These three NFL trade deadline moves will impact 2018 playoffs most

All deals leading up to Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline were made with team improvement in mind, but not all of that improvement is intended to be immediate.

Like most NFL trades, the moves made Tuesday were player-for-pick deals, not player-for-player ones. The same goes for the four notable trades that occurred in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Even a few contenders sacrificed a bit of the present for the promise of the future.

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The Packers, Jaguars and Lions, for example, are playoff hopefuls who sent players packing in exchange for picks; they didn’t improve their 2018 postseason chances. (Although, Green Bay at least no longer needs to worry about rogue kick returners.)

On the other hand, teams like the Rams, Eagles and Texans made aggressive moves that could impact the second halves of their seasons in positive ways. If things go as planned, the players those teams acquired will make their presence felt in the playoffs.

DE Dante Fowler to Rams

Patriots QB Tom Brady is well aware of the impact Fowler can have in the postseason. Perhaps the Rams saw the pass-rusher’s two sacks in last season’s AFC championship game and envisioned themselves reaping the benefits this year.

Or maybe Los Angeles said, “You know, four first-round draft picks in our defensive front seven are not enough. We need five.”

Fowler, 24, is an edge-rushing specialist who will fill the gap left by Robert Quinn when the latter was traded to Miami in the offseason. The player who was supposed to play Quinn’s position in LA this season, Dominique Easley, was placed on injured reserve in Week 4.

Fowler recorded two sacks, one forced fumble and eight tackles in the seven games he played for the Jaguars this season. Through Week 8, Pro Football Focus had given him the second-best cumulative pass-rush rating on a Jaguars defense loaded with talent.

Of course, the reason Fowler played in only seven of Jacksonville’s first eight games is the one-game suspension he served at the beginning of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. That’s the biggest risk LA assumes in its deal for Fowler; his suspension would be heftier in the event of another off-field incident.

When he’s on the field and playing well, Fowler is a problem for offenses. He’ll be even more of a problem as the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers eat up blocks along the Rams’ defensive front.

Because undefeated Los Angeles is a virtual lock to reach the playoffs, Fowler is almost certain to make an impact in January … again.

Saints keep marching, Panthers keep pounding for Week 9

WR Golden Tate to Eagles

Even though the Eagles are 4-4 and in second place in the NFC East, we’re standing by our preseason prediction that the defending champs will take the division in 2018, a prediction that was reinforced this week. (Just for fun while on this note, here is a video of Tate torching the Cowboys earlier this season.)

If the Eagles are going to be in the playoffs, then that means Tate will be in the playoffs, and there’s no way he won’t be impactful in those games.

Tate, 30, is one of the best run-after-catch receivers in the NFL; he ranks third in YAC this season with 285 yards. In seven games with the Lions this year, he averaged 73.9 receiving yards per game and caught three touchdowns. He also gained 42 rushing yards on three attempts.

One could argue wide receiver was not Philadelphia’s biggest offensive weakness as the trade deadline approached. Running back, which was the position Philly addressed at last year’s deadline, was the bigger issue given injuries to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, but don’t forget the void left by receiver Mike Wallace when he broke his leg in Week 2. The team that led the league in touchdown passes last season ranks tied 14th this year. There’s room for improvement in the passing game.

The big question: How will that improvement manifest itself? Some of Tate’s best work through his nine-year career has come from the slot, where Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor thrives. The No. 2 outside receiver position opposite No. 1 Alshon Jeffery might be a strange fit for Tate, though he’s an upgrade over Jordan Matthews.

Coach Doug Pederson and coordinator Mike Groh will be tasked with fitting their new, flashy wideout into the offense. Given Tate’s skill set, think screens, quick slants and outs, comeback routes, end-arounds — anything that will get him in open space or present him with opportunities to make defenders miss.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman, SN’s Executive of the Year for 2017, said his team is “going to keep (its) foot on the gas” when asked about the move to acquire Tate. That strategy worked when Philadelphia splurged on Ajayi at this time last year.

We’ll take Roseman’s word for it again this season.

TRADE GRADES: Broncos barely win Demaryius Thomas deal

WR Demaryius Thomas to Texans

Houston traded for Thomas out of necessity less than a week after speedy receiver Will Fuller went down with a torn ACL, but the Texans, 5-3 and leaders of the AFC South, are a solid bet to reach the playoffs as division champions.

That means Thomas, 30, is set up for postseason action for the first time since Peyton Manning was throwing him ducks in Super Bowl 50.

Thomas’ numbers in every major statistical category have declined steadily each year since they peaked in 2014. The straight-line speed on which he built his career has diminished, and he can’t affect a game the same way the 24-year-old Fuller can as a vertical field-stretcher.

Despite the hot-seat chatter that has diminished during Houston’s five-game winning streak, this is why Bill O’Brien is still the Texans’ coach. His offensive acumen was on full display briefly last season before QB Deshaun Watson injured his knee. Now O’Brien and his staff — again, out of necessity — must work a new receiver into their offense, thankfully (for them) with a healthy Watson and an improving running game for support.

Regardless of the production Thomas may be able to provide, he gives the Texans depth, which is critical when the calendar turns to January. Vyncint Smith and Sammie Coates were not going to get the job done.

Given DeAndre Hopkins’ dominance as the No. 1 wideout, and assuming Keke Coutee can get healthy and continue to contribute from the slot, expect Thomas to get the third-most targets among Texans receivers in the second half of the regular season.

In the postseason, that’ll be better than nothing.

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