We’re one week away from the 2020 NFL trade deadline, and with the COVID protocols in place for this season, teams can’t simply trade for a guy today and have him in the building and practicing tomorrow. So it stands to reason that some NFL teams looking to bolster their rosters will make moves sooner rather than later, and we could start to see some action this week.
I’m waffling between whether we’re going to see more or less action this year than a typical deadline. Trades have become much more popular in the NFL in recent years, as general managers have realized they’re a completely valid way to build a roster. The NFL’s expansion to seven playoff teams per conference gives fringe teams more incentive to try to upgrade. However, the COVID protocols could disincentivize teams from being too aggressive this season, and the expanded playoffs could in theory discourage teams from selling off.
I can talk myself into a pretzel trying to decide if teams are better off selling or buying, but what I certainly can make a definitive decision on is if moves will be good for fantasy or not. So I’ve come up with a list of potential trades over the next week that would be good for fantasy, help a team, or both. Some moves have more of a dynasty/keeper focus, while others could be instantaneous upgrades.
It’s Week 8, so I came up with 8 speculative moves.
Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Dallas Cowboys
Let’s kick it off with an obvious one. This one has been floated so many times that you have to remember it hasn’t actually happened. But it makes sense for both teams — the Miami Dolphins have moved on to Tua Tagovailoa, and Fitz was not happy about it. Meanwhile, after Dak Prescott’s horrifying injury, the Cowboys went from “hilariously disappointing thanks to the defense” to “nuclear disaster.” And that was before Andy Dalton got concussed on a rotten cheap shot and DC Mike Nolan blinded himself with tabasco sauce.
Still, the Cowboys have the good fortune of playing in the NFC East, where they are currently a half game behind Philadelphia heading into Sunday night’s tilt. And as opposed to what it would take to trade for Jameis Winston or Sam Darnold, Fitz should come with a relatively cheap price tag. Fitz’s freewheeling will function behind a decimated offensive line better than Dalton’s deliberateness, and his aggressiveness would be a significant upgrade for the Cowboys’ loaded WR corps.
There is some skepticism that Miami would be willing to deal Fitz, however — earlier this season, TE Mike Gesicki called Fitz the best teammate he’s ever had, and there is apparently some concern that Fitz’s benching will be drastically unpopular in the locker room. (I don’t buy that coach Brian Flores, who seems very well plugged in to his players, would risk alienating his troops.) And if Fitz handles his benching with the grace we’ve come to expect from him — unhappy though he may be — he’s a fantastic mentor for Tua.
But this deal makes so much sense for Dallas beyond just trying to milk a miraculous run out of its terribly injured roster. There’s obviously no guarantee Dak is 100% for 2021 at this stage given the nature of his injury, and there’s the looming cloud of his contract scenario. Jerry Jones could have a good insurance policy, and have someone come in to fill the void of leadership that’s in the middle of this team.
Fitz would help Dak battle back, while aiding the development of CeeDee Lamb and company.
Julio Jones to the Baltimore Ravens
Raven GM Eric DeCosta is pulling a 2017 Howie Roseman — he’s strengthening his roster for a Super Bowl run by acquiring productive, talented veterans for hilariously low costs (Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue).
But there’s still something missing here, and it’s on the offensive side of the ball, where even the most ardent Raven supporters don’t see the efficiency — on the ground or through the air — that highlighted Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign a season ago. FootballOutsiders ranks the Ravens’ once-elite offensive line 22nd in adjusted sack rate (pass pro) and 23rd in adjusted line yards (run blocking), which certainly signals the loss of Marshal Yanda to retirement and other factors could be the reason the offense is struggling. An offensive lineman might be the prudent, cheaper, and longer-lasting deadline fix.
But DeCosta is aggressive, and the Falcons might finally be ready to sell their most prized possession, while giving one of the franchise’s all-time great players the chance to win the Super Bowl that he so richly deserves — it wasn’t Julio who blew that 28-3 lead, as his fourth-quarter catch would be the most memorable play for any normal sports franchise.
There will be no finagling here. Prying Julio away from the Falcons would take a first-round pick, and the Ravens should pay it. The Falcons should accept nothing less. But they should give Jones a chance to win, and they need to begin dismantling the NFL’s oldest roster. The Ravens should give Jackson a true alpha “X” to help him continue to develop as a passer, and the window to buy is now with Jackson on his rookie deal.
For fantasy, Julio wouldn’t get the volume he gets in Atlanta, but he’d make up for it with big plays. In Atlanta, Calvin Ridley can get the chance to prove he’s the #1 of the future.
AJ Green to the New Orleans Saints
The Saints are on borrowed time. Drew Brees might have a year or two left of good football. On cutdown day, they had the third-oldest roster in the entire NFL. And while they’re certainly a contender, a poorer-than-expected defense and a rash of ailments at WR (Michael Thomas injuries, Emmanuel Sanders COVID-19) have left them perilously thin around Brees.
I don’t think Green is even 75% of what he once was, but over the last two weeks, he’s shown that there’s at least something left in the tank, tallying 24 targets and 15 receptions from rookie QB Joe Burrow.
The Bengals need to hoard picks to support Burrow, especially along the offensive line, where they did tragically little this off-season. They need to get more snaps to players like Tee Higgins and Auden Tate, who might actually be part of the next good Bengals team. Meanwhile, the Saints need to do everything in their power to try to catch up to the Bucs, Packers, and Seahawks, all of whom look more dangerous in the NFC right now.
For fantasy purposes, I’d feel more comfortable starting Green on the Saints than I do on the Bengals.
Evan Engram to the Indianapolis Colts
Speaking of teams on borrowed time — Colts QB Philip Rivers might have less left in the tank than Drew Brees. And like Brees, Rivers has so very little at the WR position right now, with injuries to Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman, and TY Hilton looking like an utter shell of himself.
