It’s tough to make trades in the NFL. It’s particularly tough to make in-season trades.
For starters, it’s not often that teams are happy to shift first-string contributors, and depth pieces are so interchangeable that teams are unwilling to part with anything of value.
Then there’s the schematic problems. Getting a player up to speed with a full system and its verbiage is incredibly difficult. By the time the player has complete command of the offensive or defensive system the dynamics of the team’s season may have radically shifted.
And there’s a question of cost. What’s the price for a good player? Trent Richardson cost a first-round pick, punter Andy Lee cost a fourth-round pick. Draft picks and cheap rookie contracts are the most valuable things in the league; most teams are unwilling to part ways with them.
Regardless, the NFL needs more trades.
This past offseason we saw more player-based trades than usual. The New England Patriots shipped Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for draft picks and a player they cut last week (Jonathan Cooper). There was the player swap between Philadelphia and Tennessee (Dorial Green-Beckham for Dennis Kelly). The Carolina Panthers gave a fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for one of the league’s best punters (Lee).
Cleveland flipped former first-round pick Barkevious Mingo to New England for a conditional draft pick. And of course the Minnesota Vikings handed the Philadelphia Eagles a first-round pick (and potentially a future second-round pick) to get their hands on quarterback Sam Bradford.
With those in mind, here are five trades that would help both teams, should happen, but absolutely won’t.
Gary Barnidge to the Green Bay Packers
The Browns are loading up with draft assets as they looked to fully rebuild the franchise. After all the offseason and preseason wheeling and dealing they now own more draft picks than when the Dallas Cowboys made the infamous Herschel Walker deal that kick-started their dynasty.
The dealing should continue. Cleveland finds itself in an 0–5 hole despite being competitive and entertaining. One thing a rebuilding franchise with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback doesn’t need: an ageing tight end.
Barnidge had a breakout (one hit wonder?) season in 2015 and the Browns rewarded him by giving him a multi-year contract. At 31 he’s exactly the type of player they should cash in on.
The Packers seem allergic to making deals for veteran players. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the midst of his prime, now is the time to make some aggressive moves.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson isn’t going to make a blockbuster deal and concede a high-end draft choice, but what about a fifth- or sixth-round pick for another offensive piece? A draft pick they’ll no-doubt recover with a compensatory selection.
The Packers took a shot on tight end Jared Cook this offseason, viewing him as stuck in a “good player ,bad team” situation. Cook has value, his athletic ability stretches the defense the down the seams, but his inability to catch the ball is a problem.
Green Bay still has offensive issues, and if they’re unable to find receivers who can consistently separate from man-coverage they need to find ones who at least make contested catches.
No one runs more three receiver/one tight end formations than the Packers – it’s their base offense and they rarely substitute. Barnidge would give them greater personnel diversity and a player who can win 50-50 balls.
Joe Thomas to the Carolina Panthers
If it’s a full rebuild in Cleveland , why not move the team’s Hall of Fame left tackle?
It’s not as unlikely as it may initially seem. Per NFL Network’s Courtney Fallon, the Browns are open to moving any “All-Pro” players not named Terrelle Pryor.
Well, the Browns only have one true All-Pro player: Thomas. They could look at moving on from cornerback Joe Haden (his play is not matching his contract) but at just 27 years old he’s the type of player that needs to stay in the building.
Thomas is different. He is 31 and has two additional years remaining on his contract. That contract is also extremely team-friendly – with the 2017–2018 seasons coming with no dead money.
With time running out on his Hall of Fame career, the Browns have a chance to send Thomas to a legit contender and recoup some value.
They almost did it last year, with a deal to the Denver Broncos falling through at the trade deadline.
Now, the ideal partner is the Panthers. Their offense has become bogged down in large part due to the play of their starting tackles. They have been leaving Mike Remmers, Michael Oher and Daryl Williams on 1-on-1 islands at a higher rate than they did a year ago, resulting in Cam Newton taking the most hits by any quarterback in the league. Adding one of the league’s five-best left tackles fixes that issue in a hurry.
Thomas has a $9.5 million cap hit for this season and a $10 million cap hit for the following two. With $20 million in cap room the Panthers could easily fit him in and renegotiate the deal at the end of the season if necessary.
Jason McCourty to the New England Patriots
Here’s another deal that almost materialized at last year’s trade deadline.
The Patriots secondary has struggled all season (26th in pass defense DVOA). They’ve chopped and changed who lines up at nickelback and have played with more two-high safety looks than normal – trying to give help to young boundary corners.
