With less than a week remaining before the October 29th 4:00 PM (EST) NFL trade deadline, action has been heating up across the league. Over the last two weeks we’ve seen seven deals involving twelve different teams across the league:
- Rams trade a 2021 5th round pick to the Browns for guard Austin Corbett
- Ravens trade a 2020 5th round pick and linebacker Kenny Young to the Rams for cornerback Marcus Peters
- Rams trade a 2020 1st round pick, a 2021 1st round pick, and a 2021 4th round pick to the Jaguars for cornerback Jalen Ramsey
- Texans trade a 2020 3rd round pick to the Raiders for cornerback Gareon Conley
- Patriots trade a 2020 2nd round pick to the Falcons for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu
- 49ers trade a 2020 3rd round pick and a 2020 4th round pick to the Broncos for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a 2020 5th round pick
- Seahawks trade a 2020 5th round pick to the Lions for safety Quandre Diggs and a 2021 7th round pick
So the question is... should the Titans get involved in the trade market? And if so, should they be buyers or sellers?
I think there are arguments to be made on both sides so let’s take a look at the argument for buying at the trade deadline and a few viable options that might be available if the Titans were to go shopping and then we will take a look at the sell side of things after that.
Why the Titans should buy at the trade deadline
This is a roster that is largely built to win now. The Titans had the fourth oldest 53-man roster in the league on opening day this year and have a bevy of expiring contracts coming up at the end of this season, including both Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly, Logan Ryan, Wesley Woodyard, and LeShaun Sims. They didn’t sign 31-year old Rodger Saffold and 37-year old Cameron Wake as free agents this offseason so they could win five years from now.
They have a championship caliber defense that ranks 5th in the league in points allowed and three of the four teams ahead of them in that statistic have played one fewer game. That group isn’t necessarily aging, but they have some older key parts with Jurrell Casey, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler all getting close to 30.
They also have an offense that has some intriguing parts despite the terrible overall results through the first seven games. Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, and Adam Humphries are solid at receiver and the offensive line is more talented than their early play would suggest. It’s just a one game sample size, but Ryan Tannehill at least made it look like it was possible for him to provide league average to above average quarterback play. If the Titans believe he can keep that up — or at least be close to what he was Sunday — that would make this a much better football team than the one we saw over the first six weeks.
At 3-4, the Titans are just a game and a half back of the division-leading Colts and are just one game behind the Texans for what would currently be the second wild card spot. With a game against the Colts still remaining on the schedule and two matchups with the Texans late in the year, the Titans still control their own destiny despite the terrible start to the season. They had the same record at this time last season and managed to work their way into a win-and-in situation in Week 17. A similarly hot finish isn’t totally out of the question this year despite a tougher remaining schedule than the one they faced down the stretch in 2018.
If you believe internet rumors, the Titans have already reached out to the Dolphins about the former Alabama star. This does make sense on some level. Dion Lewis has been a major disappointment as a complement to starter Derrick Henry and Drake would bring the pass catching ability that the team had hoped to get from Lewis in a much more explosive and dynamic package.
We know that Jon Robinson and Dolphins GM Chris Grier have a working relationship coming off the Tannehill trade this past offseason so could they make another move together? Drake is on the final year of his rookie contract which means that he’s a true rental unless the team trading for him can come to terms on an extension and I can’t imagine a rental running back going for more than a 5th or 6th round pick. Last season Carlos Hyde went from Cleveland to Jacksonville for a 5th and Ty Montgomery went from Green Bay to Baltimore for a 7th at the deadline.
I have a hard time justifying giving up draft capital for a rental complementary running back for reasons I’ll get to later, but he’s a talented player that could be a good fit next to Henry moving forward if they can get him to agree to a reasonable contract extension.
G Brandon Scherff, Redskins
I’ll preface this one by saying that there are no reports that Scherff has been made available for trade and the Redskins have been pursuing a contract extension that would lock him in Washington for the remainder of his prime so this is highly unlikely to happen. However... if things were to change, this is probably the single player that could make the biggest impact on the Titans roster.
Scherff is a two-time Pro Bowl right guard who is in the prime of his career at 27 years old. Slotting him into the weakest spot on the Titans offensive line would make a massive difference and would instantly make this group one of the best in the NFL.
There are a few issues that make this far from a slam dunk though. First is the draft capital cost. A former 5th overall pick who is widely considered one of the top five players in the league at his position is not going to be moved for less than a 1st round pick and it would probably take more than that. Second is the salary cost. Scherff is likely looking for a contract that would make him the highest paid guard in the league. Can the Titans afford to spend that kind of money on the offensive line when Lewan and Saffold are already among the highest paid linemen in the league and Conklin will be looking to get paid after this season? I don’t know.
