The NFL has historically featured fewer trades than any of the other major North American sports, but deals are now getting done at a higher rate thanks, in large part, to the loosening of the salary cap. Since hiring Jon Robinson as general manager before the start of the 2016 season the Titans have completed three trades: swapping 4th round picks with the Eagles in the 2016 draft in return for DeMarco Murray, sending Dorial Green-Beckham to the Eagles for backup tackle/part time jumbo tight end Dennis Kelly, and shipping a conditional 2018 7th round pick to the Chiefs for backup defensive end David King.
The Titans have the 9th most available cap space heading in to the 2018 offseason so they are in a spot where they could make some noise on the trade market if there is a player available that interests them, and there are actually a few guys that I think would make a lot of sense that might be available.
Eli Apple, Cornerback, Giants
Apple is a guy who’s been in the news a lot recently for the wrong reasons. After a promising rookie season starting at corner across from Janoris Jenkins in the Giants secondary, his play fell off in 2017 and he began feuding with teammates and coaches. Those feuds led to him being a healthy inactive for a 4-game stretch, a team suspension for the final game of the year, and Landon Collins publicly labeling Apple as a “cancer in the locker room”. Collins has since come out and said that their relationship “can be repaired”, but also hasn’t talked to the troubled corner. Most feel like Apple’s issues in 2017 stem from family problems that have resulted in his most trusted mentor, his step father, no longer being in his life. New Giants GM Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara have both said that they want Apple back with the team moving forward, but it certainly seems possible that they could decide to move on from him if the right opportunity presented itself.
That’s where the Titans could come in. The team just hired Kerry Coombs to work with its defensive backs, and he just happens to be the coach who recruited and developed Apple in to a top 10 pick in the NFL draft. For a guy who sounds like he needs some structure in his life right now, moving from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee and reconnecting with his college coach makes a lot of sense. Coombs described Apple as a football obsessive, detailing his never-ending desire for game tape to watch and cornerbacks to study while playing for the Buckeyes.
Another big influence on Apple’s career also currently works in the cornerbacks room in Tennessee: Logan Ryan. Ryan was a senior at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey when he took Apple — then an eighth grader — under his wing. The two have stayed in contact since and spend offseasons training together and hosting football camps at their old high school. Apple considers Ryan his mentor in the NFL, going to him for advice on everything from eating right to how to cover specific wide receivers.
Apple’s physical skills are obvious. He’s tall for a corner at 6’-1” and ran a 4.40 40 at the 2016 combine. He also was very young for his draft class, turning 21 in the middle of his first NFL training camp. With his skill set and work ethic, it’s not hard to see why the Titans might want this guy. However, his attitude issues are a serious concern. Getting labeled as a “cancer” by teammates is about as serious an allegation as you’ll get in the NFL and reports of him talking back to coaches is troubling. That risk here would be much lower with the presence of Coombs and Ryan surrounding him. A corner back trio of Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan, and Eli Apple would give Kerry Coombs a ton of talent to work with and his history at Ohio State suggests that combination usually yields excellent results. This fit is almost too perfect.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback, Broncos
Talib is another talented-but-troubled cornerback who may find himself on the trade market. The Broncos are in a tight spot with the salary cap heading in to this offseason. They are reportedly interested in chasing Kirk Cousins to fix their glaring quarterback problems, but will need to free up some space to do so. Talib has a big $11M cap hit for the 2018 season and is reportedly likely to be shopped or released.
Teams might wait to see if #Broncos Talib will be released. But he has trade value and that option will be explored first. Teams to keep an eye on that could be fit: Rams, 49ers. I also won't rule out #Cowboys, especially if Talib hits open market. #Denver7— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) January 29, 2018
Talib is a headache of a personality, but he’s very good at his job. In his age 30 season in 2017, he continued to play like an elite cornerback. The nice thing about trading for Talib is that his current contract has almost no guaranteed money left on it so you could move on easily if he suddenly regresses or becomes too much of a locker room issue. This would be a temporary solution for the third cornerback spot as Talib is unlikely to continue playing at such a high level for much longer.
I see this one differently than Apple though. Talib is a great player — he would immediately make the Titans secondary one of the best in the NFL on paper — but he’s more of a risk too. As an older, more accomplished player, he’s less likely to fall in line under a leader like Logan Ryan than Apple is. He also could start regressing pretty rapidly as he’s on the wrong side of 30, playing a position that requires elite athleticism.
Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver, Broncos
In addition to Talib, the Broncos also sound like they are open to the idea of moving one of their star receivers. Thomas and Sanders combined to be one of the elite receiving duos in the NFL over recent seasons, but both are also highly paid and 30 years old.
Reality is #Broncos need to massage salary cap. They will pursue Cousins. But have to have enough money for him and to address other needs. Elway also did not rule out change at WR. As I have said for weeks, it would not be surprise if 1 vet -between DT and Emmanuel- not back— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) January 29, 2018
Sanders’ situation is complicated by the sexual assault allegations that were reported about a week ago. He’s also coming off his worst statistical season since 2011. Until the legal issues are resolved, I would expect Sanders to be considered untouchable by the Titans.
Thomas, on the other hand, came up just 51 yards shy of recording his 6th consecutive 1,000 yard season in 2017, overcoming poor quarterback play to notch 83 catches for 949 yards and 5 touchdowns. His age is a slight concern, but Thomas is a guy who could age well in my opinion. He’s been remarkably durable over the past 6 years, playing in all 16 regular season games every year. He also wins with physicality and technique — he’s a master at the art of the pushoff — more than speed and quickness. Those types of receivers tend to age better.
Thomas carries a $12M cap hit in 2018 and an astronomical $17.5M cap hit in 2019, which is the reason that the Broncos would like to move on from him. Only $6.6M of his remaining contract is guaranteed so a re-structure would likely need to happen if the Titans did make a move to bring him in to spread some of that cap hit out over more seasons. Thomas could be a good mentor to Corey Davis and would balance the field at wide receiver.
I think the contract situation is the biggest potential stumbling block here. Those cap hit numbers are unsustainable for a player over 30 and the team would probably have to negotiate a restructured contract prior to agreeing to any trade.
Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seahawks
Sherman was reportedly shopped around a bit last spring, but the right offer never materialized for GM John Schneider and the bombastic cornerback stuck around for another season in Seattle. Sherman is currently rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles that ended his 2017 season in November, but is reportedly set to be ready to return to practice in May or June.
His injury certainly complicates any potential trade, but the Seahawks are tight against the cap (as usual) and may be looking to move their star corner as he heads in to the final year of his $56M contract at age 30. Before his injury, Sherman was having another great season. While he’s no longer playing at his peak, he’s still a well above average starting NFL corner and guy who is known to be a great teammate. I would expect his price tag to be considerably lower than the reported 1st round pick the Seahawks were asking for last spring due to the injury and him being in the last year of his contract.
It is generally bad business to give up lots of assets for aging stars, but if the price was right, I think Sherman is the type of player that Jon Robinson could be interested in. Like Talib, he would give the Titans an excellent defensive backfield that could be the core of the defense for the next few seasons. As a very long, physical corner, he also brings a very different type of skill set compared to current Titans starters Adoree Jackson and Logan Ryan.
I wouldn’t necessarily expect any of the deals to happen, but the Apple connections seem to make an awful lot of sense if the Giants decide to move on from him. I wonder what Dave Gettleman thinks of Kevin Dodd?