Tuesday, Nov. 3 is a highly-anticipated day. There has been buildup, suspicion and rumors circulating around the country as predictions about upcoming changes dominate headlines.
I am, of course, talking about the NFL trade deadline.
Circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have made this year’s deadline more complicated than usual as rosters have been cut short due to player opt-outs and injuries that may or may not be the result of the lack of a preseason have plagued teams. Depth has arguably never been more important. Consider the Las Vegas Raiders and now, the New York Giants. The Raiders’ entire offensive line had to isolate last week because of one positive coronavirus test. It is only reasonable that teams have a backup plan in case more outbreaks occur.
The pandemic has also created an uncertain salary cap future, which will undoubtedly influence how teams strategize leading up to the deadline.
This past offseason, the NFL and NFLPA agreed that the 2021 salary cap minimum will be at least $175 million and any revenue will be spread out over the next three seasons. There are at least 12 teams who are projected to exceed the $175 million in salary cap commitments next year, according to Over the Cap. Those teams might look to get rid of players this week.
Restrictions surrounding the pandemic will also impact when traded players can take the field. According to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, players are required to sit out a week before being allowed to practice. This is significant for new players whose teams undoubtedly want them to make an immediate on-field contribution.
This is also the first season in which the playoffs are expanding to seven teams per conference, meaning that a team with just three wins through Week 9 (wink, wink NFC East), has a better chance of getting into the playoffs than a year ago. This could make teams more hesitant to sell players off because they could still be in playoff contention.
In a division as close as the NFC East, moves made at the trade deadline could prove to make the difference between a first and last place finish. With that said, let’s dive into the trade deadline rumors to keep an eye on around the division.
After backup quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a concussion last week and the virtually unknown Ben DiNucci entered the game (in which the Cowboys lost to Washington, 25-3), there was some speculation around the quarterback position. Dalton is considered questionable for this week’s key matchup against the Eagles, potentially leaving the Cowboys with a seventh-rounder who was sacked three times in his NFL debut and veteran Garrett Gilbert.
It was reported earlier this week that the Cowboys are bringing back Cooper Rush and adding him to the practice squad. The team had moved on from Rush after they signed Dalton and drafted DiNucci.
But the moves that Dallas has made on the defensive side of the ball suggest that they might just be throwing in the towel on the 2020 season. Earlier this week, the team released defensive end Everson Griffen, sending him to the Detroit Lions for a sixth-round pick and they got rid of defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley.
Acquiring those three players was a move Dallas made in the offseason when it expected to compete for a Super Bowl in 2020. Those hopes were dashed when Prescott went down. The three have also significantly underperformed. Griffen has managed just 2.5 sacks, Poe has posted a 55.7 PFF grade and Worley has been even worse at 53.1.
The Cowboys did add defensive tackle Eli Ankou, surrendering a seventh-round pick to the Houston Texans.
There are additional under-performers on both sides of the ball for Dallas, including linebacker Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence.
Quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston present possible options for Dallas, but Jerry Jones is starting to look less and less like he is concerned about winning this season. It seems, instead, that his focus has shifted to putting together a winning team for the future.
Trade rumors surrounding the Eagles have been more conflicting. Though not a good team, with two wins, one tie and what should be a victory over the Cowboys on Sunday, Philly is best positioned to win the NFC East.
The latest reports are that the team has made safety Will Parks available for a trade.
The Eagles signed Parks to a one-year, $1.5 million contract back in March and he was poised to be the team’s third safety. Parks turned in a strong training camp but suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss five games. He played 53.4 percent of the Eagles’ snaps in Week 6 before dropping down to 28.3 percent in Week 7.
Trading Parks would free up some cap space for Philly and open up some playing time for rookie K’Von Wallace.
Speaking of freeing up cap space, another move the Eagles should consider making is unloading wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. He is coming off of a foot injury and has not yes played a game in 2020. The Eagles have less of a need for Jeffrey with Travis Fulgham emerging as a young star in the WR group. Especially because this is Jeffrey’s last season in Philadelphia, releasing him would allow the Eagles to shed $7.97 million in cap space. In this way, any compensation for Jeffrey, even a late-round draft pick, would be considered a win.
The other position group that Philly is focusing on is linebacker. Nate Gerry has become a weekly starter in Philly, and not for good reason. Alex Singleton shows promise and T.J. Edwards is set to return from injury soon, but the young linebacker group could benefit from a veteran presence.
One potential option is to acquire Zach Cunningham from the Houston Texans. Cunningham signed a four-year extension in August. In his fourth year in the league, he has recorded 44 tackles and two sacks in seven games and is therefore poised to make an immediate impact on an Eagles defense that is ranked amongst the worst in the league in the red zone.
Though the division title is still largely up for grabs, the Washington Football Team improved their chances significantly when they defeated the Cowboys last week. They should therefore also be looking to gain an edge heading into the second half of the season.
Washington is in a unique position from the Cowboys and Eagles because it has leverage. The Football Team has a significant amount of cap space and a full slate of draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. This gives them options.
Washington’s defense is currently ranked fourth in the league in yards allowed per game with 309.1. Improving the offense should therefore be the bigger concern heading into the trade deadline. Or, they could try to improve the secondary, which is tied for second-worst in the league in passing plays allowed of 40 yards or more.
Let’s focus on the wide receiver group, though, as the priority should be giving Kyle Allen more weapons to target on offense. Terry McLaurin provides the biggest threat on offense right now, but the next leading receiver is Dontrelle Inman, who has 17 receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Steven Sims Jr. and Antonio Gandy-Golden are on injured reserve and Kelvin Harmon is out for the year.
Will Fuller of the Houston Texans has emerged as a dangerous deep treat over the course of his five years in the league. Aside from McLaurin, this offense is lacking playmakers right now and Fuller could fix that. With career averages of over 55 yards per game, a 61% catch percentage, and an average touchdown per season mark of four, Fuller brings experience and consistency to Washington’s receiving corps.
In addition to the need to add an offensive weapon are the rumors surrounding getting rid of another one - Dwayne Haskins Jr.
Washington has not expressed any desire to trade Haskins but it has to at least be considered. Haskins started the first four weeks of the season before being benched in favor of Kyle Allen. The former Buckeye was demoted all the way down to third string behind Alex Smith.
If Washington is going to trade the signal caller, now is the time. Rivera has expressed support of Haskins since joining the team, but the fact remains that he did not draft the young QB. As just a sophomore in the league, Haskins shows potential and it would not be surprising to see him go.