1 Realistic Trade That Would Alter Each Division Race at 2023 NFL Trade Deadline
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Derrick HenryVincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
The NFL trade deadline used to come and go without any player movement, but it has generated some league-changing deals in recent seasons.
Last year’s seismic shift came when the San Francisco 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey in the middle of the campaign. The star running back was a catalyst for the league’s best finish to the season, and the Niners won the NFC West with ease.
The NFC West saw a major shift at the 2021 trade deadline with Von Miller coming to the Los Angeles Rams, which went on to win the division by one game.
This year’s deadline has already seen a few big deals. Kevin Byard is heading to Philadelphia in a move that will only strengthen a solid secondary, and the Chiefs brought back Mecole Hardman.
While it’s yet to be seen if those deals will have any impact on the NFC East and AFC West, respectively, let’s take a look at trades that could alter every NFL division race.
AFC East: Buffalo Bills Trade for CB Jaylon Johnson
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Jaylon JohnsonAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
The Buffalo Bills came into the season as a Super Bowl contender and the AFC East favorite. However, both of those titles have come into question thanks to injuries.
The Bills have lost Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano for the season. While they have some solid depth, they have looked fallible in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots.
Making a move for Jaylon Johnson would be aggressive, but it’s one of the few moves out there that could move the needle for this secondary. It’s been a revolving door of cornerbacks for the Bills throughout the season. Nickelback Taron Johnson has played the most defensive snaps while Christian Benford is behind him.
However, the Bills are lacking the playmaking aspect that White brought to the table. Sean McDermott’s defense has seven interceptions on the season, but no corner outside of White has one this season.
Johnson is in the final year of his contract with a 2-5 Chicago Bears team and is coming off of a two-interception game against the Raiders last week.
The 24-year-old would give them another legitimate starting option on the outside and the shot in the arm the Bills need to reclaim the AFC East lead.
NFC East: Washington Commanders Trade Away Edge Chase Young
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Chase YoungCooper Neill/Getty Images
The NFC East race figures to be a two-team battle down the stretch with the Dallas Cowboys trying to catch the Philadelphia Eagles.
However, the Washington Commanders have lingered around in the early going as the team that could at least throw a wrench into things by the end of the season.
The Commanders are 3-4 heading into Week 8 and while they are coming off a defeat against the New York Giants, they also only lost to the Eagles by three on the road.
Part of what makes Washington an X-factor any given week is a defensive line that features four former first-round picks in Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Chase Young.
The last of those four has been at the center of trade speculation since the offseason. He’s struggled to stay on the field with injuries and, while the talent is immense, his production wasn’t great going into the season. He had nine sacks in 27 games.
This year, he’s starting to look like a former No. 2 overall pick again. He has five sacks and is a big reason the Commanders are tied for fourth in the league in sacks.
Despite that, Ben Standig of The Athletic reported that at least one team executive for another team believes, “Washington ‘will sell’ at the deadline and that Young and (Montez) Sweat are ‘available.'”
The Eagles already have a hard-fought win over Washington. but they get another crack at them on Sunday. If they end up trading away Young, then it makes them much less of a threat to compete or pull off an upset that will tip the scales for Philadelphia or Dallas.
AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers Trade for WR Tee Higgins
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Tee HigginsIan Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
This is a big swing, but it’s going to take a big swing for any trade to affect the AFC West race. The Chiefs already have a firm grip on the lead, sitting at 6-1 with the Raiders three games back at 3-4.
If there’s a team in the division that could get hot enough to put together a streak, it’s the Los Angeles Chargers.
The defense likely can’t be fixed with one player, but the offense could see a huge boost with the right player. Losing Mike Williams for the season to a torn ACL has hurt, but trading for Tee Higgins would be a logical short- and long-term solution.
Higgins has struggled to make an impact this season, but there’s a body of evidence that he can be a No. 1 receiver in the right situation. However, the Bengals haven’t come to terms on an extension for the 24-year-old.
When Williams comes back, he will have just one year left on his contract and the Chargers would save $20 million against the cap by releasing him before the 2024 season. That saving could be a great head-start to an extension for Higgins.
With Higgins taking over Mike Williams role, the Chargers would at least have enough firepower to put up a fight against the Chiefs.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers Trade for CB Donte Jackson
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Donte JacksonAP Photo/Jacob Kupferman
Last year, it was a trade between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers that sealed the fate of the NFC West. The Niners paid up to bring Christian McCaffrey to the west coast, and he ended up being a catalyst to them recording 10 consecutive wins to end the season.
This year, they happen to be showing some weakness right around the deadline. After a 5-0 start, the 49ers have lost back-to-back games.