This would be a swing for the fences move and it doesn’t sound like Washington wants to move him right now, but given the fact that he’s a great player at a need position on an expiring contract for a team that’s not going anywhere, he’s at least worthy of being on a list like this.
EDGE Vic Beasley, Falcons
I don’t love Beasley as a player. Outside of his monstrous 15.5 sack season in 2016, he’s failed to notch more than 5 sacks in a season and routinely rates as a poor run defender. He’s kind of a one trick pony and that one trick — his speed rush off the edge — isn’t even that great now that the book is out on him.
He’s reportedly very much on the trading block, but has generated little interest to this point so it’s possible that the Titans could scoop him up for a late pick in the hopes that maybe Mike Vrabel could squeeze a little more out of him than Dan Quinn has over the last two and a half seasons.
The Titans aren’t in terrible shape on the edge with Harold Landry and Cameron Wake, but there are still plenty of questions and injuries looming behind them.
EDGE Von Miller, Broncos
Miller is 30 years old and stuck on a Broncos team that is headed nowhere fast at 2-5 (despite beating the Titans handily a couple weeks ago). His production has started to tail off as well. Miller has 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and just 7 QB hits through his first seven games. All three of those numbers are on pace to register as career lows, not counting his injury-shortened 2013 season.
He’s technically under contract through the 2021 season, but the Broncos have a club option to opt in or out for the 2020 and 2021 years. Given the fact that his cap hit for next season is set to be $25M and his play is beginning to show signs of decline, it’s possible that the Broncos would make the hard choice to move on from their best player at the end of this year anyway.
Could a Titans team that seems to be one dominant pass rusher away from an elite defense consider making a move for Miller? It’s possible. He would clearly help the pass rush, even if he is starting to slow down a bit from his Hall of Fame level pace, and has the added benefit of giving Harold Landry an up close look at what he’s done to win at an elite level with a very similar skill set throughout his career. Don’t forget, we are just one year removed from Miller’s second highest sack total of his career.
The cost will be high though. Miller would almost certainly still fetch a 1st round pick on the market and the Broncos would need to justify what would be a highly unpopular decision with fans by bringing in a worthwhile haul. Then you have the cap implications. Even if the Titans planned on just using Miller as a rental, his cap hit for this season alone will eat roughly $10M of the unused cap space that they would be rolling over into the 2020 offseason.
C/G Billy Price, Bengals
The Bengals 2018 1st round pick has really struggled in Cincinnati. First with injuries and poor play during his rookie season and then with losing his starting job before the start of this season and being shuffled in and out of the lineup since.
With the Bengals clearly about to head into a rebuild at the end of this season, it might make sense for them to get what they can for a guy who was drafted under the previous coaching regime and seems to be heading in the wrong direction.
So what would the Titans want with another struggling interior offensive lineman? Well, this potential trade would be more about the future than it would be about making a run in 2019. Sure, it’s possible that a change of scenery quickly unlocks the talent that made Price the third interior lineman off the board behind Quenton Nelson and Frank Ragnow just a year ago.
The Titans might be a particularly interesting landing spot for Price considering the fact that Mike Vrabel was Price’s primary recruiter at Ohio State. Tennessee still needs an heir to Ben Jones at the center spot after moving on from Corey Levin before the start of the season. Maybe a quick reclamation project could pay dividends if the Bengals want to move on. I would assume the price tag would be similar to that of Austin Corbett, another highly drafted 2018 interior lineman who struggled with his first team and just went for a 2021 5th round pick.
Why the Titans should sell at the trade deadline
While the Titans at 3-4 are still within striking distance of their competitors for both the AFC South and the wild card race, there are some reasons to believe that they’re far more likely to go 6-10 than 10-6 by the end of the year. The teams they’ve beaten — Browns (2-4), Falcons (1-6), and Chargers (2-5) — have been among the worst in the NFL so far and things are about to get much tougher over the back half of the year. The Titans have the fourth toughest remaining strength of schedule in the league and the toughest remaining schedule in the AFC with just one team with a losing record remaining on the slate after this Sunday’s game against the Bucs. This team is going to have to beat a bunch of very good opponents down the stretch if they’re going to claw their way back into contention.
Then you have the quarterback situation. It’s impossible to know how the coaching staff and front office really feel about Ryan Tannehill behind closed doors right now. They may still be figuring that out themselves. If Robinson and Vrabel view Tannehill as more of a short term solution than a long term fix, then they would be wise to gather as much draft capital as they can get to arm themselves for a potential trade up for a quarterback. With three wins already in the bank and a defense that will keep them in almost every game, it’s unlikely that the Titans will lose enough to net a top five pick so trading up to get the guy they want may be a necessity.
