We’re through seven weeks of the NFL season, and after next Monday night, it will be just about halfway over. With that unfortunate point in the year comes the trade deadline, which is almost always a huge letdown by all measures. The lack of big-name players moved makes it pale in comparison to that of the NBA’s or MLB’s, but the NFL's isn’t about splashy moves. It’s about improving your team with subtle swaps.
The Patriots have made this a huge part of their team year in and year out, and they’ve already made a pair of deals this week. They’re probably not done wheeling and dealing, either.
In addition to the Patriots, six other teams could stand to make a trade at the deadline — whether it’s to take a step towards being a contender or to rebuild the roster with draft picks.
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The Bills have surprised a lot of people this year, winning four of their first seven games after starting their season 0-2. But after winning four straight, they were exposed by the Dolphins on Sunday in their third loss of the year. It wasn’t that their defense was gashed by Jay Ajayi — it’s that the offense sputtered without a decent ground game. Buffalo doesn’t have a good group of wide receivers, especially with Robert Woods out.
Marquise Goodwin is a nice deep threat, and Woods is a decent possession receiver, but there’s no go-to target for Tyrod Taylor — not even Justin Hunter. QB Taylor needs a Sammy Watkins-type player that he can just throw it up to and rely upon to make difficult catches. The Bills don’t have anything close to that right now, and that’s going to be their downfall. Torrey Smith is reportedly available, but he wouldn’t fit what the Bills want to do, given that he’s mostly a big-play receiver and on the tail-end of his career. Alshon Jeffery could be a guy teams look at, but only if they can be certain he’ll sign a long-term deal with that respective franchise. With the way his negotiations went in Chicago, there’s no guarantee he will.
Regardless of what the Bills decide, adding another piece to their receiving corps would help the offense significantly.
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San Francisco 49ers
This is more about the 49ers rebuilding than it is about them adding a piece to make a run in 2016. Let’s be honest, San Francisco isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s time for them to build for the future. And that can be achieved by trading costly veterans for draft picks. OT Joe Staley has the ninth-highest cap hit among offensive tackles in 2016, and it’s only going to go up next season ($11.15 million). The 49ers could use as much cap space as they can get with an eye towards next offseason’s free agent crop.
Additionally, landing a first- or second-round pick would allow the 49ers to either improve their future draft position — likely in the top five — or add several more youthful pieces to an underwhelming roster. San Francisco will almost certainly be looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft. If they’re slotted with the fifth pick, they might need to move up a few spots to land a guy like Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer.
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New England Patriots
The Patriots don’t have many holes to fill, which is why they’re 6-1 and appearing to be obvious Super Bowl favorites. The offense is stacked with weapons and the pass protection has improved, despite several injuries —but the defense could use an added piece. The Patriots are currently 24th in the NFL with just 11 sacks, including none in their last game against Landry Jones and the Steelers.
The Patriots don’t always get much credit for boasting a relentless pass rush, but they were outstanding in that department last season. This year, however, they’re not — which iswhy they need to make a trade. No pass rushers have been made completely available, as teams are often reluctant to trade them, but the Patriots always seem to find diamonds in the rough when it comes to trades. Perhaps they could swing a deal for someone like Shaquil Barrett from the Broncos or Cameron Wake from the Dolphins.
The Cowboys have been a pleasant surprise this season, winning five of their first six games without Tony Romo at the helm. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have done an admirable job, especially in Dez Bryant’s absence. But for as good as Dallas has been, it can improve even further on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest area of concern is a carryover from last season: the pass rush.
The Cowboys have generated just 11 sacks all year, ranking 24th in that department. Even more troubling is the lack of pressure generated by the defensive line. Their pass rushers rarely put significant strain on opposing offensive lines, which will hurt them significantly down the stretch. Fortunately, the trade deadline hasn’t passed yet. Finding a starting-caliber pass rusher won’t be easy at this point, but perhaps the Dolphins would be willing to part ways with Cameron Wake, or the Saints could give up Cameron Jordan. Both players would be immediate contributors in Dallas.
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The Browns are in a similar spot as the 49ers. They’re not going to the playoffs (or winning more than three games), and are almost certainly guaranteed a top-three pick in the upcoming draft. While having a selection that high in the draft will be nice, it’s no certainty the Browns will pick the right player. Just look at their last eight or so drafts, which have been disasters. Fortunately, they have assets that they should be willing to part with — the biggest of which is Joe Thomas.
Hue Jackson has unequivocally said the Browns won’t trade the offensive tackle, but Jackson won’t be the one making that final call. Cleveland could fetch at least a second-rounder for Thomas, if not a first, which would give Cleveland five picks in the first two rounds — possibly three in the first 32 picks. The Browns could also move Joe Haden or even Terrelle Pryor if they’re feeling like big-time sellers. It’s unlikely they’d move Pryor given his emergence as a No. 1 receiver, but nothing should be off the table in Cleveland.
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Like the Seahawks, the Vikings have needs on the offensive line. Only, with Minnesota, it wasn’t by choice. They’ve been dealt several blows at both spots, losing starters at left tackle and right tackle due to injury. Their offensive line is extremely vulnerable against above-average pass rushes as a result, as the Eagles demonstrated on Sunday. In turn, the oft-injured Sam Bradford is being put in harm’s way.
Joe Thomas and Joe Staley are both the obvious targets, but it’s not exactly clear if the Vikings would be willing to part ways with another high draft pick to land one of the two — or if they’d even have enough bargaining chips to make the deal happen. Instead, trading for a fringe tackle like Cyrus Kouandjio of the Bills or right tackle Bryan Bulaga could work out better and be cheaper options. Too bad the Packers are unlikely to move Bulaga.
There are a few directions the Seahawks could go at the deadline. The biggest issue they need to address, though, is the offensive line — particularly tackle. Russell Wilson is constantly being hit and pressured in the pocket, giving him very little time to make the proper reads and see plays develop downfield. It’s gotten him hurt this season, too.
Targeting a guy like Joe Thomas or Joe Staley won’t be cheap. They’ll likely both cost Seattle a first- or second-round pick, but it’d be worth it for the Seahawks. They’re set on defense and Wilson has proved he can lead a lackluster offense with elite play. But it’s hard to do that when he’s running for his life and getting rid of the ball in under two seconds.
Seattle could also use a big possession receiver. Yes, they have Jimmy Graham at tight end, but he can’t always play on the outside the way a receiver does. Brandon Marshall isn’t likely to be moved, but he would take the offense to new heights (literally). The Seahawks have one wide receiver taller than 6-foot-1 (Tanner McEvoy), but he’s not a reliable playmaker on offense.