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The Jason Pierre-Paul trade could have major implications for the 2018 NFL Draft

Buffalo and Miami weren’t involved in this trade ... but could wind up with a franchise quarterback thanks to it.

New York Giants v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Thursday, the New York Giants made a surprising move by trading Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and the biggest winner in the deal could wind up being a team that wasn’t even part of the negotiations.

The Giants may have tipped their hand when it comes to the 2018 NFL Draft. The club shipped out a veteran pass rusher for a relatively low return (a third-round pick and a swap of fourth-rounders) while leaving $15 million in dead money on the team’s salary cap. All in all, not a great situation in exchange for a well-liked veteran who, at 29 years old, still filled a need at end despite the team’s shift to a 3-4 defense this offseason.

But there’s an easy and obvious fix to New York’s newfound problem, and it’s one quarterback-needy teams will be happy to hear.

Trading Pierre-Paul could mean the Giants move down from the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft

Pierre-Paul’s heir could be waiting for his former team at the top of this year’s draft. Bradley Chubb has been impressing scouts throughout the offseason, building off a 20-sack, 44-tackles-for-loss performance in his final two years at NC State. He’s even got some prominent supporters saying he’ll be a better player than last year’s No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett:

But Chubb is unlikely to go No. 1 overall. There’s a chance he slides out of the top five entirely, thanks to the league’s dearth of quality passers. The Browns, Jets, and Broncos all pick in the top five of this year’s draft. Each needs quarterback help.

With players like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield all prepped to be high first-round picks, it means a game-changing defender like Chubb could slide all the way to the No. 6 pick — where a Colts team with a potentially healthy Andrew Luck awaits — or farther. Cleveland could be the fly in the ointment with the No. 1 and No. 4 picks, but genetic freak running back Saquon Barkley could work his way past the NC State pass rusher; while the Browns have a well-stocked defensive line, tailback (and playmaker in general) is a position of need.

That gives the Giants some options. The team does need a quarterback, but Eli Manning can hold down the fort for 2018 and possibly beyond while general manager Dave Gettleman assesses its options. Manning is an aging and expensive luxury on a cash-strapped team, but he carries $17.4 million in dead money with him should the club decide to move on from him this summer. While new head coach Pat Shurmur has been adamant about Manning’s role with the team moving forward, Thursday’s decision to ship Pierre-Paul and not Manning was an even bigger reassurance he’s not leaving north Jersey yet.

Manning’s presence robs the team of the urgency the Browns and Jets have when it comes to building their offenses. After seeing the Colts pick up a king’s ransom to slide back from the No. 3 pick to No. 6 (three second-round picks from the Jets, including two in 2018), a similarly depleted Giants team could opt to give up its draft position in exchange for a massive draft haul.

At the very least, it would pair nicely with the third-round pick the Giants gained Thursday.

Why wouldn’t the Giants just play it safe and take the quarterback they want?

If New York wanted to move down and remain safely in the top 10, Gettleman could have made a trade earlier with the Jets, who reportedly “explored all options” before coming to an agreement with Indianapolis. It’s likely the Jets would have offered more than the haul they eventually gave the Colts. The Giants didn’t bite, either because they were set at taking a player at No. 2 who won’t last beyond the top three picks, or because they thought a better deal would materialize as the draft draws closer.

Popular opinion has them settling on UCLA quarterback Rosen with the pick — a player rarely associated with the Browns at No. 1. That doesn’t mean New York is committed to holding on to the pick and drafting a quarterback, however. There’s still plenty of risk at the top of the draft. The player targeted as Manning’s replacement could wind up trapped in the phantom zone as the Browns’ No. 1 pick. Rejecting early offers allows the Giants to consider that possibility, then reverse course to make a deal on draft day if they don’t like what Cleveland has in store.

It’s also possible Thursday’s Pierre-Paul deal signifies a change in vision for the Giants. What better way to signal a new era than trading away an expensive veteran?

So who could benefit from the Giants’ flexibility at No. 2?

There are several teams that could move up in the draft to target a top-tier quarterback. The Jets just paid handsomely to move to No. 3, but a second swap to move up one more spot would ensure, at worst, they get their second choice of quarterbacks. Unfortunately for New York’s other team, they’ve got a limited amount of draft capital left after dealing with the Colts and have several roster holes to fill. Another move may not be worth the cost.

Moving from No. 5 to No. 2 would give the Broncos the chance to leapfrog the Jets in the pecking order, but Denver may be content to see whether new signee Case Keenum can replicate his outlier 2017 season before paying big for a player who might slide to the fifth pick anyway. The Cardinals’ quarterback situation is such a mess they just gave Sam Bradford $20 million. The Jaguars still employ Blake Bortles.

But the most likely beneficiaries could be a pair of AFC East teams. The Dolphins and Bills have seen first-hand the importance of a franchise quarterback after getting mollywhopped by Tom Brady for nearly two decades. Miami, picking 11th overall, could move that pick, a future first, and a handful of second- and third-rounders to create a contingency plan behind Ryan Tannehill that doesn’t involve dragging Jay Cutler out of mothballs.

Buffalo, on the other hand, has more urgency to make a deal and better assets with which to do it. The Bills, in one final act of spite, shipped former Pro Bowl quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland for a third-round pick earlier this offseason. That leaves their offense in the hands of Nathan Peterman — best known for his 5-of-14 performance in a midseason start against the Chargers (the five, in this case, stands for passes thrown to Los Angeles defenders) — and AJ McCarron, so lightly regarded as a quarterback he got a two-year, $10 million deal with Buffalo one season after creaking plaster sculpture Mike Glennon signed a three-year, $48 million pact with the Bears.

That pairing might work out, but it’s much more likely it will not. Fortunately, last year’s Patrick Mahomes deal with Kansas City gives Buffalo the 22nd pick in this year’s draft, and the team was able to upgrade from 21st to 12th by trading tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals. That gives the Bills two 2018 first-rounders they can ship to the Giants, along with two second- and two third-round picks to sweeten the pot. If New York wants to add a lot of young talent quickly, Buffalo is its best option.

What are the Giants’ risks in trading down?

The 2018 NFL Draft has two premier non-quarterback prospects that stand above a pool of solid talent. That’s Chubb and Barkley. Their stock is so high they could sneak in front of this year’s crop of passers, even at the top of a draft filled with needy teams. Either one would fill an area of immediate need for the Giants.

That’s the problem with trading back; both Chubb and Barkley are extremely unlikely to be around at the 11th or 12th picks. Any deal with Miami or Buffalo would require a little extra legwork from Gettleman, who would have to trade down and then up if he’s set on the explosive pass rusher. That will be a tough sell, especially as the Colts — a team as hollowed out as the Giants — hold the sixth pick and would eagerly snap up either of those two if given the chance.

The consolation prizes for New York aren’t bad. Players like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Denzel Ward, or Derwin James could make unexpected slides to the periphery of the top 10. Lamar Jackson, potentially available in the mid-first, could wind up being the perfect understudy to Manning before growing into a starting role down the road. All are good players and strong prospects, but none has built the franchise-changing hype that Chubb and Barkley have generated over productive college careers and impressive combine showings.

There’s a way for the Giants to get their Pierre-Paul replacement, only younger and on a less-expensive contract, while accumulating the picks needed to kick off a rebuild. There’s a way for the Bills to cash in their assets to secure the foundational quarterback they’ve needed since Jim Kelly retired. It’ll take some careful work, but there’s a chance the Pierre-Paul trade works out for all parties — even ones that weren’t even involved in the deal.