With the 2018 NFL trade deadline set for Tuesday, Oct. 30, Nick Shook prescribes one move — buy or sell — for each team in the AFC to make. Be sure to check back Thursday for a look at the NFC.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Buy wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. In Ozzie Newsome’s final season as general manager, it couldn’t get more perfect than for the player personnel guru to stick to his M.O. and acquire a big-bodied veteran receiver to contribute to a postseason run. The 6-foot-3 Thomas said Monday he knows his time in Denver is nearing its end, and at 30 years old, he likely would appreciate another shot at the postseason over the fate most of us expect the 3-4 Broncos to realize come December. His contract makes it a tough squeeze for a Ravens team that has a hair over $5 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. But with the season halfway over, Baltimore might be able to shoehorn in his remaining base salary for 2018 before taking a hard look at redoing a deal that pays him way too much in 2019 (see: a $17.53 million cap hit). Potential compensation: 2019 fourth-round pick.
BUFFALO BILLS: Sell running back LeSean McCoy. It’s time to face facts: The 2-5 Bills aren’t sniffing the postseason this year, and the 30-year-old McCoy isn’t getting any younger. A concussion suffered in Week 7 might complicate his tradability, but McCoy deserves to be freed from a Buffalo team that overachieved last year and is a car sliding across a track and growing ever closer to smashing into the wall. Why should McCoy spend the last of his best years in such a situation? It sounds as though the Bills are asking for a king’s ransom for the running back, who’s still among the league’s best. It’s their prerogative to do so, but I’m not sure a team will bite in the same way Dallas proffered a first-rounder for Amari Cooper. That makes this move less likely, even if it is the right thing to do for McCoy. Potential compensation: Second- and fifth-round picks.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Buy defensive depth. Cincinnati seems to make a living snagging unheralded players from other rosters and turning them into contributors. With cornerback Darqueze Dennard banged up, and with the Bengals fresh off a 45-10 shellacking at the hands of the Chiefs, they should go after depth in the secondary. We’re not talking Patrick Peterson here, but someone more like a third corner. Kick the tires on Daryl Worley in Oakland, since the Raiders are ready to sell everyone not named Derek Carr, and Cincinnati has a history of taking players who have served suspensions for off-field transgressions. Potential compensation: Seventh-round pick.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Sell quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Selling linebacker Jamie Collins also fits here, but the Browns have very clearly moved on from the brief Taylor era and have entered full Bakermania. Taylor is on an odd contract, in which he’s technically signed through 2021, but the final three years of his deal will void after Super Bowl LIII. That makes Taylor a short-term rental, unless the team acquiring him believes A) he’s worth re-signing and B) they can get a deal done. At 29 years old, Taylor is serviceable at worst and could fix some woes at the position for a few teams (cough, Jacksonville). Cleveland should aim for getting the third it sent to Buffalo for Taylor in return, though John Dorsey doesn’t have much leverage, making a later pick more likely, even when you take into account the existing value of the quarterback position. Potential compensation: Fourth- or fifth-round pick.
DENVER BRONCOS: Sell linebacker Shane Ray. First off, the sale of Demaryius Thomas is also likely here, but that seems lazy, and we’re trying to be imaginative with this piece. Denver again invested in the edge rusher position this past offseason, spending the fifth overall pick on Bradley Chubb, who got off to a slow start but has recorded 5.0 sacks in his last two games. Ray is in the final year of his rookie deal and seems to be a guaranteed free-agent departure. Ray’s ankle injury aside, GM John Elway should move Ray to a contending team that is in need of edge-rushing help (the Patriots, perhaps?) and might also be interested in an early shot at re-signing Ray, should he prove worth it. Potential compensation: Sixth-round pick.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Buy wide receiver Demaryius Thomas … or Jordy Nelson. Deshaun Watson is giving a Herculean effort right now, going as far as traveling 12 hours on a bus so he could avoid swelling in his injured ribcage and continue to play hurt. It worked, but in watching Houston’s games, it’s painfully apparent that outside of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and the occasional breakout game from Keke Coutee, the Texans could use some help on offense. Since there isn’t any decent offensive line help available this year, the next-best option is to add another experienced target for Watson. Enter Thomas or Nelson. Both should be offered to prospective buyers, with Thomas acknowledging his time in Denver is nearly up and Oakland ready to trade everyone but the quarterback. Potential compensation: Fourth-round pick (for Thomas) or fifth-round pick (for Nelson).
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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Sell defensive end Jabaal Sheard. The Colts aren’t in a position to really buy or sell, but with Sheard set to turn 30 next May and heading toward the final season of his contract, it seems as though a parting of ways is likely. Sheard doesn’t carry any dead money into 2019, making him a prime candidate for release, to both save $8 million in cap space and open the door to starter-level action for rookie Kemoko Turay. So why not move Sheard at the deadline and get an asset in return (instead of nothing in the offseason)? Potential compensation: Late-round pick.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Buy quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Recent defensive setbacks aside, the Jaguars are a quarterback (and a healthy Leonard Fournette) away from contending for the AFC crown. After Blake Bortles’ benching in Week 7 and the franchise’s turn in a seemingly pointless direction at the position, why not mortgage some of the future for an upgrade? Bridgewater outplayed every Jets quarterback on their roster in the preseason and was shipped out to New Orleans for a third-round pick, so let’s return the favor with Jacksonville’s third-round pick and Bortles. When New Orleans balks at the addition of Bortles, the Jags can toss in a fourth-rounder instead. Potential compensation: 2019 third- and fourth-round picks.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Buy cornerback Patrick Peterson. This is the best the Chiefs (6-1) have looked in a long, long time. But one big deficiency remains in the defensive secondary. Kansas City, which hasn’t found the success it envisioned with Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson, could make a gigantic splash by acquiring Peterson, who would immediately shore up some of the Chiefs’ concerns against the pass. The Chiefs would have to negotiate with the Cardinals on the salary front, convincing Arizona to convert some of Peterson’s 2019 money into a signing bonus to make a trade work, though Kansas City is looking at plenty of cap space to keep him after 2018. That would drive up the price, but the title window is open right now for the Chiefs, and Peterson is worth a bank-breaking deal. Potential compensation: 2019 first- and second-round picks (with the second being the Rams’ selection acquired in the Marcus Peters deal).
