Figuring out which NFL teams are prepared to buy or sell at the trade deadline can be a difficult enterprise – even for the front-office executives taking stock of their own franchises.
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With the league's annual cutoff next Tuesday arriving before the halfway point of the regular season, it can be difficult for organizations to rule out a late surge and instead embrace a full sell-off to accumulate assets. And even for contenders, taking on a hefty contract or parting with vital draft capital can prove to be a prohibitive cost when weighing a splashy addition.© Bob Levey, Getty Images Brandin Cooks #13 of the Houston Texans carries the ball following his reception as Shaquill Griffin #26 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts the tackle during the second quarter at NRG Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
But the once-dormant deadline has spurred a handful of notable moves in recent years, and several more could follow in the coming days.
Here's a look at which teams could be buyers or sellers – and a few that could be on the fence – this year:
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has praised the Packers for their recent veteran additions and said he's having "the time of my life" in Green Bay amid a six-game winning streak. What better way to further promote harmony with the previously disgruntled quarterback than to be aggressive in pursuit of a title? A looming cap crunch in 2022 might prevent Green Bay from taking on any contracts with significant future payouts, but the in-season signings of defensive end Whitney Mercilus and linebacker Jaylon Smith show that general manager Brian Gutekunst is open to additions when the price is right. Bringing on help at wide receiver or cornerback could bolster the Packers' chances among the NFC's elite.
Teams on a four-game losing skid typically aren't buyers at the trade deadline save for the most drastic of circumstances. GM Scott Fitterer, however, has made it known he wants to be "in on every deal." That mentality shone through with his aggressive acquisition of former New England Patriots cornerback and 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore earlier this month. Operating under a seemingly like-minded owner in David Tepper, Fitterer has the latitude and motivation to pursue bold deals, even if multiple reports indicate that Carolina will not be a player for three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson.
In a conference that looks like a toss-up but a division that is sizing up to be the NFL's most cutthroat foursome, the Ravens have every reason to take stock of a possible infusion of talent. GM Eric DeCosta has made notable moves in the last two years by landing cornerback Marcus Peters and pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who departed in free agency this offseason. Offensive tackle is a glaring issue after Ronnie Stanley announced he would need season-ending surgery, and reinforcements would come in handy at running back after a rash of injuries. With nine picks in the first four rounds of next year's draft, the Ravens have the ammo to make something happen soon.
Kansas City Chiefs
Amid a 3-4 start, there's plenty of consternation for the two-time defending AFC champions, who have a series of problems on both offense and defense. With less than $1.7 million available in cap space, however, the Chiefs likely can't afford a drastic shake-up. But if a low-cost pass-rush or safety option emerges, Kansas City could – and should – be in the mix.
The fire sale might have already begun, as Houston agreed Wednesday to reunite veteran running back Mark Ingram Jr. with the New Orleans Saints in a deal that involves no more than late-round picks, per multiple reports. That move didn't sit well with leading wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who tweeted, "This is (expletive)." Cooks could be next out the door, as there should be plenty of interest in the 28-year-old speedster who has made his mark this season despite the Texans' woeful passing attack. Of course, the biggest question centers on whether the team will part with Watson, who has not played this year while facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct. But even if the quarterback remains, the Texans have a horde of cheap players on one-year deals who could return some vital draft picks.
New York Jets
Hard to make heads or tails of the Jets' decision to part with a sixth-round pick for veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, who won't start this week for injured Zach Wilson. Still, Joe Douglas hasn't been shy about casting off inherited players to reshape this roster in his own image. Sending franchise-tagged safety Marcus Maye to the highest bidder seems like Gang Green's best opportunity at fetching some valuable draft capital. But the more reasonable option might be moving slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who isn't signed beyond this year and whose departure would open up more opportunities for rookie Elijah Moore in the slot and second-year target Denzel Mims on the outside.
After trading three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals, Howie Roseman insisted that the decision didn't portend more veteran departures ahead of the deadline. Will he maintain that stance if other offers come in for veterans ill-suited for what is shaping up to be a long rebuild? Left tackle Andre Dillard and right guard Brandon Brooks (still on injured reserve) might be attractive to several teams in need of help up front, and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and cornerback Steven Nelson will both be free agents in 2022.
On the fence
Los Angeles Chargers
In his nine years as general manager, Tom Telesco has never acquired a player before the trade deadline. If ever there were a year to break habits and part with one of his prized draft picks, however, this would be it. The Chargers look like a true AFC contender at 4-2, but their defense has been gashed for a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry. Fortifying the front seven could go a long way toward preparing Los Angeles for the likes of the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, the latter of whom rolled up 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a Week 6 rout. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox might be prohibitively expensive even if they are made available, but either one could change the complexion of the unit.
Whether the Dolphins land Watson could be the defining story of the trade deadline – and the rest of Miami's season. But while Miami brass might be pulled toward the idea of a rapid turnaround, facing the reality of this 1-6 team could result in several exits. Cornerback Xavien Howard, an All-Pro last year who clashed with the team this offseason over his contract, could yield a significant return if the team is willing to part with him. It might also be time to cut bait on 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene.
Urban Meyer teased the potential for action ahead, saying Wednesday the team's "phone is buzzing." But while a 1-5 outfit floundering under a new regime would usually indicate a sell-off, Meyer made note that he would like more speed at receiver after DJ Chark was lost for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle. Protecting Trevor Lawrence is a priority, so it's unclear whether Jacksonville would part with left tackle Cam Robinson or left guard Andrew Norwell, even though neither is signed beyond this year. Still, the Jaguars are worth keeping an eye on, as their September decision to send 2020 first-round pick CJ Henderson to the Carolina Panthers reinforced that they won't hesitate to move on from players who don't fit into their rebuild.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL trade deadline buyers, sellers: Which teams might pull off moves in 2021?
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