1. In a season of increased parity, the trade deadline is weirdly busy…
Usually the trade deadline is virtually meaningless. Nothing happens. Maybe a backup O-lineman and a fifth rounder get swapped for an over the hill running back by a wild card hopeful. Generally, it’s a snooze-fest. Not this year. Legit talented pieces are moving around at record pace, but here’s the odd thing. It’s not eliminated teams that are the sellers. Contenders (New England, Buffalo) are out hawking their wares in this NFL world-gone-mad. Not to mention that the buyers are buying pieces that they may not even need. It’s all very strange. How strange? Have a look.
2. Marcell Dareus has a second chance, plus a new home.
And a reunion of sorts with his former coach Doug Marrone in Jacksonville. An impact defender with a few character issues got traded from the second stingiest defense in the league to the stingiest. Word is that Dareus had been on the outs with the new coaches in Buffalo, and wasn’t fitting well in scheme that clearly has been working without him. A few missed meetings aren’t nearly enough to keep a guy with his talent off the field in the NFL, so clearly the Bills were ready to move on. Dareus may be helpful in Jacksonville on rushing downs, but the Jags aren’t exactly hurting when it comes to the D-line. Dareus doesn’t come cheap either, with a salary of roughly $16 million per year. Buffalo is likely happy to be rid of the headaches and Morrone is happy to shore up a defense that has probably over performed thus far. I can’t help thinking that if Buffalo takes an injury along that D-line, they might regret this move.
3. So does Kelvin Benjamin…in Buffalo
This move makes sense for Buffalo at least. After shipping off Sammy Watkins before the season began, they’ve needed a go-to pass catcher, and Kelvin Benjamin is a big, fast red zone target. Tyrod Taylor has done some serious work to keep this Buffalo offense afloat with a ragtag crew of misfits. It’s well worth the third and seventh round picks that the Bills shipped off to the Panthers for a legit number one receiver. Here’s the question: Why on earth is Carolina ready to trade their best receiver when they sit at 5-3 and are clearly in the mix for the NFC South crown? Maybe they like the way Devin Funchess is playing. Maybe they want to move Christian McCaffrey to slot receiver, he’s already the team’s leading receiver with Benjamin on the move. It’s a head scratcher. With the division on the line, Cam Newton needs all the weapons he can get this year, and the Panthers’ brass just pulled the rug out from under their offense for a few mediocre picks from a team that’s a contender.
4. Jay Ajayi is headed to the best team in the NFC
Of all the trades that happened, this one probably makes the most sense. Why? Miami is headed nowhere, especially after that 40-0 dismantling at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles, however, are flying high, but they’re a little short on RB’s. How short? Carson Wentz is their second leading rusher behind bruiser LaGarrette Blount. While he hasn’t yet been able to replicate his breakout performance from last year, Ajayi will be able to spread the load and make the Eagles a bit more dynamic, if that’s even possible.
5. Jimmy G is going to be a starter.
Not this week. But it won’t take long before the Niners put an end to the C.J. Beathard error..err…I mean era. They’ll likely wait a week, maybe two, to let Garoppolo get his feet under him before giving him the keys to the offense. It’s a good deal for the Niners, Jimmy G was considered the heir apparent to Tom Brady, so lots of folks, especially in Boston, are super confused by this move. It’s unlike Bill Belichick to give up an asset for less than max value, and New England could have gotten higher value picks from Cleveland before the season. It’s obvious that Garoppolo would lose some value as the season progressed, and keeping him and Brady was never an option long-term. The franchise tag this offseason would have made him $21 million or so, far eclipsing Brady’s yearly salary. So why trade him now, instead of before the season started? Because the Hoodie plays chess, while the rest of the league plays checkers. Belichick knew that Garoppolo would likely change the fate of the team he was sent to. If he had sent him off to Cleveland for their 2018 first rounder and the Browns then won 8-9 games, the value of that pick would have been severely reduced. Fast forward to today’s trade deadline. Hoodie knows Jimmy G needs to be traded to get something back for him, so he just picks the two teams sitting at 0-8, both of whom are in dire need and asks: “What are you going to give me?”. The Patriots excel at turning low second-round draft picks into playmakers on the field, and they seldom, if ever misfire completely at that range of talent evaluation. It’s a no-brainer for the Niners, who need a quarterback going forward, but they aren’t about to turn around and compete for the division, so the value of that second round selection isn’t going to change much, if at all. This year, it’s even less likely that the Niners can claw up out of the basement, with so much of the league well above .500. Was New England hedging their bets against a decline with Brady at age forty by keeping their backup for this long? You bet your ass they were. But as we hit the halfway mark of the season with Tom Brady leading the league in passing yards, it’s clear he had no intention of giving up his QB1 cred to Jimmy G. Why the Niners instead of Cleveland? Because former Patriots’ backup Brian Hoyer will get dropped by San Francisco before the ink dries and get signed back in Foxboro. Cleveland doesn’t have a QB that New England trusts to run their system if TB12 gets injured. I’d personally rather see the Pats pick up Colin Kaepernick to back up Brady, but I think that Hoyer was likely an unspoken part of the deal with San Francisco.
