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Complacency is fatal in the NFL. The best teams constantly capitalize on available opportunities.
The New England Patriots are the league’s greatest dynasty because of two constants: quarterback Tom Brady’s sustained excellence and head coach Bill Belichick‘s willingness to exploit inefficiencies, especially in the trade market.
Over the years, the Patriots either acquired or traded away the likes of Drew Bledsoe, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, Jamie Collins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Gordon. Not all of the moves worked in New England’s favor, but that isn’t the point.
Belichick and Co. always see areas of potential improvement and act accordingly. Every other NFL team should do the same.
Bold moves can transform a perennial bottom-feeder into a playoff contender. A Super Bowl-caliber squad could land the final piece to increase its chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Either way, the answer isn’t to stand pat and hope everything will magically improve.
As such, eight significant trades should happen this offseason to shake up the status quo.
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Proposed trade: Derek Carr to the New York Giants for a 2019 first-round pick
Something isn’t quite right with the Oakland Raiders. Jon Gruden’s shadow looms large, especially after the team fired general manager Reggie McKenzie despite Sunday’s 24-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Obviously, there was a meeting last night and changes have been made,” Gruden said of the firing, per the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow. “I respect everything that this organization is about. I can’t exactly answer why the change was made last night, but changes were made, and we got to continue to fight and continue to build this team back and that’s what we are going to do.”
That explanation doesn’t pass the sniff test. Neither does the current state of the roster.
The Raiders have already traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and released Bruce Irvin this season. Why wouldn’t they consider moving quarterback Derek Carr, too? With three first-round picks already in place (including what would currently be the third overall pick), Gruden could select his quarterback of the future.
In late October, The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson reported the team’s belief in Carr had “deteriorated, perhaps to irreparable levels.” The Raiders are in a perfect position to maximize his trade value while getting rid of someone who may not even be in their long-term plans.
The New York Giants desperately need an heir apparent to the 37-year-old Eli Manning. Carr is only 27 and is signed through the 2022 campaign, albeit at an exorbitant price (he has four years left on his five-year, $125 million extension).
New York has won four of its last five games, which pushed it down the draft order. Another win or two could take the Giants out of the top 10 altogether, thus making this trade for Carr far more palatable.
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Proposed trade: DeSean Jackson to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2019 fifth-round pick
Things haven’t worked out for wide receiver DeSean Jackson since he signed a three-year, $33.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March 2017. He’s been better in 2018 than he was in 2017, but he still isn’t a focal point of the offense and has yet to establish a rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have each made eight appearances this season, yet 73.6 percent of Jackson’s receiving yardage came with Fitzpatrick behind center.
The receiver’s frustration seemed to bubble over in October, as he asked the Bucs to move him prior to the trade deadline, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Tampa Bay may be in rebuild mode this offseason, which would make Jackson expendable.
John Brown, Baltimore’s primary deep threat and its leading receiver, will be a free agent in March. As such, the Ravens will either need to find a replacement for him or supplement their current receiving corps to maximize Lamar Jackson’s development as a passer.
DeSean Jackson is also already well-acquainted with Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who served as his offensive coordinator for five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Proposed trade: Haason Reddick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2019 third-round pick
Haason Reddick is coming off his best professional game, even though his head coach wouldn’t admit it.
“I don’t want to say it was his best game to date, but he made a lot of plays,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks told reporters Monday. “He was flying around. He was physical. He did some good things. It was great to see.”
The No. 13 overall pick in the 2017 draft registered a career-high 11 tackles against the Detroit Lions. However, one game isn’t enough to override concerns about his scheme fit and slow development.
The collegiate safety-turned-defensive end started his career at inside linebacker before moving outside in Bruce Arians’ preferred 3-4 base defense. Wilks and Co. then moved him to outside linebacker in their 4-3 base scheme this year.
Reddick needs consistency to properly develop since he’s still learning the position. If the Cardinals struggle to find the proper fit for him, they should at least try to recoup a draft asset.
The Cleveland Browns will likely have a void at strong-side linebacker next season since it makes financial sense to release Jamie Collins and save $9.25 million in salary-cap space. Reddick could concentrate on only one position with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey settled as starters and Genard Avery playing the role of sub-package defensive end.
Browns general manager John Dorsey has already made a habit of reviving disappointing first-round picks in Damarious Randall, Greg Robinson and Breshad Perriman. Reddick would give Dorsey a chance to further his recent track record.
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Proposed trade: Jameis Winston to the Denver Broncos for a 2019 first-round pick
The Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both stuck in difficult positions, but they could help one another out.
The Broncos currently reside in NFL limbo because starting quarterback Case Keenum isn’t good enough to elevate the offense. However, the team isn’t bad enough to earn a high draft choice and select a premium quarterback prospect.
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, don’t know if they can trust supposed franchise signal-caller Jameis Winston on or off the field. While he completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers in Weeks 12 and 13, he’s thrown 12 interceptions (tied for fourth-most in the NFL) and was suspended for the first three games of the season after he was accused of sexually assaulting an Uber driver.
Can the Buccaneers consider building around such inconsistency at the game’s most important position, especially considering Winston is owed $20.9 million next season? The hefty payday is only part of the problem, as the team will likely need to sink $100-plus million into him after the 2019 campaign.
The Broncos, meanwhile, don’t seem to be on the verge of sweeping change. Since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season, the organization’s primary goal has been to acquire a talented quarterback. Case Keenum is a solid placeholder, but he’s nothing special. Denver can save $11 million by releasing the seven-year veteran after the season.
