The NFL’s trade deadline is nearly upon us, and while it doesn’t inspire the kind of frenzy the NBA and MLB versions provide, there’s still a chance some big names find new homes. It’s not without precedent, either. Players like Carson Palmer, Jamie Collins, and Randy Moss have all been dealt in last-ditch deals in recent years.
For targeted players, the deadline is an opportunity to leave a wounded franchise behind and start fresh — hopefully with a team in the playoff hunt. In 2014, Akeem Ayers went from a rotten Titans defense to the Patriots, then came up big as a valued starter when New England ran all the way to a Super Bowl 49 victory. Others aren’t as lucky. Percy Harvin went from the Seahawks to the Jets that same year, leaving the NFC Champions for a stint with a 4-12 New York team.
In honor of this year’s trade deadline falling on Halloween, let’s find a way to take some of the league’s most beloved veterans and extricate them from the scary situations they’ve fallen into in 2017. Here are the veterans we’d move purely in the name of fan service — and what their perfect destinations might be.
Larry Fitzgerald to the Patriots
Bill Belichick loves Fitz. So much so that the notoriously brief head coach has been known to dedicate full paragraphs of press conference banter complimenting the future Hall of Famer’s game and calling him potentially the “best one ever” when it comes to catching passes.
Injuries have left the Patriots thin at wideout, and one more trip to the medical tent could spell doom for New England. Julian Edelman was lost for the season due to a torn ACL back in August. Malcolm Mitchell may never emerge from injured reserve. Danny Amendola is healthy, but has played more than 12 games in just three of his eight NFL seasons. Chris Hogan has had multiple scares where he’s limped off the field, only to return a few series later.
Bringing in Fitzgerald for a late-round draft pick would give Tom Brady some extra depth behind Brandin Cooks and supply the kind of third down target the team lost when Edelman went down in the preseason. The sure-handed veteran has proven he’s still one of the game’s top targets this fall, but he’ll languish without Carson Palmer, who just broke his arm, throwing him the ball.
Uniting Fitzgerald and Belichick looks like a win-win for both player and franchise — though Arizona may be reticent to let its longest-tenured player leave.
Matt Forte to the Eagles
Forte has only played in five games for the Jets this season, but his numbers suggest he can still produce as pass-catching tailback who adds an extra dimension to his team’s passing game from the backfield. That’s something the Eagles and sudden MVP candidate Carson Wentz could use.
Forte has caught 91 percent of the passes he’s been thrown this fall, racking up 19 catches for 158 yards as a standout checkdown option. Philadelphia’s top two backs, LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood, have combined for just 12 catches. Add in Forte’s reasonable 4.0 yard per carry average and you’ve got a solid addition to the Eagles’ tailback platoon — and a probable playoff landing spot for a veteran with only two postseason games on his resume.
Geno Atkins to the Falcons
Atkins has been the heart of the Bengals’ defense in his eight seasons with the team. The athletic defensive tackle can stop runners in the middle of the field, occupy blockers to create space for his teammates to attack the quarterback, and collapse the pocket from the center-back to load up on sacks.
He’s also mired on a 2-4 team with little hope of making it to the playoffs. Even if Cincinnati pulls off an amazing turnaround, the big defensive tackle has gone 0-4 in the postseason with the Bengals. With just one year left on his contract after 2017, Atkins may be planning his escape.
Fortunately, there’s one playoff-ready team in dire need of a sack creator like Atkins. Atlanta ranks just 17th in the NFL in sack percentage, a step down from the rejuvenated defense that led the franchise to a postseason surge. On Sunday, the Falcons struggled to take advantage of an inconsistent Patriots offense line, allowing Tom Brady the time to carve up the secondary with long drives.
Brady avoided the Falcons’ pass rush by stepping up in the pocket and calmly delivering throws downfield. He wouldn’t have that option if Atkins were there playing his unique brand of bully-ball. Adding a pass-rushing tackle wouldn’t just create sacks for Atkins -- it would also let players like Deion Jones, Vic Beasley, and Adrian Clayborn feast.
Jason Pierre-Paul to the Seahawks
Pierre-Paul has only ever known the Giants in his NFL career, but at 1-6 it looks like he’ll miss the postseason for the sixth straight year. New York would be loath to let its top pass rusher leave, but with cap hits of $17.5 million and $19.5 million coming over the next two seasons, they may be willing to shed his contract in favor of an all-out rebuild.
Pierre-Paul would have plenty of suitors, but there’s one contender who may be willing to pay the most for his services: the Seahawks. Seattle just brought a 37-year-old Dwight Freeney out of inactivity to prop up a defensive line that just lost Cliff Avril to injured reserve. While Freeney has been a solid platoon player as he nears his fifth decade, bringing in Pierre-Paul would help restore the ‘Hawks defense to its Legion of Boom standard.
It would take some creative accounting to make Pierre-Paul’s massive salaries work the next two years, but adding the Giants’ most recognizable defender would immediately boost a pass rush that ranks just 24th in the league in terms of sack percentage. Seattle has to make changes as the NFC West finally threatens to evolve past its reign of dominance. Bringing in a pass rusher is option 1b behind upgrading the team’s blocking.
Joe Thomas to ANYWHERE for ANYTHING
Yes, Thomas is out for the season with a torn triceps. Does that mean the 10-time All-Pro should have to watch another year of Cleveland battling San Francisco for the top pick in the NFL Draft?
Thomas has long deserved better than what the Browns have given. Even in 2017, when Cleveland spent big to improve its offensive line, the franchise passed on the chance to draft Deshaun Watson in order to add more draft picks to its never-ending rebuild. Here’s a chance to add a couple more — and to give the only bright spot in the Browns’ last decade a chance to shine elsewhere.