6. The Pat’s D is looking up
I’ll be brief here since I mentioned this last week, but I think it’s worth noting. New England’s defense, who looked better last week against Atlanta, continued to improve this week against a suddenly very tough Chargers team. Still think they’re too soft? There’s an argument for that. They still allow over 400 yards per game on average. That’s the worst in the league, but, and this is a big but, they aren’t allowing teams to score like they did over the first four weeks. Since the week four loss to Carolina, the Patriots defense has allowed less than 15 points per game, pushing that unit back near the middle of the pack in points allowed. “Bend, don’t break” has been the Pat’s defensive mantra under Matt Patricia, and they’re doing just that over this four game win streak. 14.5 pts allowed per game, just how competitive is that? Jacksonville leads the league with 15.7 pts per game so far this year. If they keep it up, and Brady continues to be Brady, New England is in good position to keep their string of AFC East titles alive even against a ramped up Buffalo attack. New England will have even more time to get that defense tuned up as they have a bye next week before closing out a series of games with the AFC West.
7. The Texans are looking competitive, even when they lose
Yes, I know that the Texans lost this week. But wow, was that a firefight they had with a Seattle team that was in a must-win situation. The Texans have been in some intensely entertaining games this season. Yes, they sit at 3-4 after week 8, but their point differential is a solid +27 over that time, compare that with divisional leader Tennessee, proud owner of a -15. Deshaun Watson has proven himself to be a NFL-ready competitor over the first half of the season, going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady early this season and Seattle’s Russell Wilson this week, who needed 452 yards and 4TD’s to escape with a win. Even so, the Seahawks didn’t grab the lead until there were less than twenty-five seconds left on the clock. That’s twice this season that Deshaun Watson has put his team in a position to beat a perennial Super Bowl contender only to have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Any way you slice it, this Texans team is literally a few seconds away from being 5-2 and well ahead in the AFC South. I’m sure that hurts, but they’re still a contender and they have to be happy with what they’ve seen from their rookie signal caller.
8. Victoryyyyyyyyyy!!! The Vikings are on a quest
For a team that has franchise QB Tedy Bridgewater on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and starting QB Sam Bradford sidelined with a knee injury, the Vikings sure look pretty good heading into their bye week. Case Keenum has been better than advertised as a backup-to-the-backup, and the defense has been as stout as we expected, ranking near the top of many defensive metrics. Here’s where it gets interesting for the purple people eaters. Green Bay is floundering without Aaron Rodgers, the Lions are struggling more than they probably should, given that they have the best QB left in the division now, and Bridgewater is likely to return from his catastrophic knee injury soon, according to Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network. If Bridgewater is getting ready to play, the Vikings aren’t in a position where they need to rush him. After this week’s bye, the Vikings will travel to Washington before hosting the LA Rams. I don’t think they need to consider either of those to be “must-win” games, and even so, Keenum can give them a chance in both. After that they’ll face a tougher slate and more divisional games that would be a great time for Bridgewater to get back under center. It’s a very winnable division and at 6-2, they have the inside track and a huge lead.
9. You wouldn’t like the Ravens when they’re angry
Just ask Miami, who concussed Baltimore QB Joe Flacco on a late hit from Kiko Alonso with three minutes left in the second quarter. Miami was still in the game up until that point, only trailing the Ravens 13-0. After the injury, however, Baltimore came alive and made a mockery of Miami’s patchwork offensive scheme. Matt Moore was never able to get going, throwing for less than 200yds and 2INT’s. Jay Ajayi, the soon to be Philadelphia Eagle, was squashed at the line of scrimmage all day long, accounting for 23 yards on 13 attempts. Wait. It gets worse. Ajayi actually broke one off for 21 yards. Remove that from the equation and he had 2 yards on 12 carries. I’ll let you do the math. The Ravens have been exceptional on defense at times this season, it’s a shame they can’t be more consistent on the offensive side of the ball. Flacco will likely be back next weekend, so at least they have that going for them.
10. The Browns made the most Cleveland Browns trade ever…
Which is to say, they agreed to bring QB A.J. McCarron over from Cincinnati minutes before the trade deadline, then neglected to inform the league about the trade before time expired. Obviously, the league squashed the trade. That’s why it’s called a deadline. I’ve got nothing, people. NOTHING. I’d love to tell Browns fans that this is all going to be ok. But it’s not. It won’t be. Until the Browns make some changes at the top, meaning the ownership, this team will remain mired in abject misery and chaos. I’m sorry Cleveland, but there’s no LeBron returning home to help with this one, though I’m sure he would be your leading receiver if he ever stepped on a football field. So many number one picks, wasted. So many seasons, so many QB’s. Now a divisional rival attempts to gift you a serviceable NFL QB and this happens. I can’t. It’s just so Cleveland, I can’t stand it.
Question of the Week:
“What trade didn’t happen, but should have?” Alice W. Tahoe City, CA
You mean aside from the eleventh hour debacle in Cleveland? I can see a few moves that should have been made, but never happened. New England needed a pass rusher and didn’t make any moves there. New Orleans needs help all over the defense, so I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t try to upgrade. Drew Brees isn’t as old as Brady, but he’s going to slow down soon, too. I would have thought they’d go all in this year. The Giants are likely to go into full rebuild mode after this season if rumors about Eli Manning retiring are true, so I’m surprised that they didn’t throw out some of their higher paid veteran defenders as trade bait. Plenty of teams would have taken a chance on JPP or Olivier Vernon if they had become available.
Got a burning question? Disagree with me? Want more proof? Want to know my thoughts on your rookie that I didn’t mention? Hit me in the comments and I’ll answer the week’s best question (or questions) in next week’s edition.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.
*Image Source: twitter.com/49ers