Trades up high in the first round are expensive, but if you land the right quarterback it’s worth it. It’s not that the Titans couldn’t stand pat with the picks they have and still be able to trade up for their guy — they certainly could — but acquiring some extra picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts would help them maintain some semblance of “normal” draft classes around their new QB.
If the Titans lose to the Bucs this weekend and drop to 3-5, I could see Robinson taking an objective look at the remaining schedule and his team’s performance to this point and deciding to start focusing on building towards 2020. If he does, here are some of the players that he could theoretically look to move elsewhere.
(I’m not going to include guys like Dion Lewis or Wesley Woodyard below. While it would be great to be able to flip those guys for assets, I can’t imagine a contender looking at their roster and thinking they’re one Lewis or Woodyard away from the next level they’re wanting to get to. No disrespect intended towards Woodyard, who made a great play to save the win on Sunday, but he’s 33 years old and has clearly lost a step or two.)
TE Delanie Walker
Look, I know this would hurt. Walker has been one of the best players on the team for the better part of 7 years now. He’s immensely popular with both the fan base and his teammates. This would sting... bad.
However... Walker is 35 years old and after missing almost all of last season with a broken leg, he’s been a regular on the injury report this year with various ailments. The Titans have reduced his workload, even when he’s been healthy, choosing to let him share the load with Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt.
Smith looks to me like a guy that is ready to take the next step and with Pruitt providing good blocking and Anthony Firkser able to function as something like a “3rd down tight end”, the Titans could at least piece together a solid tight end unit without the presence of Walker, especially when you consider the fact that this passing attack appears more and more ready to run through the wide receivers finally.
Two contenders stand out who could really use a guy like Walker. The Seahawks just lost starting tight end Will Dissly for the season just as he was beginning to emerge as one of Russell Wilson’s favorite targets and the Patriots are still struggling to replace the production of the retired Rob Gronkowski. I would imagine those teams would be interested in Walker if he was made available.
If the Titans decide that 2019 isn’t going to be their year, it would make a lot of sense to move Walker while they can still get something of value for him. He is still under contract for the 2020 season so he wouldn’t be a pure rental for a team trying to acquire him either. Could Walker still fetch a 4th or 5th round pick at his age? I think he probably could for the right contender.
QB Marcus Mariota
In-season quarterback trades are exceedingly rare so count this as highly unlikely right from the start. Carson Palmer getting dealt from the Bengals to the Raiders in 2011 and Jimmy Garappolo going from New England to San Francisco are the only two I can remember.
However, with over a quarter of the league currently starting a passer that they didn’t start opening day with, the backup supply is getting pretty thin as well. Could the Bears look to make a desperation move to save their season from the struggles of Mitch Trubisky? They’re an interesting fit with Mariota’s college coach currently serving as offensive coordinator. I’m not sure Mariota would be an instant upgrade over Trubisky, but who knows, maybe a reunion with an old coach and a fresh start in a new system would help bring back the 8 that we saw in 2016.
There are some major complicating factors that make this virtually impossible to see happening though, even if a Mariota-Helfrich reunion seems like a best possible scenario for the former Oregon quarterback. For one, trading for Mariota would require the Bears to count a prorated portion of the QB’s $20.9M salary for 2019. With over $19M in available space, they could make that work, but would they? The added salary would eat a big chunk of the unused cap space they are currently set to rollover into 2020. That’s worth it if you’re sure that Mariota fixes your problem, but even if the pick compensation is pretty cheap, acquiring him would be costly to the Bears or any other team.
There is also the issue of the Titans backup spot. With no QB3 currently on the roster or the practice squad, the team would be without a backup if they moved Mariota. Of course you could sign someone off the street, but with Ryan Tannehill’s injury history, there is a decent chance that a back up will see some snaps. If the Titans are ready to bail on 2019 entirely, maybe that’s not a concern, but if the plan is to continue competing, Mariota is still a valuable part of the team in that backup role.
DL Jurrell Casey
Again, highly unlikely to happen and it would be wildly unpopular, but... if you really wanted to build a war chest of picks to make a move for a quarterback in next year’s draft, Casey is likely the biggest piece Jon Robinson could realistically move.
With his 30th birthday approaching, Casey is on pace to set career lows in nearly every significant statistical category. Whether that’s age catching up to him or a result of him spending the offseason dealing with a knee injury is unclear, but it’s obvious that he’s been less than the disruptive force that Titans fans have come to know. With Jeffery Simmons’ sparkling debut and DaQuan Jones putting together a very good year, Casey is suddenly a part of a deep defensive line rotation.