Adding McCourty would allow them to get better at two spots, improving outside and kicking Logan Ryan into the slot.
Surprisingly, this deal could be complicated by the Tennessee Titans.
They’re a team in the midst of a rebuild, one that would usually be fine parting ways with a soon-to-be 30-year old cornerback making $8.8 million in 2016. However, given the state of the AFC South, the Titans have a legit shot to win a division title after knocking off the Dolphins on Sunday. They would likely be unwilling to part with a defensive starter, even if it helps them long-term.
Financially, the deal could work for both teams. McCourty’s contract costs $8.8 million against the cap this season and $7 million in 2017. However, his contract includes no dead cap money for the 2017 season. If the Patriots were to cut him or restructure the deal after this season there would be no dead money against the cap.
The Patriots moved on from Chandler Jones in the offseason to open up enough cap space to re-sign all of their biggest defensive players. Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are all free agents at the end of the season.
McCourty is one of the only players on the market who would improve the Patriots secondary now, without costing them money (and potentially players) in the future.
Alterraun Verner to the Carolina Panthers
A trade within the same division?!?!
This isn’t baseball, so it shouldn’t really matter.
Verner is the odd-man-out in Tampa. The additions of Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes has signaled the Buccaneers’ intent to become a man-coverage based defense under Dirk Koetter. While Verner is decent cornerback in press-coverage, he is a much better player in zone.
The Panthers fit perfectly. They play a form of press-and-trail, pattern-match coverage mixed with more basic zone-coverages. Their secondary has been torn apart early this season and needs an influx of talent, along with more help from the front-seven.
Verner may have a $6.75 million cap charge for this season, but there is no dead money tied to his contract for 2017. Meaning, the Panthers could move on following this year without any penalties.
And guess what? The Panthers have the cap room to pull off both the Joe Thomas and Verner deals.
Dorial Green-Beckham for Josh Sitton
Wait, this one didn’t already happen?
Ok, so not a potential trade, but one that absolutely should have happened.
I’m still dumbfounded by the Packers’ move to cut Sitton and the Titans deciding to trade Green-Beckham for a backup interior lineman.
In Chicago, Sitton remains one of the best guards in the league and Green-Beckham has given the Philadelphia Eagles a big red zone target.
If both players were available for nothing; why not just switch them?
Green Bay could certainly do with Green-Beckham’s big-play potential, and although the Titans have a quality offensive line, they could still improve inside with one of the league’s best interior players.
A missed opportunity for both teams.
Ryan Tannehill for Jay Cutler
Ok, I know the other trades won’t happen, but I believe in them. This one is more of a thought experiment, so don’t get too angry.
Both the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins have quarterback decisions ahead. Neither has a quarterback, and they’re paying their starters too much.
For the first time since they signed Cutler to a ludicrous contract (in structure, not money) the Bears can get out of the deal without burying themselves in dead money.
Cutler is on the books for a $16 million cap charge in 2017, but the Bears can move on at the cost of just $2 million in dead money.
The Dolphins face an even more difficult “yes or no” question. They’ve penned Tannehill to a deal that will see his contract jump from $9 million this year to $19 million next year. The contract is structured so that the Dolphins can get out of it at any time. They have an option to terminate Tannehill’s deal this coming offseason (before the new salary kicks in) and there is little to no dead money if they move on after the new salary kicks in.
However, Tannehill simply isn’t a $20 million player. You can argue that $20 million is the going rate, but for what he’s delivered thus far it would be silly to hand that high a percentage of the cap to a player who doesn’t make those around him better. And there’s no way that the Dolphins will allow Tannehill to fire another coach. He’s been through multiple offensive coordinators and multiple head coaches. He’s also been surrounded with talent: The Dolphins have four first-rounders on their offensive line and they invested serious draft capital/cash on offensive weapons Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Jordan Cameron, and Leonte Carroo. At some point the front office is going to put the blame on Tannehill (currently 31st in DYAR) instead of its own evaluation misses.
Both franchises need to move on, so why not just swap players? (With the Bears kicking something in something extra for Tannehill).
The Bears would get a younger player who may be a “change of scenery” guy. And the Dolphins would bring in a guy who has already played well under Adam Gase (finished 10th in DYAR in 2015) and can help the team understand Gase’s offense and culture – before getting the contract off the books this offseason. Plus, the Dolphins could get something of value back for a player who they’ll likely let walk at the end of the season – even if it’s just a conditional draft pick.