Forget the trade deadline — we’re already in the thick of it.
Wheeling and dealing in the realms of pro football no longer waits for frazzled front office assistants to crank up the fax machine mere seconds before the clock strikes midnight.
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In 2018, front offices are buying and selling players at a pace we’ve never witnessed, and these trades tell us plenty about how teams see themselves.
A handful of clubs — the Giants and Raiders come to mind — have already shifted into deep-purge mode before next Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, hitting the ejector seat on starters they deemed as core pieces of the puzzle just months ago.
Conversely, the Cowboys are pushing for January play after swinging a deal with Oakland for wideout Amari Cooper, while the Lions padded their soft run defense by shipping a fifth-rounder to the G-Men for Damon Harrison.
The Giants also shotgunned Eli Apple to the Saints, another reminder that coach Sean Payton is all-in on New Orleans addressing every need possible in a franchise-wide push toward Super Bowl LIII.
With a flock of household names in new places, let’s take a look at who’s impacted most by the moves already made:
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: Jerry Jones refuses to give up on January — and he’s not giving up on his longtime head coach. Garrett has spent the past 12 years in Dallas after logging a seven-year career with the Cowboys as Troy Aikman’s backup. Garrett has been woven into the fabric of this franchise since 1992 and Jerry is not looking to bail on that relationship. If the Cowboys overspent for Cooper — and they don’t believe they did — part of that investment is aimed at winning now with Garrett.
Cooper is no guarantee to step in and function as a top-tier wideout after vanishing for stretches in Oakland over the past two years. Still, he addresses the roster’s deepest need on a team with a juicy defense and lots to like on the ground when Ezekiel Elliott is unleashed. Cooper comes cheap in 2018 at just $411,765, but would cost Dallas $13.9 million next season under the fifth-year option. That’s still affordable — IF Cooper can rebound to what he was over his first two seasons.
If that happens out of the gate, there’s no bigger off-the-field beneficiary than Garrett, who has survived one nuclear fallout after the next. The fans might not like it, but Jones is angling to keep the band in place.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott: Adding Cooper is all about giving the team’s starting quarterback a fighting chance in the passing game. This wideout group — Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns — just produced one of its better collective efforts against the Redskins, but Cooper gives the ‘Boys a field-stretching weapon who will command the attention of opposing top cover men.
With Cooper and Elliott playing monster snaps, the Cowboys can get a better idea of what they have in Prescott, whose contract expires after next season. Time has flown, but Jones and friends must soon decide whether Dak is their long-term answer under center. It’s challenging to make that evaluation when he’s throwing to a laundry list of JAGs.
The bye week only helps give Cooper and his new signal-caller more time to mesh. The former first-rounder will be highly involved when Dallas hosts the Titans on Nov. 5.
Lions coach Matt Patricia: The Lions are a work in progress, but what’s not to like about the team landing Damon Harrison for a fifth-round selection? Catching the Giants in fire-sale mode, Detroit general manager Bob Quinn found the perfect piece for Patricia’s defense.
The Lions have been lashed on the ground all season, allowing more yards per game than all but three other sad-sack teams. Giving up a league-worst 5.3 yards per attempt, Detroit needed someone to stop the bleeding. Enter Harrison, one of the game’s most ferocious run-stuffers. "Snacks" has performed to the level of Jurrell Casey and Aaron Donald against the ground game in 2018.
The Lions are an unusual offering this season, knocking off the Patriots and Packers — and handling Miami last Sunday — but also tagged with losses to the Jets, Niners and pre-Cooper Cowboys. In victory, they’ve allowed 98 yards per game on the ground, but that figure balloons to an outrageous 180.7 yards per tilt in the contests that saw Detroit stumble.
This isn’t the only needed fix for the Lions, but Harrison is a blue-chip addition at a position of burning need — and all for a late-round pick. He costs just $6.75 million next season and $9 million in 2020. Fine move by Detroit.
The win-now-at-all-costs Saints: The trade for Eli Apple is another reminder that Payton and friends are unabashedly angling to squeeze through their still-open Super Bowl window. Apple isn’t Patrick Peterson — not close — but the Saints needed help in the secondary and found a source in Big Blue, who accepted a 2019 fourth-round pick and a 2020 seventh-rounder in return for the 23-year-old cover man.
That’s an affordable deal for the Saints, who add Apple to a mix of corners including Marshon Lattimore, P.J. Williams and Ken Crawley. Concerns linger over Apple’s maturity, but New Orleans has the former No. 10 overall pick for cheap through the 2019 campaign. After giving up their first-, third-, and fourth-round selections in next year’s draft, though, the Saints aren’t worried about far-off campaigns. The focus is now.
Agitated Giants fans wondering what comes next: You’ve shipped Harrison and Apple out the door, your quarterback situation is a hot mess and the path ahead remains hazy. Giants fans have reason to question the overall plan.
Coach Pat Shurmur came in telling the world that Eli Manning was his guy under center, but seven games into the season, this looks like a glaring oversight by New York. It’s not about questioning Saquon Barkley. The No. 2 overall pick has been a wonderful addition and looks to be nothing short of a generational talent, but quality offenses in 2018 don’t channel through a running back.
Sure, the Giants can hope for an answer in April’s draft — they’re destined for another high pick — but all of this is playing out while No. 3 pick Sam Darnold has Jets fans aglow in the hope of a long-term savior at the game’s most critical position.
One of the league’s historically consistent outfits for eons, the G-Men find themselves alone in the dark today.
Jon Gruden’s slow-play toward Raiders 2.0: The Raiders are an unpleasant experience on the field and off, but the Cooper swap can be seen as a win for Oakland. Getting a first-round pick for the wideout is something few expected, a move that gives the Silver and Black no fewer than five firsts over the next two seasons.
Will Derek Carr be the next to go? It feels possible for an operation that willingly gutted the roster over the past two months. Reggie McKenzie might be the general manager in name, but his role feels tenuous after Cooper and Khalil Mack — his hand-picked core players — were dealt. With Carr struggling in a bad offense and Marshawn Lynch shipped to injured reserve, Oakland is cooked.
From another angle, though, Gruden is just getting started as a coach with more job security than any other in the NFL. Under a 10-year, $100 million pact, Oakland’s figurehead is peering toward the team’s new home in Las Vegas. Veteran players are piqued over being tossed into a rebuild — they should be — but the Gruden story is far from over.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @marcsesslernfl. Listen to Marc on the "Around The NFL Podcast" three times a week.
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