Like Walker, Casey is another good leader in the locker room and fan favorite. Trading him would absolutely make them worse off in the short term, but if the team thinks he’s beginning to regress — and that this isn’t just a short blip in what has been a stellar stretch from him — now might be the time to move him while he still carries a lot of name value and isn’t too far removed from a very high level of play.
I’m not sure you could get a 1st round pick for him, but if Mohamed Sanu is going for a 2nd, I’d have to imagine they could get similar return for Casey. His current contract runs through the 2022 season with relatively manageable cap numbers so there is some long term value to be reaped by a team trading for him.
CBs Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and LeShaun Sims
Good corners are a valuable commodity in the NFL and the Titans have a few of them. We’ve already seen contenders trading for guys like Jalen Ramsey, Quandre Diggs, Gareon Conley, and Marcus Peters and there are still other teams like the Eagles and Chiefs that need upgrades in the secondary.
Ryan might be the Titans best defensive player through the first seven games of the season so moving on from him would be a tough pill to swallow. He’s also become one of the team’s most respected leaders, a key cog in Dean Pees’ complicated defense. However, with an expiring contract at the end of this season at age 28, it’s at least possible that the Titans would consider making a move if the offer were big enough. By big enough, I would have to see a 2nd round pick or better to even consider moving Ryan, and even then, I’d have a hard time pulling the trigger. He’s just that good.
Assuming that Adoree’ Jackson’s foot injury is not a long term issue — he did not practice on Wednesday, but Mike Vrabel called him “day-to-day” earlier in the week — Sims could be viewed as expendable, especially with his rookie contract set to expire at the end of this season. He’s among the best CB4s in football and would probably provide an upgrade for teams like the Eagles and Chiefs. Unfortunately for the Titans, his limited amount of tape over the past two seasons will make it tough for other teams to see exactly what they might be buying in Sims.
Butler would make a little sense as well. Despite the negative narrative surrounding him that still lingers from his struggles early in 2018, he’s largely been a very good corner since the middle of last season. His contract is expensive so that’s a consideration for any team looking to acquire him. At 29 years old, Butler is likely reaching the end of his prime. He’s the kind of guy that could help a contender right away though.
I don’t think the Titans would trade Adoree’ Jackson right now. He’s been very good for most of 2019 and at just 24 years old, he’s the guy out of this group that seems like the best bet to be playing at a higher level in 2020 and beyond. If you’re going to make trades to focus on building for 2020 and beyond, you’re going to want Jackson to be a part of that plan.
T Dennis Kelly or T Jack Conklin
The Titans effectively have two starting level right tackles at the moment. Both players are playing on contracts that expire at the end of this year and it seems highly likely that the team will have to choose one to extend.
With Kevin Pamphile now healthy and capable of serving as a swing tackle if needed, this is a move that could make a lot of sense for the Titans to make. Teams around the NFL are always looking for good offensive linemen and a team like the Rams or Browns who are having major issues up front could use the services of a quality right tackle.
The question of which one is complicated. I think Conklin is the more talented player, but can the Titans re-sign him at a rate that they’re happy with or do they think they can get 90% of Conklin’s ability for 50% of the price with Kelly? Conklin would also likely be more attractive to the trade market.
This might seem like a cop out, but I don’t really think the Titans should be buyers or sellers at the deadline, but I’d probably lean towards selling if I had to choose one right now. If they beat the Bucs on Sunday and get to 4-4, it’s reasonable to think they might have at least a chance to make a push over the second half of the season. However, I don’t think the chances of that potential run coming to pass are great enough to push them into action and I also don’t think they’re one player away from making that leap (unless Russell Wilson was somehow available).
With a strong probability of needing to draft a quarterback in the spring, it would be wise for Jon Robinson to conserve — or even build — his draft capital for a potential trade up to get his guy. If they do decide to sell and stockpile some extra picks to work with, I think Walker and one of the tackles — I would prefer to keep Conklin and trade Kelly unless the gap between what you could get between the two was pretty large — would make the most sense to trade for picks. Those are also two moves that they could make without necessarily punting on the 2019 season altogether.
The Titans have yet to make an in-season trade under Jon Robinson, but they have been known to sniff around some deals at the deadline. Last year they reportedly made an offer for Demaryius Thomas, and of course, there was the report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen at this time last year that the Titans had made Derrick Henry “available” at the deadline, but did not find a trade partner who would meet their price. I don’t think they’ll break that trend this year, but you never know.
Who would you trade or trade for if you were Jon Robinson?