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Sell wide receiver Travis Benjamin. The Chargers have a nice group of receivers for Philip Rivers to target, as evidenced by the 36-year-old QB’s elite play in 2018. One receiver who is landing on the inactive list due to their depth is Benjamin, who possesses deep-threat danger but is having a hard time finding snaps in Los Angeles’ offense. The Chargers would be wise to move Benjamin, who’s under contract for one more season after 2018, in exchange for an asset they could use in the upcoming draft. Potential compensation: Fifth- or sixth-round pick.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Sell wide receiver DeVante Parker. The writing is on the wall. For the second time in less than a year, Miami is staring at the prospect of shipping out a receiver. Parker is probably worth a fourth-round pick (with the Dolphins demanding a third), but with his agent blasting Adam Gase in the media and the Fins not displaying the best negotiating history in trading away star wideouts (Miami gave up Jarvis Landry and his franchise tag for a fourth-round pick), the leverage isn’t the best. Parker probably could be had for a fourth- or even a fifth-rounder at the 11th hour, no matter what the Dolphins might be asking for right now. Even with Albert Wilson’s hip injury creating a depth issue at the position, the situation seems too toxic for Parker to stay. Potential compensation: Fourth- or fifth-round pick.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Buy linebacker Shane Ray (or a different edge rusher). ESPN’s Bill Barnwell floated the idea of a trade for Cleveland’s Jamie Collins (reunions are always at least interesting), but this one makes more financial sense. Sure, Collins isn’t guaranteed any money beyond this season, but he didn’t have the best relationship with the Pats when he was traded away, and he also just turned 29. Going with the younger Ray would be more frugal, since he’s on the final year of his rookie deal with the Denver Broncos. This compensation should be a 2019 sixth-rounder, but New England traded that pick to Detroit for Johnson Bademosi once upon a time, so we’ll up the round in exchange for a year’s delay, even with the spotty injury history of Ray, who has dealt most recently with an ankle sprain. Potential compensation: 2020 fifth-round pick.
NEW YORK JETS: Buy wide receiver DeVante Parker. Trading within the division always feels a little dirty, but the Jets could make a significant upgrade by adding Parker to an offense featuring the talent of Sam Darnold and a balanced rushing attack. Plus, New York isn’t too in love with short completions to consider stretching the field. Parker brings that ability to the table — if he can stay healthy — and fills a need for a bigger receiver after the injury to Quincy Enunwa and release of Terrelle Pryor. Potential compensation: 2019 fifth-round pick.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Sell! Sell! Sell! Jon Gruden has shown already with his trade heard ’round the world that he’s not afraid to deal anyone, so we can think wildly here. I had Amari Cooper as the player Oakland should sell, but the Raiders beat me to the punch on Monday by dealing him to Dallas. Let’s take it a step further and move Jordy Nelson, explore offers for Karl Joseph and consider shipping out Gareon Conley, who hasn’t lived up to his status as a former first-round pick. The league’s oldest team should also consider moving veterans it doesn’t see in its future plans, especially if it can get a fourth 2019 first-round pick. Send Joseph for a couple picks, or move the productive Jared Cook to a team in need of a tight end. Ship them all out and continue the fire sale! Potential compensation: Shoot for the stars! Second-round pick(s) for Joseph and/or Conley, fifth-round pick for Nelson.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Hold running back Le’Veon Bell. In an ideal world, the Steelers get Bell to sign his franchise tag before the trade deadline and move him for a high draft pick. But Bell’s representatives know this is a possibility, and it’s more likely than not that they’ll wait until after the deadline to sign his tender, if it happens at all. As a result, the Steelers, who could use some depth in the secondary but aren’t in a position to make such a move, will ultimately stand pat at the deadline, opting to instead roll with the group they have. Potential compensation: Actual production from one of the best players in the game.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Sell linebacker Brian Orakpo. How do the Titans view themselves right now? After their third straight loss, it’s fair to consider parting ways with a veteran piece or two in exchange for a valuable asset. That’s where we find Brian Orakpo, who, at 32 years old, is on the final year of his deal and could latch on with another team to make a run at a ring, if Tennessee doesn’t see itself as being quite there yet. The Titans are coming off a playoff appearance and are just a game behind the Texans in the AFC South right now, so this doesn’t necessarily represent waving a white flag. They also acquired Orakpo’s backup, Kamalei Correa, via a trade with the Ravens in late August. Might they swing a deal to send Orakpo elsewhere for a pick? Potential compensation: 2019 fifth-round pick.
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.
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