Winston seems to be exact type of unrefined talent general manager John Elway prefers. The 2015 No. 1 overall pick may need a change of scenery, and a number of teams around the league figure to be interested in bringing him aboard.
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Proposed trade: Jason Peters to the Houston Texans for Kevin Johnson and a 2019 sixth-round pick
The idea of a trading a recent first-round pick and a draft asset to obtain a soon-to-be 37-year-old left tackle may seem nonsensical, but the Houston Texans should be desperate to improve upon the league’s worst left tackle play.
The Texans can’t continue to bank on Julie’n Davenport when Deshaun Watson is the league’s second-most-sacked quarterback. They can keep developing Davenport, whom they selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, but they shouldn’t rely on him next season.
Jason Peters is nearing the end of his career, and Philadelphia has contingency plans in Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jordan Mailata. But the 15-year-veteran’s experience and steadiness would create positive ripple effects across Houston’s entire offensive line.
In return, the Eagles land a development cornerback in Kevin Johnson, who has been a disappointment and could use a change of venue, and a sixth-round pick. The Eagles will be searching for secondary help this offseason since Ronald Darby is a free agent and the rest of their cornerbacks haven’t played well.
For this deal to go down, the Eagles must pick up Peters’ $10.7 million contract option before the end of the 2018 campaign. If the nine-time Pro Bowler isn’t ready to retire, both he and his current team can benefit from some foresight.
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Proposed trade: Malik Jackson to the Oakland Raiders for a 2019 fifth-round pick
The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the verge of salary-cap hell without the right offseason moves. They’re currently projected to be $13.8 million over the 2019 cap, according to Spotrac, and that doesn’t factor in the moves they’ll inevitably make at quarterback.
Jacksonville can’t keep its defensive front as currently constructed, especially with Yannick Ngakoue due for a massive extension. The Jaguars already have $29.5 million allotted to Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell in 2019, and Marcell Dareus has a $10.6 million cap hit, although he can be released at no cost.
Trading Jackson may be Jacksonville’s best way to create financial flexibility while gaining something in return. After notching 14.5 combined sacks in 2016 and 2017, Jackson has only one this season. The 28-year-old still applies plenty of pressure, but he’s getting home far less often.
The Jaguars already drafted Jackson’s replacement, Taven Bryan, with their first-round pick in April. The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, desperately need pass-rush help.
Jon Gruden’s squad ranks last leaguewide with only 11 sacks. The Miami Dolphins are next-to-last, but they double the Raiders’ production with 22 sacks.
Jackson could help mentor Oakland’s young defensive lineman, too. Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall are talented, but they could use some guidance.
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Proposed trade: Patrick Peterson to the Indianapolis Colts for 2019 and 2020 second-round picks
Does perennial All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson want to stay with the Arizona Cardinals during a rebuild? That’s what general manager Steven Keim must ask himself, because he has a potential ace in the hole if Peterson becomes available on the trade market.
“I’ve been incredibly frustrated with how the season has gone,” Peterson wrote. “But my energy is 100 [percent] focused on being part of the solution and helping us turn this around. I’ve never shied away from a challenge before and I’m not starting now.”
In October, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported the Cardinals knew of Peterson’s “displeasure with the state of the franchise and his desire for a trade for some time now.” That was “part of why teams keep calling and why a trade is hardly impossible,” he added.
The Cardinals need to obtain additional draft assets to expedite their rebuild. Peterson, who turns 29 in July, shouldn’t automatically be considered as part of the team’s long-term plans.
However, a premium position player in his prime and still playing well should fetch plenty in return.
The Indianapolis Colts have a legitimate shot to earn a playoff spot with a rejuvenated Andrew Luck and plenty of young talent. They’ll enter the new league year with three draft picks in the first two rounds and a league-leading $123.6 million in available salary-cap space.
The Colts are trending toward the league’s upper echelon. As such, they can easily take on Peterson’s $25 million over the next two seasons while adding a cornerstone to the league’s 11th-ranked defense.
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Proposed trade: Rob Gronkowski to the Green Bay Packers for 2019 second- and fourth-round picks
The New England Patriots discussed trading four-time first-team All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to the Detroit Lions over the offseason, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, but Gronkowski wanted nothing to do with it.
“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski told reporters after the two teams met in Week 3. “[Tom] Brady’s my quarterback, that’s all. I wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”
According to Schefter, Gronkowski “only wanted to play in New England, with Tom Brady, or nowhere at all.” But if the Pats want to revisit trading Gronk this offseason, a few factors could work in their favor.
First, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels appears to be the front-runner for the Green Bay Packers’ head coaching vacancy, according to OddsShark. And while Brady is the GOAT, Aaron Rodgers isn’t too shabby.
Finally, the responsibility of being the focal point of the offense would no longer fall on Gronk’s shoulders. He and Jimmy Graham could form a devastating duo. Davante Adams is also a true No. 1 wide receiver.
The Patriots, on the other hand, frequently move veterans on the verge of their inevitable declines. Gronkowski will turn 30 in May, and his injury history is concerning. He’s also on pace to set career lows in receptions, yardage and touchdowns in seasons during which he’s made 10 or more appearances.
If the Patriots decide to move on from Gronk, they will. Whether they’ll get any value in return would be contingent on Gronk being willing to play elsewhere.