Trade season is in full effect in the NFL. In the past week alone, we’ve seen Mohamed Sanu become a Patriot, Emmanuel Sanders become a 49er, and Quandre Diggs go from Lions’ defensive captain to a potential cure-all in the Seahawks’ secondary.
While the league’s contenders have gotten richer, teams with lesser playoff aspirations have begun to stockpile assets for 2020. It made sense for the Falcons and Broncos, two teams with three wins between them, to give up on a season where a trip to the Super Bowl was a fever dream. Detroit, at 2-3-1 and a couple of bounces or bad calls away from being in the thick of the NFC North race, was a more curious seller.
The Lions’ decision to ship Diggs, a starter well-liked locker room presence, doesn’t necessarily mean the team is giving up on 2019. At the same time, it’s tough to see how that move makes the team better as it braces for a possible postseason run. Now Detroit is faced with a question several other franchises that are hovering around .500 through seven weeks of the season have to face:
Should we start dealing veteran assets before the Oct. 29 trade deadline?
Let’s take a look at the teams that are .500 or worse but still in the playoff race. We’re going to talk it out to see which should be buyers and which should be sellers this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
The Jaguars have stayed afloat in the AFC South even after losing starting quarterback Nick Foles, but Gardner Minshew’s rookie regression has made Jacksonville a lot more vulnerable in October. He’s thrown for just 418 yards and a single touchdown while completing less than 48 percent of his passes the past two weeks. The defense hasn’t played up to its recent terrifying standard, and without Jalen Ramsey in the lineup, this team may have to win some shootouts to claim a playoff spot.
Christian D’Andrea: Buy. This is a tough decision, as Foles can’t return to the lineup until Week 11 should Minshew continue to struggle. Even then, it’s unclear exactly what he’s capable of outside of Philadelphia. This Jacksonville team has a steep climb with Houston and Indianapolis ahead of them in the division, and the Bills looking strong in their quest for a second postseason berth in three years.
But! They’ve got a winnable game against the Jets coming up before playing the Texans in London. Two wins would put Jacksonville at 5-4 with a very manageable seven-game stretch to end the season. After trading Ramsey to the Rams, the Jags have plenty of future assets already, giving them a little extra room to spend in search of the missing piece that gets them back to the top of the South. If they think they can find it in October, go for it.
Adam Stites: Buy. The Jaguars already have a lot of pieces in place to make a push for the postseason in the back half of the year. Running back Leonard Fournette is averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game, and second-year receiver DJ Chark is quickly establishing himself as one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league. While the defense has taken a step backward and lost Ramsey, it’s still loaded with talent along the defensive line.
Jacksonville would benefit from finding a linebacker to shore up the middle of the defense, a tight end to give Minshew a safety valve, or an offensive lineman to give the rookie a bit more time. Getting to the playoffs will be an uphill battle for the Jaguars, but now’s not the time to make life any harder on Minshew if they truly plan on figuring out if he’s the real deal.
James Brady: Buy. This one is difficult because I think the Jaguars are a fairly complete team and not so far from being true contenders. I would hate for them to overpay in draft capital for someone to give them a boost now but isn’t much of a help for years to come.
Sure, there are some aging veterans who might help them this year, but with Gardner Minshew regressing, the last thing the team should do is panic themselves into a bad trade. But as already noted, their upcoming schedule is relatively friendly and if one piece is what they need to make a postseason run, go for it!
Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Ryan Tannehill is the starting quarterback in Nashville now, and so far it’s ... going well? Granted, a win over the bumbling Chargers isn’t much of a resume builder, but just scoring points is a step in the right direction. Mike Vrabel’s defense has been playoff caliber (fourth in the NFL in points allowed), but the Titans’ inability to move the chains could be their undoing.
D’Andrea: Sell. Marcus Mariota’s contract expires in 2020, and Tannehill isn’t a long-term answer behind center. It’s likely too late for Tennessee to tank its way to the top of next spring’s draft in order to find a can’t-miss QB prospect, but a spot in the top 10 could clear the path to find the blocking help the team’s lacked this fall. The Titans have some nice young pieces who have turned up under Tannehill — Corey Davis and A.J. Brown in particular — but this team needs more firepower before it’s a serious threat.