Going back to the Carolina well to add Donte Jackson to the defense could help them mask some deficiencies in the secondary. San Francisco gave up 378 passing yards to a Justin Jefferson-less Vikings squad.
The 49ers need some pass rushing, but they already added Randy Gregory. Jackson has struggled with Carolina this season, but he has 14 interceptions over the last five seasons and held opposing passers to a rating of 90.5 last season.
Jackson’s contract is team friendly and runs through the 2024 season, so targeting him has the added benefit of not only solidifying themselves as the NFC West favorite but also possibly finding a two-year fix at cornerback.
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens Trade for RB Derrick Henry
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Derrick HenryAP Photo/Steve Luciano
The Tennessee Titans have already traded Kevin Byard to the Eagles. At 2-4, it stands to reason they might not be done dealing away veterans to stock up on draft picks for a rebuild.
That could leave Derrick Henry on the trade block. He is set to be a free agent in the offseason and is getting dangerously close to his 30th birthday, which has been a cliff for many running backs’ production.
For a team like the Ravens, which finds itself atop a tightly contested AFC North, acquiring Henry isn’t about the long-term plan. It’s about putting Baltimore over the top in a division that could come down to the wire.
Without J.K. Dobbins, the Ravens have been left to lean on Gus Edwards and Justice Hill to complement Jackson. Edwards had an 80-yard reception last week against the Lions, but that’s not something he does regularly.
Henry might be getting closer toward the end of his prime, but he’s still ninth in yards created and second in breakaway runs, per PlayerProfiler. Putting that kind of runner alongside Jackson, combined with the passing attack that Todd Monken has brought to Baltimore, and the Ravens would be tough to beat in the division.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings Trade Away Edge Danielle Hunter
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Danielle HunterMichael Owens/Getty Images
The NFC North is an interesting division as the trade deadline approaches. The Detroit Lions are in first place by two games and are the only team in the division with a positive point differential.
Picking anyone other than the Minnesota Vikings to rise up and challenge the Lions for the title is a tough sell. Jordan Love and the Packers are struggling, while the Bears are still far from competing.
Minnesota has a little momentum going with back-to-back wins, but trading away a key player would take some wind out of its sails.
Danielle Hunter has been at the center of trade speculation. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported there were trade discussions with other teams this offseason, so it makes sense that his name has come back up as the deadline approaches.
The 28-year-old leads the league in sacks with nine. He would bring back a valuable pick if the Vikings did trade him. It would also spell the end of them contending in the NFC North and give the Lions a clear path to continue their run through the division.
AFC South: Houston Texans Trade for Edge Brian Burns
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Perry Knotts/Getty Images
At the beginning of the season, it was a pretty safe bet to say the Texans would be sellers at the trade deadline. Instead, they are the biggest competition to the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC South.
The Jaguars have a fairly comfortable lead early in the season. They are 1.5 games up on the Texans, while the Colts have lost their starting quarterback for the season, and the Titans have made their intentions known by trading Kevin Byard to the Eagles.
Still, Houston remains as an upstart challenger. After losing the first two games of the season it has won three of the last four. That sequence started with a victory over the Jags.
C.J. Stroud has exceeded expectations, and the defense is much improved under DeMeco Ryans.
However, landing Brian Burns, the No. 1 player on our NFL Trade Block Big Board, would be something that would give them the added juice to go from plucky challenger to serious problem for the Jaguars.
Will Anderson Jr. is the third in pass-rush win rate while commanding double teams on 25 percent of his reps. Brian Burns is sixth and gets double-teamed 20 percent of the time. Putting the two together would give the Texans the defensive firepower needed to compete for a playoff spot the rest of the season.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints Trade for WR Hunter Renfrow
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Hunter RenfrowAP Photo/John Locher
The NFC South is predictably close and uninspiring. The Falcons (4-3) hold a half-game lead over the Bucs (3-3) for the lead, but it’s the Saints (3-4) that are the only team with a positive point differential.
The only hard truth in the division right now is that the Panthers are out of the race. They are the most likely sellers at the deadline as they are still looking for their first win.
In a race as close as this one, even a small trade could wind up making the difference.
The Saints are reportedly looking into making a move. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported that multiple teams believe New Orleans is at least looking at the receiver market. He specifically mentions Hunter Renfrow as a possibility.
The connection makes sense. The 27-year-old is not really involved in the Raiders offense, and he already has chemistry with Derek Carr. The Saints would be adding him to an already strong receiver corps with Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed and Michael Thomas.
It’s making a strength even stronger when there are more pressing weaknesses, but that could still be enough to tip the scales in this division.