The NFL trade deadline may not create quite the perennial upheaval that the NBA trade deadline does, but it’s still a fun midseason benchmark for the league. Which failed free agent acquisitions could help a competitor, like Yannick Ngakoue did for the Ravens last year? Which heavy contract could get dumped onto another roster, as was the case with Kwon Alexander going from the 49ers to the Saints in 2020? Which disgruntled star will force his way into a better situation, as Jalen Ramsey and Amari Cooper have done in recent seasons?
We don’t expect any huge moves before Tuesday’s deadline outside of a potential Deshaun Watson trade, which is its own issue that the league seems perfectly content to ignore. But the final edges gained or lost at the NFL trade deadline can spell the difference between playoff berths and late-season collapses. As such, here are seven players I’d like to see traded at the deadline this year, which landing spot makes the most sense to me, and the capital I could see each player going for.
Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack to the Baltimore Ravens
Indianapolis receives: 2023 fifth-round pick
Baltimore receives: RB Marlon Mack
This one feels way too easy. The Ravens saw the top three running backs on their depth chart go down with injury in the preseason—second-year star JK Dobbins, excellent backup Gus Edwards, and change-of-pace option Justice Hill. Ty’Son Williams, the only incumbent on the roster, started the season and performed fine, but has lost favor in the eyes of the coaching staff, and the team has increasingly leaned on recently acquired veterans Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, and Le’Veon Bell.
But none of those backs have been actually good. Against the Bengals on Sunday, Ravens running backs combined for 29 yards on 11 carries (2.63 yards per carry); two weeks before that, it was 24 yards on 11 carries against the Colts (2.18 yards per carry). Yes, they ran roughshod on the Chargers in Week 6—but everyone runs all over the Chargers. (More on that later.) The Ravens need help here, and they’ve made a trade deadline acquisition in each of the past three seasons (Ty Montgomery in 2018, Marcus Peters in 2019, Yannick Ngakoue in 2020).
Meanwhile, a perfectly solid back in Indianapolis has fallen out of the rotation: Marlon Mack. The Colts’ fourth-round pick in 2017, Mack was the starting back for two seasons before Jonathan Taylor took over the job last year, and delivered 4.7 and 4.4 yards per carry on at least 16 attempts per game in both 2018 and 2019. That’s good production at good volume, but with Taylor shining and Nyheim Hines extended as the passing-down back, Mack, who is coming off a 2020 Achilles injury, has notched more than five carries in just one game this season. As such, the Colts and Mack have mutually agreed to try to find a trade partner.
All parties benefit here. The Ravens can lean on Mack all season, who needs the opportunity to prove to teams that he still has the juice following his injury and recovery—Mack is only 25, after all, and will be a free agent after this season. Baltimore’s running game should help Mack produce some eye-popping numbers, as the threat of Lamar Jackson always opens up lanes for rushers; and Mack should help the Ravens on the ground, taking some weight off of Lamar’s shoulders. Meanwhile, the Colts can return a late-round selection that’s likely better than the comp pick they’d get from Mack departing in free agency; while the Ravens can potentially recoup a comp pick if Mack improves his stock with a strong performance this year.
Houston Texans WR Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Chargers
Houston receives: 2022 second-round pick, 2023 fourth-round pick
Los Angeles receives: WR Brandin Cooks
This deal would be a bit of a surprise, even though it is everyone’s favorite annual NFL event: a trade centered around Brandin Cooks. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has never acquired a player at the trade deadline in his nine seasons leading the team. Aaron Reiss of The Athletic reports that Cooks is not expected to be traded by the Houston Texans. There are hurdles to overcome here.
But the football argument is plenty compelling. Despite Chargers second-year QB Justin Herbert having one of the strongest arms in the NFL, his average intended air yards (IAY) is only 7.4, which is tied for the eighth lowest in the league. In his neighborhood are Tua Tagovailoa, Geno Smith, and Jimmy Garoppolo; he’s below Davis Mills, Mac Jones, and Taylor Heinicke. That’s not an acceptable usage of the budding superstar.