cap) could impede upgrading a downtrodden unit. Still, somehow, someway, the Chiefs need to find an upgrade, or they could be sitting at home come the middle of January.
The Ravens have shown they're the cream of the AFC crop, winning five straight games, including crushing the contending Chargers in Week 6. Lamar Jackson has been an MVP, carrying the club. But there are holes to fill. Sure, Baltimore got production from 31-year-old Latavius Murray, 29-year-old Le'Veon Bell, and 29-year-old Devonta Freeman on Sunday, but aging legs rarely last into the winter. Will Baltimore keep them fresh enough, with a dash of Ty'Son Williams to roll into January? Wouldn't adding a young runner like Marlon Mack, freeing Ronald Jones from Tampa, or prying Phillip Lindsay out of Houston look better long-term next to Jackson? The offensive line has question marks with Ronnie Stanley landing on IR. And the defense could use corner help. The lack of cap space hurts, but what about finally getting that Lamar contract done right now to lower his cap number this season, giving the team a least a little more breathing room?
Is New Orleans on this list just to rile up Saints Twitter, which has been imploring Sean Payton to add a tight end or receiver for weeks? You bet your sweet King Cake. The Saints, who are coming off their bye week, don't have a single WR or TE who ranks in the top 125 in receptions through Week 6. Marquez Callaway leads the group with 13 catches, and nearly one quarter of his 222 yards on the season came on one poorly defended Hail Mary. Tight end Adam Trautman has been a big disappointment. With Michael Thomas reportedly still a couple of weeks away, the pass-catching group is hemorrhaging. We know Brandin Cooks fits the offense like a glove. Wouldn't free-agent-to-be Mike Gesicki look good in a Saints jersey? Of course, we know Payton's response will likely be to smirk and say, "We like the guys we have in that room," as Saints fans stomp their feet and gnash their teeth like a 6-year-old who's been told they can't have ice cream for dinner.
The Dolphins' season is already in flames after a 1-5 start that included losing to the previously winless Jaguars. At this point, management would be smart to recoup some of the draft capital lost shipping their 2022 first-round pick (currently No. 3) to Philly last year (Miami does own the 49ers' 2022 first-rounder, currently No. 13). Or are they so desperate to try to save the season (and perhaps their jobs) that they let a chance fly by? We've seen front offices under pressure make short-term moves that cripple the long-term (see: the Detroit Lions' roster). Xavien Howard still doesn't seem happy and isn't playing well. Likewise for Byron Jones. Emmanuel Ogbah continues to make plays and is an impending free agent, as are Mike Gesicki, Brennan Scarlett, Elandon Roberts, etc. On paper, this shouldn't be a 1-5 team. On the plus side, it means Miami has some assets that other clubs might pay for before the deadline.