Stites: Buy. It’ll be hard for the Titans to convince themselves they can’t compete after Tannehill stepped in and led them to 403 yards of total offense. Maybe his play will drop off, but it’s also completely possible he keeps it up. If he does, the Titans have the recipe for a playoff team.
Snag a little offensive help and Tennessee can still track down the Colts and Texans in the AFC South.
Brady: Sell. Not only is Mariota not the answer, neither is Tannehill. Tennessee went all-in on a quarterback in Mariota, and it didn’t pay off. The Titans have to start the entire process over again with the few young, good players they have as a foundation. I don’t see how they can fix all of their issues with trades this season.
Oakland Raiders (3-3)
The Raiders have already made a move in October, trading starting cornerback Gareon Conley to the Texans for a third-round pick. That doesn’t mean they’re sellers, however; Conley’s egress followed a brutal performance in a loss to the Packers, and his trade may have been more of a message to Oakland’s locker room than any grand statement about contention.
The Raiders have outperformed expectations, earning wins over two 2018 playoff teams (the Bears and Colts) en route to 3-3. They had only four wins all last season.
D’Andrea: Buy. The Raiders spent 2018 selling (see the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades) and 2019 buying, to varying effect. The addition of Trent Brown and, to a lesser extent, penalty magnet Richie Incognito, helped upgrade an offensive line that cut Derek Carr’s sack rate in half (8.4 to 4.1) and Oakland may just be a few skill player upgrades away from contention. Their three losses this season have all come against teams with at least five wins in their first seven weeks of the season.
Stites: Buy. The Raiders probably aren’t there yet as a contender, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to be sellers. They’ve shown they can grind out wins with a powerful ground attack. The defense hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain and still doesn’t have an adequate pass rush. If the team could find a veteran defensive end capable of getting after the quarterback, now would be a great time to invest at the position.
Brady: Buy. The Raiders have the talent to be successful now, not later. I think Derek Carr is finally hitting his stride, though he could use some help besides his rather deep roster of tight ends. Despite Jon Gruden’s best efforts to decimate their own core, the Raiders are succeeding. They have the big guys up front and a bruising running game. They just need some extra pieces, like perhaps a Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper-type player.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
The Eagles beat the Packers in Green Bay three weeks ago, but the hope gleaned from that marquee win was quickly drained in back-to-back blowout losses to the Vikings and Cowboys. Philadelphia’s defense has been a major concern; it ranks 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game despite trailing big in each its last two games. It’s given up 75 total points the past two weeks, and Carson Wentz’s underwhelming fourth year has left the offense unable to keep up.
D’Andrea: Buy. The NFC East is eminently winnable, even after Philly’s loss to Dallas last week. This offense has too much talent to be this mediocre for long, and the past month has shown that cornerback market remains robust. Acquiring Patrick Peterson or Chris Harris would add some veteran gravitas to a depth chart that desperately needs it — though it might not be cheap.
Stites: Buy. Even though the 37-10 beatdown at the hands of the Cowboys in Week 7 was bad, the Eagles don’t really have much of a choice but to keep trying to make the most out of their young core of talent. Another receiver could be a good thing, but finding cornerback help — whether that’s now or in the offseason — is a must for Philadelphia.
Brady: Buy. Philadelphia isn’t far removed from being one of the top teams in the league. Carson Wentz needs some help, and the defense is in a dire position. They need some serious beef in the secondary, though that might be the position that is least fixable via trade at the moment. Still, the NFC East is ripe for the taking — even after the drubbing the Eagles received at the hands of the Cowboys. If there are no solid buying options, they should at the very least not become sellers.
Chicago Bears (3-3)
The Bears’ defense, even with Akiem Hicks on injured reserve, remains tough. Chicago ranks fifth in the league in points allowed despite ranking 26th in the league in time of possession. The offense, however, is a major problem. A rudderless running game has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and the Bears have yet to gain more than 300 net yards in a single game. The biggest concern? Mitchell Trubisky, who has somehow made fans long for the days of Jay Cutler in Illinois.
