If there is one underrated development in the NFL over the last couple years, for roster-contract-transaction nerds like me, it's this new wave of thinking that in-season trades are not only acceptable, but encouraged. Through the years, the NBA and MLB have made their trade deadlines a happening, while the NFL trade deadline was barely acknowledged as anything more than a calendar nuisance.
However, with the league getting a firmer grasp on the value of draft picks (it's still a little scattershot, but some semblance of a market standard, at least, exists), and with the rookie wage scale factoring gigantically into how rosters are constructed, teams are now, more than ever, willing to deal current assets for future draft equity. Further enhancing that market is the inherent parity of the league, where the teams that aren't shedding players largely all feel some degree of hope and willingness to "go for it".
Five weeks ago, when they were 0-3, the Texans would have been crazy to start trading picks for players. However, five straight wins, along with a huge injury to Will Fuller, not to mention an acutely painful cluster of injuries in the secondary, SHOULD have GM Brian Gaine working the phones. At least, that's the hope.
The deadline is today at 3 p.m. Central Time, so let's examine the crucial things to watch these next few hours...
1. How aggressive SHOULD Brian Gaine be before 3 p.m. Central today?
Aggressiveness in any sort of pursuit is sometimes dictated by the resources you have available. For example, it's tough to be super aggressive sitting at a poker or blackjack table when your stacks of chips are seriously short. So, with that said, good news, Texans fans — Brian Gaine has his full complement of draft picks and an extra second round pick from Seattle from the Duane Brown trade with which to work WOO HOO! Also, BONUS, the Texans are among the leaders in the NFL in available cap space! Thus, few teams are more equipped to deal for a guy and absorb a contract than the Texans. Also, while fan sentiment shouldn't dictate the behavior of your general manager, Gaine is operating in an ecosystem (Houston sports) in which the other two general managers in town, Daryl Morey and Jeff Luhnow, have "deal maker" reputations, and rightfully so. This is Gaine's chance to make a mark and show fans that the McNairs picked the right guy to construct this team. Also, this team has recalibrated itself to where they are back to the "sneaky, dangerous" category, as opposed to the "enigmatic mistake machine" category they were in back in September. Go for it, Gainer!
2. So what positions and what names should Gaine be targeting?
Knowing that any reconstruction along the offensive line will probably be done after the season is over, there are two fairly glaring needs on this team — a downfield receiving threat after Will Fuller's season-ending ACL tear and warm bodies in the secondary. The one question that needs to be asked in targeting any player is "Does his current team feel like they are in 'rebuild' mode?" In other words, are they quitting on the season, and thus, open to dealing players and possibly fragmenting their locker room? The Giants, Raiders, and Browns have all made deals in-season that would indicate as such, and the Browns just fired their head coach. Some of the players I think the Texans should be targeting play for teams that are clearly paddling upstream, but still have records that are keeping them on the fringe. Let's look at a few names quickly:
DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay: The clear leader in the clubhouse among Texan fans as most desirable target, as his skill set would seem to be plug-and-play with what the Texans were getting from Fuller. The side bar here is that Jackson requested a trade over the weekend, so that may soften the blow in the locker room if the Bucs decided to move him. They could attribute it to accommodating Jackson, not quitting on the season. For the record, if necessary, I would give up one of the Texans' second round picks for Jackson.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami: The Texans got a good look at him last Thursday, and it was a nice audition (6 receptions, 134 yards, a couple circus catches). The Dolphins want a third round pick, reportedly, which might be a bit pricy for a guy who's been a bit of a malcontent (with a noisy agent).
Demaryius Thomas, WR, and Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver: Either of these would be easy, as the traded player can just wait in Denver for his new teammates to arrive this weekend! For the record, my order of preference would be Sanders, then Thomas. The development of rookie Courtland Sutton in Denver is key to the Broncos' willingness to deal.
Pierre Garcon, WR, San Francisco: Garcon is a guy I was hoping the Texans would pursue a couple seasons ago, when they needed a veteran wide receiver. The Niners, following Jimmy Garoppolo's season ending knee injury, are a team in a downward spiral. Garcon doesn't have the extra gear he did earlier in his career, but he's a pro, who can still get downfield and be an ideal threat across from DeAndre Hopkins. He'd probably come cheaper than the other names on this list.
Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona: I am putting his name here just to acknowledge that the Cardinals are bad, and could get a nice return on trading Peterson. Both sides have said a deal isn't happening, although it took Peterson to back off a trade demand to arrive there. My guess is the deal would have to include AT LEAST a first round pick, and that will back the Texans out.
Gareon Conley, CB, Oakland: A former first round pick on a team clearly shedding anybody attached to the non-Gruen regime — seems like a ripe target. The Giants got a fourth and a seventh round pick for Eli Apple, another former first round. Conley came into the league with some baggage, which might take the Texans out of the mix here.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, NY Giants: Jenkins is another guy who came into the league with baggage, and on top of that, is one of the highest paid corners in the league. If the cost draft pick-wise is reasonable, though, he would be a decent guy to ask about.
3. OK, what about Dez Bryant?
If Dez could bring some of what the Texans truly need, he would be on a team already. He's been only semi-productive, at best, for three seasons now, and locker room culture is HUGE with the Texans. That would seem to eliminate him from consideration, much as Dez would reportedly love to play here. Cross him off your list.
4. Are there other moves out there available to other teams that would concern you, as a Texans fan?
Off the top of my head, I would say there are three that I can think of, and for the record, I see these as long shots:
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* Jacksonville trading for a QB. Look, anybody is an upgrade over Blake Bortles, and trading for a replacement may be the only shot in the arm that will pull the Jags from their current nosedive, which has been delicious to watch, by the way. The only reasonable trade targets that would concern me would be Derek Carr (probably not happening, at least not during the season) and Tyrod Taylor (a definite possibility with Cleveland firing their coach and back into draft pick hoarding mode). Deep down in my heart, I am begging the Jags to trade for Eli Manning, who is SHOT. Yes, S-H-O-T. SHOT.
* Indianapolis trading for Le'Veon Bell. The Colts have the extra draft pick equity to pull off a deal, and they've begun a mini resurgence behind the addition of a running game the last two weeks. If they can run the ball with Marlon Mack, what might they do with Bell?
* New England making some "Jedi mind trick" deal with some sad sack team. You just know Bill Belichick is ready to try to pounce on getting an impact weapon for Tom Brady at a bargain basement price. DO NOT SUCCUMB, NFL. BELICHICK IS PURE EVIL.
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