Engram is primed for a scenery change. The Giants have done a lot to try to get him involved, as he’s 5th among all players at his position in targets (44), but he’s averaging under 10.0 YPR, has caught just 58.1% of his targets (he dropped a perfect throw from Daniel Jones last week that could have been a game-sealing first down), and ranks 17th in total points at the position.
But we know Rivers likes to throw the ball to the TE — the Colts’ share of targets to WRs is 10th-lowest in the NFL, while he’s directed throws at the TE 20.7% of the time, 15th-most this year. But keep in mind that’s with all three of his top TEs — Mo Alie-Cox, Trey Burton, and Jack Doyle — missing time with injury at some point this year.
Engram, who has one year left on his deal beyond 2020 (a fifth-year option), could net a solid pick for the Giants in return. Meanwhile, he can go to a place where Rivers could be instrumental in maximizing his future earnings potential, given Rivers’ history with tantalizing talents Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. For the Colts, Engram gives them some explosiveness they simply don’t have, at TE or WR.
Zach Ertz to the Buffalo Bills
An Ertz trade this year might simply be impossible given his current presence on IR — he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 6, and has to miss at least three games (which would be Weeks 7, 8, and 10 if he remains in Philly). Even before that, his production was preposterously slight, perhaps owing to an underlying injury, discontent with his contract, or simply that fickle bastard Father Time claiming another victim.
But it’s also worth pointing out that an Ertz trade may have been likely if he didn’t get hurt. SI reported this week that the Ravens and Packers reached out with offers for Ertz before his injury. We also know that the Bills showed interest in a veteran TE this past off-season, openly courting Greg Olsen before Olsen decided to sign in Seattle.
Ertz’s time in Philly is coming to a close. He reportedly had a, um, disagreement with GM Howie Roseman in front of teammates. His performance this year likely strengthened Roseman’s position on not acquiescing to Ertz’s financial demands, and it’s hard to ignore that the Eagles have been better without him offensively, even with Dallas Goedert also on IR.
For Buffalo, this may be a chance to capitalize on Ertz’s need for a change of scenery, while also being able to potentially grab Ertz for less than he would have cost just two weeks ago, when the Eagles were just as motivated to move Ertz. Ertz could be ready to help Buffalo down the playoff stretch and into 2021. For Philly, it opens up cap space, opens up the TE1 position for the gifted Goedert (when he returns off of IR), and adds a pick or two to supplement an aging and oft-injured roster. Goedert would be a fantasy hammer with Ertz gone.
Sam Darnold to the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Jets should simply embrace 0-16. They’re paying Joe Flacco seven figures. He can earn it by driving this tank.
Darnold is not going to be the quarterback of the New York Jets next year, and the sooner he gets away from Adam Gase and into the loving embrace of a competent coaching staff, the better. For the Jets, if Trevor Lawrence refuses to play for them, Justin Fields won’t. Or Trey Lance won’t. Somebody won’t. And estimations that these high-end QBs won’t want to go to the New York media market when it’s clear Gase won’t be the coach next year are premature. It should be the mantra of QB Joe Douglas to acquire as many picks as humanly possible to give his new coach and QB for 2021 a solid foundation to build around.
As for Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is old. He’s had a lot of injuries. He’s playing well this year, but he’s one significant injury away from hanging them up. And this roster and this organization are too competent for a full-on tank. I criticized GM Kevin Colbert for trading his 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick last year, when Ben was already hurt. I thought it was incredibly shortsighted. Quite the opposite — Fitzpatrick helped the Steelers to an 8-8 record despite a league-worst QB room. And now Pittsburgh is undefeated, with perhaps the NFL’s best defense.
My point here is that even if Ben gets hurt, this roster is too good to nosedive, where Pittsburgh could then acquire a QB of the future through the draft. Darnold, at just 23, is the perfect reclamation project. Pittsburgh can probably get him for a second and a fourth, or something like that. The Jets, who already have two first-round picks next year (Seattle’s, for Jamal Adams) continue to load up assets to build around Lawrence (or Fields, or Lance).
And though Darnold has had a rough go of it in the NFL so far, he’d be far better equipped for success — and for the fantasy success of his weapons — in Pittsburgh. He might not have lived up to his potential, but at least he doesn’t go by “Duck.”
Kenny Stills to the Green Bay Packers
Throw John Ross into the mix as a speedster Green Bay should also consider, but I don’t know if the Bengals would trade two WRs (I already have them trading AJ Green). Last week against the Texans, Aaron Rodgers targeted Davante Adams 16 times, with Adams producing 13 catches for 196 yards and 2 TD. Rodgers’ other 7 WR targets produced 2 catches for 6 yards and a TD, both catches by Malik Taylor.
Stills ain’t anything special, but he’s better than Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and he could help Rodgers stay the course in his MVP-like campaign until Allen Lazard returns. Even then, Lazard and Stills are very different players.
Duke Johnson to the Chicago Bears
Dukie isn’t going to cure what ails the Bears’ run game, but he can at least provide a facsimile of what they expected Tarik Cohen to do. Frankly, David Montgomery isn’t getting it done.
According to FootballOutsiders, the Bears’ much-maligned offensive line has actually done a quality job in the run game, ranking 13th in adjusted line yards at 4.36, their run-blocking metric. However, the backs here average just 3.88 YPC, a net difference of -0.48 YPC, 2nd-worst in the NFL (to only Dallas and the struggling Ezekiel Elliott).
The Bears may have just laid an egg on national TV, but they’re 5-2 and should be in great shape to make the playoffs. This is not a team that is one piece away that should consider trading high picks, but a late-round flier on a back who can fill the Cohen role could at least give them something in the backfield. They need it, because Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky won’t carry the team.