The NFL’s November 2nd trade deadline is one week away and teams are already starting to make some moves. The Ravens traded a 2021 3rd round pick and a conditional 2022 5th to the packing-it-in Vikings for pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and the Giants shipped Markus Golden back to Arizona for a 2021 6th.
The Titans also made a trade — the first in-season trade of Jon Robinson’s tenure — when they shipped a disgruntled Kamalei Correa and their 2021 7th round pick to Jacksonville in exchange for their 2021 6th. Correa had been unhappy with his playing time this season and asked to be sent away rather than biding his time on the bench so it’s the rare case of a contender trading a veteran to a non-contender during the season.
However, Robinson’s inactivity at the deadline in years past may not be reflective of a lack of interest in making those kinds of deals — the Titans have been reported to have made offers for players like Demaryius Thomas before — but they haven’t gotten anything done. That could be tied to the fact that Robinson’s squads have always been in limbo around the deadline.
In 2016, they were 4-4 heading into the deadline.
In 2017… 4-3.
This season they’ll enter the trade deadline at either 6-1 or 5-2 and leading the AFC South. If there was ever a time to push all the chips in and go for it this is it, right?
In a normal year, I’d say yes. In 2020 — like most things — it’s a little more complicated.
The Titans paid Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry big money in the offseason and that’s proven to be a great investment so far. They also went and added high-priced pass rushers Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney. Those two are still trying to prove their worth in Tennessee (Clowney is much closer than Beasley, but neither look like good bang for your buck at this point).
As a result, the Titans have just $9-million in available cap space for the 2020 season remaining according to Spotrac. They could do some cap maneuvers to create some short term wiggle room if needed, but trading for a big contract now would also eat into the amount of unused cap space that they can roll over into 2021, an offseason that could see the NFL’s first cap decrease in over a decade due to reduced revenues caused by COVID-19.
With Jonnu Smith, Jayon Brown, DaQuan Jones, Corey Davis, Jadeveon Clowney, and Vic Beasley all scheduled to be free agents, and the Titans already tight against the $175-million salary cap floor agreed to by the league, trading for a big contract would likely mean that the Titans lose one more of those players than they otherwise would have (there is already no way they’re all back).
However, the Titans do look to have a little extra draft capital coming up. Jack Conklin’s departure in free agency is expected to net Tennessee a 3rd round compensatory pick and the team already has two extra 6th round picks thanks to previous deals. Cobbling together some enough picks to make a trade enticing wouldn’t be a problem, it’s the money you have to be a little more concerned with.
For that reason, trades for guys with big contracts (often the kind of players bad teams are looking to offload at this point in the year) could be complicated for Tennessee. They could increase the value of the pick they’re giving up in exchange for a team restructuring the player’s deal and eating some of the big cap hit, as they got the Dolphins to do in the Ryan Tannehill trade, but the cap decrease is going to hit everyone and finding a partner willing to eat cap hits will be tough.
So rather than shopping for the high-priced aging veteran on a bad team that usually defines the NFL trade deadline, I think the Titans are more likely to be looking for younger players or guys on smaller contracts. They could take a big swing for a high-priced veteran like Stephon Gilmore (more on that below), but I think the more likely options are cheaper and younger.
And before anyone asks… no, I don’t think the Titans are going to be able to trade Vic Beasley away for either a player or a pick. It’s hard to see teams lining up to give up assets for a guy whose value has dropped since he signed as a free agent early in the offseason. Beasley had his best game as a Titan on Sunday and they need more of that moving forward.
I’d also like to state, for the record, that I don’t think the Titans have to make a move. They’re already a contender as currently constituted, and deadline deals don’t always work out (just ask the Patriots about that 2nd round pick they gave up for Mohamed Sanu last year). The two teams that ended up in the Super Bowl last year are good examples. The 49ers added Emmanuel Sanders, who helped them reach the big game, while the Chiefs sat tight at the deadline despite having a very suspect defense at the time. Deadline deals can help or hurt and it’s also perfectly acceptable to not make a trade.
Before we get into the players that I think the Titans could trade for, let’s mention briefly how the cap works for trade situations. The team trading a player away is responsible for all signing bonus cap charges, all roster bonuses that were already earned, and a prorated portion of the player’s salary based on the number of games he was on the roster. For the purposes of calculating below, we’ll assume a worst-case for the Titans of 10/16ths of the salary number.
With that in mind, here are seven guys that I’d take a look at if I was the Titans GM.
William Jackson III | CB | Bengals
Cap Hit if Traded: $6.2-million
Jackson will be one of the most expensive players on this list, as he’s currently finishing out the 5th-year of his rookie contract. The former first-round pick has quietly turned into one of the league’s best corners despite playing for a terrible Bengals team and there is at least one report that he might be interested in getting out of Cincinnati.
The Bengals are 1-5-1, and despite Joe Burrow’s success, they’re a year or two away from being a real contender. Jackson is 28 years old and his contract expires after this season. I’d imagine that Cincy would like to keep him, but if they’re realistic about their window, they might want to take a pick for him while they can get it and continue their rebuild around their young quarterback.
Jackson would be a massive difference maker to the Titans secondary in the short term and they could even look at trying to re-sign him next offseason and parting ways with Malcolm Butler (which is probably happening either way). I’d probably part with a 2nd or 3rd round pick to get Jackson to Tennessee.
Brian Poole | CB | Jets
Cap Hit if Traded: $937,500
The Jets are a prime trade target for obvious reasons. They’re 0-7, completely hopeless, and likely heading into a full teardown rebuild after this season. Any veteran that they can move over the next week, probably should be.
There are a couple that would make sense for the Titans. We will start with Poole, who is one of the better pure slot corners in the NFL. Currently ranked as PFF’s 11th-best cornerback, the 28-year old Poole has been a rare bright spot in the New York secondary for the last two years.
