NFL teams should trade for Xavien Howard, Evan Engram, others at the trade deadline

The NFL trade deadline is November 2. Could stars like Xavien Howard and Brandin Cooks be dealt to contending clubs?

Historically, trades haven’t been as popular a roster mechanism in the NFL as they are in leagues like the NBA or MLB. That lack of player movement can be chalked up to several factors, including the NFL’s salary cap and the difficulty of learning a new playbook at midseason. But as younger, more analytics-friendly general managers begin to take over NFL front offices, trades are becoming more commonplace. The 2021 NFL trade deadline is set for 4 PM ET on November 2. Could players like Xavien Howard and Brandin Cooks get moved to contending teams?

AFC players NFL teams should trade for at the deadline

As teams prepare for the stretch run, who are some veteran AFC players that could be available via the trade market?

Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans

Cooks is no stranger to trade rumors, as he’s already been dealt three times in his seven-year career. None of the trades involving Cooks have been cheap, either. Both the Patriots and Rams gave up first-round picks in exchange for the veteran wideout, while the Texans surrendered a second-rounder. Given his age (28) and the fact that he has only 1.5 years remaining on his contract, Cooks might not be so expensive this time around.

Playing on a team in the early stages of a complete rebuild, Cooks is essentially the only true threat on a feeble Texans offense. He leads the club in targets (40 more than second-place David Johnson), receptions, and receiving yards. Cooks’ 27.9% team target share is third in the NFL behind only Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp, while his 791 intended air yards rank second behind Courtland Sutton.

Given where they’re at as a team, the Texans don’t need a veteran like Cooks. Houston is likely to move on from Deshaun Watson (possibly before the trade deadline) and would probably be prepping to deal a number of other veterans — if they had any productive players that would actually garner interest. Cooks is the Texans’ most valuable asset, and they should cash him in now.

Potential Brandin Cooks landing spots

The Browns and Packers could both use help at receiver, while a reunion with the Saints would also make some sense. But the best fit might be the Los Angeles Chargers, who could add a deep threat like Cooks to their already potent offense. Kennan Allen and Mike Williams are excellent receivers, but neither is inside the NFL’s top-40 in aDOT (average depth of target).

Cooks would give Justin Herbert and the Chargers’ offense another dimension. He could also stick around in 2022, when Williams may depart via free agency. Los Angeles could ship Jalen Guyton and a fourth-round pick to Houston in exchange for Cooks in a swap that might benefit both teams.

Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are a franchise with no clear direction. Although 81-year-old owner Stephen Ross is apparently in “win-now mode” and willing to sacrifice future draft capital for immediate improvement, the 1-5 Dolphins would be wise to reset. That doesn’t necessarily mean Miami needs to trade away every last asset, but dealing Howard could be a start.

While Howard hasn’t been playing well thus far in 2021 and is currently banged up, he’s still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. In 2020, the former second-round pick was named first-team All-Pro after leading the league with 10 interceptions while allowing the second-lowest passer rating in the NFL.

Frustrated with the contract extension he signed in 2019, Howard requested a trade over the summer. Miami was loath to deal him and eventually agreed to a reworked pact that included a fully guaranteed base salary in 2021 plus $3.5 million in available incentives. But with their season on life support, the Dolphins may look to move Howard in advance of the trade deadline.

Potential Xavien Howard landing spots

Who couldn’t use another cornerback, especially one with Howard’s track record? Any number of contending teams could theoretically express interest in Howard, but the ideal fit might be a team suggested by PFN National NFL Insider Adam Beasley last week: the Tennessee Titans.

If there were ever a season for the Titans to go all-in, this is it. Ryan Tannehill is 33 years old. Derrick Henry is still handling a massive workload but could break down at any moment.

Tennessee already shipped a second-round pick to the Falcons for Julio Jones. The Titans appear likely to win the AFC South by default, but they could use some help for a passing defense that ranks 16th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 21st in yards allowed per attempt (8.2).

Having already dealt their 2022 second-rounder, would the Titans move a first-round selection for Howard? I think they would, but only if the Dolphins agreed to eat some of his base salary. These two teams hooked up on a similar trade in 2019 when Miami sent Ryan Tannehill to the Titans (and paid $5 million of his $7 million salary) in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

Cam Robinson, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars

Deploying the franchise tag on Cam Robinson made all the sense in the world for the Jaguars when the league year began. Jacksonville knew they’d be getting Trevor Lawrence in the draft, and there’s no better way to introduce your rookie quarterback to the NFL than to make sure his blindside is protected. $13.8 million for one season of left tackle security? Sure, why not?