D’Andrea: Buy. Trubisky may not be fixable, but letting this defense go to waste is some kind of sin. Some extra tailback help to boost the Tarik Cohen-David Montgomery platoon in the backfield could, at the very least, take some of the pressure from Trubisky’s shoulders.
Stites: Sell. He’s been a mess this season, but the Bears have won with Trubisky before. He led the Bears to wins in 11 of his 14 starts last season and was a partially blocked double doink away from a trip to the NFC Championship Game. So it’s tempting to keep pouring resources into the offense to try and recreate that 2018 success.
The only reason the Bears should sell is because they have a lot of pretty expendable players. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a mercenary on a one-year deal and the secondary wouldn’t be lost if it swapped in another safety to the starting lineup. Other defensive players — like Danny Trevathan, perhaps — could also fetch some value.
Brady: Sell. I wrote about Trubisky earlier this week, and I cannot stress enough how poorly I think of his mechanics. This doesn’t mean the Bears should excise core players on their defense or offense, but there are some guys who may be looking for a way out, guys that Adam mentioned — Clinton-Dix, Trevathan, et all. There are surely some draft picks out there that will help the Bears reload for 2020.
Detroit Lions (2-3-1)
The Lions ruffled feathers in their own locker room by trading Diggs and just lost the only player to rush for 100+ yards in a game while wearing Honolulu Blue in the past five years to injured reserve. Three straight losses have sunk Detroit to the bottom of the NFC North, but Matthew Stafford’s bounceback year means this team is a tough out for anyone in the conference.
D’Andrea: Sell. Matt Patricia’s defense has been a sieve, and prized offseason acquisition Trey Flowers hasn’t been the panacea the Lions hoped he’d be. With losses mounting and the rest of the NFC North as hospitable as a paper shredder, it’s time to call in reinforcements for 2020. Sorry about another wasted year, Matt.
Stites: Sell. The Diggs trade was likely a precursor of things to come. Now on a three-game losing streak, the Lions are awful on defense and not enough on offense to make up for that. Kerryon Johnson, the only Lions running back in the last six years to top 100 yards, is done for the year. Detroit would be wise to get value off the roster wherever it can.
Brady: Sell. I’ve spent the bulk of Matthew Stafford’s career confused about how a player with so much arm talent can consistently be at the helm of a bad team, and while I still like the roster as a whole, the Lions haven’t been able to put it all together. They can at least be competitive each week, but we’re long past the time of moral victories. The Lions need a full rebuild.
Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1)
The Cardinals are trending in the opposite direction of the team they tied in Week 1; Arizona has won three straight behind a revived offensive attack (and a weak slate of opponents), matching last year’s total. Kyler Murray has been roughly as expected as a rookie — some good plays, some bad ones, and the occasional highlight-reel staple — for a team with shoddy blocking and an uneven receiving corps. The defense, which has given up 400+ yards in more than half its games this fall, remains a concern.
D’Andrea: Sell. This was always a multi-year project. Beating the Bengals, Falcons, and Giants is nice, but it doesn’t mean you’re a contender. The Cardinals are still low on talent, so stockpiling draft assets while learning the ropes of Kingsbury’s NFL-adjusted firebomb offense makes sense.
Stites: Buy. Yes, the Cardinals are in a long-term rebuild, and no, they aren’t winning the loaded NFC West. But the most important thing is bringing along Murray and making sure he continues to develop and grow into the player they hope he can eventually become. If there’s additional offensive talent on the market that’ll help him continue an upward trajectory, now is a good time to go get it.
Brady: Buy. It will take more than one season for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray to click, but we’ve already seen week-to-week improvement out of the pairing. They’re not going to compete for the crown in the stacked NFC West, and they probably won’t be in the wild card conversation either. But they’re onto something right now, and it would behoove them to get as many pieces as they can sooner rather than later.