He’s also incredibly cheap, carrying a cap charge of less than a million dollars to whichever team trades for him (thanks to a majority of his one-year, $5-million deal being carried by his $3-million signing bonus).
With Kristian Fulton expected to be out for a few weeks with a knee sprain, the Titans could use some help in the slot. And even when Fulton returns, it would be nice to be able to ease him back in behind a steady veteran.
Poole is a really good player and given his contract status and age, I can’t imagine it would take much to pry him out of New York. A 5th or 6th round pick would probably do it and given the Titans abundance of 6th round picks, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on this one.
Desmond King | CB | Chargers
Cap Hit if Traded: $1.3-million
The Chargers are only 2-4 and have a good looking rookie quarterback so they might not be quite in the same fire-sale mode that the Jets and Bengals are, but trading King could be on the table for a few reasons.
For one, he’s on the final year of his rookie contract and set to be a free agent at the end of the season. He was also unhappy with his playing time earlier this season as free agent signee Chris Harris Jr. essentially took his role as the Chargers primary slot corner.
King has every right to be unhappy about suddenly getting benched too. He’s just 25 years old and has consistently been rated as one of the best slot corners in the game going all the way back to his rookie season with the team.
Chris Harris’ foot injury complicates this matter a little bit though. Since Harris went down in Week 3, King’s playing time has rebounded. He’s seen at least two-thirds of the defensive snaps in each of the last three games, and with Harris expected to be out for at least a couple more weeks, King figures to remain a central part of the Chargers defense.
Looking ahead to their remaining schedule, LA may not be ready to pack it in just yet. Just two of their next ten opponents have winning records. However, if they do choose to move on from King, I’d be willing to part with a 4th or 5th round pick to add him in Tennessee. Like, Jackson, he’s also a guy that could be brought back to replace Butler’s spot in the starting lineup in 2021 and beyond.
Stephon Gilmore | CB | Patriots
Cap Hit if Traded: $8.1-million
This is a move that would make me very very nervous if I was the Titans. Gilmore is 30 years old and is having a bit of a down year in 2020 relative to his lofty standards. Obviously, he’s still good enough to help the struggling Tennessee secondary, but it’s unclear whether the return will be enough to justify the price.
I think it’s safe to say that Gilmore is definitely available for a trade based on reports as they look to clean up a messy cap situation moving into the post-Brady era. Gilmore’s 2020 salary would barely fit under the Titans salary cap for the current season, but it almost completely wipes out their rollover dollars for next season, severely constricting their ability to retain some of their own free agents that we discussed above.
Gilmore’s contract also runs into 2021, and while it is at a very team-friendly $7.5-million (for the team he’s traded to), there is a zero percent chance he’s playing on that salary next year. This is a big time all-in type move, but it could backfire big time, especially if the asking price is a 2nd round pick as I suspect it would be.
Quinnen Williams | DL | Jets
Cap Hit if Traded: $531,250
There are conflicting reports about whether or not the Jets former 3rd overall pick is available for trade. His name had been speculatively floated a couple weeks ago and Manish Mehta has reported today that he is available for “a reasonable price”. Other Jets reporters have since refuted that claim, but it at least raises some eyebrows.
I think it makes zero sense for New York to ship out a 22-year old blue chip type talent after a year and a half regardless of how bad their record is, but if they were crazy enough to ship the former Alabama star out, the Titans should absolutely give them a call.
The cap hit would be extremely low thanks to the structure of his rookie contract and he would remain under team control in 2021 and 2022 with a 5th year option available for 2023. Effectively, you could pair Williams with Jeffery Simmons to anchor the middle of the Titans defense for the next four years and that’s an extremely enticing thought. I wouldn’t hesitate to trade a 1st round pick for Williams if that’s what it took.
Dalvin Tomlinson | DL | Giants
Cap Hit if Traded: $680,293
Another interesting option to add depth along the interior defensive line, Tomlinson is playing out the final year of his rookie deal with the Giants after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2017.
Tomlinson has consistently played well for New York, and while he’s more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, his 11 total pressures in 2020 are on pace for a career high. He’d give the Titans some much needed depth along the defensive front alongside Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones.
One complicating factor here… the Giants aren’t really out of the playoff race thanks to the stinky NFC East. At 1-6, they’re just 1.5 games out of first place right now. If they did choose to move Tomlinson, I think a 5th round pick might get it done for the Titans.
Riley Reiff | LT | Vikings
Cap Hit if Traded: $3.7-million
The Vikings are bowing out of the 2020 season, having already traded Yannick Ngakoue away. They may be looking to do a quick rebuild as rumors are that Minnesota would be “very open” to trading Reiff as well.
Reiff is a good-not-great left tackle, much better in pass protection than he is as a run blocker. According to PFF, he’s allowed just five pressures and zero sacks over his 211 pass block snaps in 2020.
Reiff will turn 32 before the trade deadline and is expected to be released at the end of this year after the Vikings took his replacement, Ezra Cleveland, in the 2nd round this spring. His 2021 salary is non-guaranteed so the Titans would not be on the hook for his contract if they chose to dump him after Taylor Lewan returns from injury.
Ty Sambrailo’s excellent performance against the Steelers should instill some confidence in his ability to hold things down at left tackle for the rest of the season, but behind him and right tackle Dennis Kelly there are big question marks. Isaiah Wilson is still generating more bad headlines than good ones and practice squad veteran David Quessenberry was the backup swing tackle on Sunday.
Trading for a player like Reiff would be as much about providing insurance against an injury to Sambrailo and Kelly as it would about a lack of confidence in those two players. The Vikings want to dump Reiff’s contract and it’s hard to imagine that he’d fetch more than a 4th or 5th round pick.