But the Jaguars failed to work out an extension with Robinson over the summer. They can try again in the offseason, or they can use the franchise tag again. However, Robinson would be entitled to 120% of his 2021 salary, meaning Jacksonville would be on the hook for $16.5 million in 2022.

Given that Robinson is still offering the same mediocre play he always has and that the Jaguars will be in a position to nab an offensive tackle at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft, Robinson makes sense as a trade candidate.

Potential Cam Robinson landing spots

The Steelers need a long-term left tackle, but they also need to keep their draft picks in order to find their next franchise quarterback. However, there’s another AFC North team that is both competitive and just lost its left tackle for the rest of the season — the Baltimore Ravens.

Ronnie Stanley won’t return in 2021 after undergoing ankle surgery. While the Ravens can shift Alejandro Villanueva from right to left tackle, Robinson would give Baltimore another option.

Robinson would likely be a pure rental for the Ravens. Next season, Baltimore projects to have Stanley, Villanueva, and Ja’Wuan James under contract. Thus, Robinson would probably walk in free agency. However, that would entitle the Ravens to one of their most coveted assets: a compensatory draft pick.

NFC players NFL teams should trade for at the deadline

Which NFC players could be available at the deadline?

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

After being selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Evan Engram was instantly productive in his rookie campaign. That season, he ranked second among all tight ends in targets, fifth in receiving yards, sixth in receptions, and eighth in touchdowns. Since then, however, injuries have hampered him, and he’s never matched those rookie season highs.

Engram is again banged up at the moment. Still, provided he can get healthy, Engram could be an attractive chip at the trade deadline.

Many teams are starved for any sort of production at the tight end position, and Engram has proven he has the skill set to succeed. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, and there’s been no indication he’s discussed an extension with the Giants. New York has fewer than $3 million available in 2022 cap space. Therefore, they might not be able to re-sign Engram even if they want to.

Potential Evan Engram landing spots

Teams like the Bengals, Packers, Vikings, and Saints could all be interested in making a tight end upgrade, but the best fit could be the Buffalo Bills.

Incumbent Bills tight end Dawson Knox broke his hand in Buffalo’s Week 7 loss to the Titans. He should be able to return in roughly three weeks. However, the only other tight end currently on Buffalo’s roster is Tommy Sweeney, a former seventh-round pick who’s managed just 12 receptions over parts of two seasons.

Sure, the Bills have run the second-fewest plays (36) out of two-tight end sets. In fact, they’ve run more plays (38) with four wide receivers on the field.

So once Knox returns, wouldn’t Engram become an overqualified, overpaid backup? Potentially. Or maybe Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll decides to vary his personnel as the season progresses. Perhaps giving Emmanuel Sanders (age 34) and Cole Beasley (age 32) reduced snaps would help keep them healthy through a 17-game season and postseason run.

Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons already traded one franchise cornerstone when they dealt Julio Jones over the summer. Grady Jarrett might not be the Atlanta icon that Jones was, but he’s been a stalwart on the Falcons’ defense since being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

While he’s only applying pressure at about half of his career rate, Jarrett still provides juice on the interior and is an excellent run defender.

Atlanta sits at the bottom of the NFC South and doesn’t look like a serious playoff contender. Jarrett is signed through the 2022 season, but at 28 years old, he’s unlikely to be part of the next competitive Falcons roster. Atlanta held off on restructuring his contract for cap relief, making him easier to trade. Unless the Falcons plan on extending him, trading Jarrett is probably the best move — both from a roster and salary cap perspective.

Potential Grady Jarrett landing spots

If the Colts feel they’re still in contention, pairing Jarrett with DeForest Buckner is certainly enticing. But on paper, the Dallas Cowboys look to be the most obvious suitor.

Randy Gregory has excelled this season, but with DeMarcus Lawrence sidelined by a foot injury, the Cowboys’ defensive line could use some reinforcements. Dallas’ defense currently ranks 16th in pressure rate and 24th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. Thus, the unit needs help against both the pass and run.

Given Jarrett’s age and contract, I don’t think the Cowboys would have to sacrifice all that much to land the two-time Pro Bowler. The only issue for Dallas? Absorbing the rest of Jarrett’s $13.5 million base salary, which would be an issue given Dallas only has ~$4 million in cap space. However, Jerry Jones and Co. have never been afraid to restructure veteran contracts and push money into future years in order to create immediate cap relief.

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