By Sean Wagner McGough
(CBS Sports) — Welcome to the true NFL offseason. The first part — February to May — didn’t really count, not with free agency and the draft occupying so much of our time. The real offseason — the actually boring portion — begins immediately when the draft ends, which it did on April 28, and concludes when the preseason begins, which will happen on Aug. 2.
But maybe this offseason will be different. To this point, it’s certainly been different.
Since the 2017 NFL season ended with the Eagles‘ win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the following high-profile trades have been completed (not to mention the, which was agreed to before the Super Bowl):
Forgive me if I missed one or two. It’s been a trade-happy offseason to this point. Hopefully, the trades continue throughout the long summer — the NFL’s version of the Long Night — to keep us awake from now until the preseason begins.
With that in mind, and with free agency and the draft already gone, which means most rosters around the league are set, let’s take a look at some potential trades that would actually make sense. Of course, just because they make sense doesn’t mean they’ll actually happen. So, you should consider them trades that could — but probably won’t — happen before the season starts.
1. Broncos pass rusher Shane Ray to the Bears or Lions
Regardless of what happened this offseason, 2018 was always going to be pivotal season for Ray. A first-round pick in 2015, Ray has at times flashed his potential (eight sacks in 2016), but for far too much of his career, he’s been sidetracked by injuries and unproductive play (13 sacks in 38 career games). Then, the Broncos went out and took. Not long after, , which means 2018 is the final season he’s under contact in Denver.
Suddenly, Ray is expendable, which means he’s tradable if the right offer comes along. Otherwise, the Broncos risk losing him for nothing after the season. From the perspective of pass-rushing needy teams, they might look at Ray as a buy-low, high-reward option. In 2016, when he played in a full season for the only time in his career, he ranked 12th at his position group in terms of pass-rushing productivity, racking up 45 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
So, who might be in the market for someone like Ray? Two teams from the NFC North immediately come to mind: the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, both of which are in need of another pass rusher.
As part of a mass exodus of older oft-injured players, the Bears parted ways with Pernell McPhee and Willie Young this offseason, leaving them with a significant void on the edge., but pass rusher still remains an area of need. Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks need some help out there. At the very least, the Bears could use Ray as a situational pass rusher. Who better to bring out the best in Ray than Vic Fangio?
The answer to the question above might be Matt Patricia, the new coach of the Lions. Like the Bears, the Lions are in need of some additional pass rushers. Though Ezekiel Ansah will be back, the Lions need more. Last year, Ansah collected 12 sacks. The rest of the Lions’ roster combined for 23 sacks. As a team, the Lions ranked 20th in sacks. That’s why Ray could be used in Detroit. One quick tangent: To draft Ray in 2015, the Broncos traded up with the Lions. So, this would be an especially fitting destination for the next stage of his career.
In terms of a return, the Broncos are looking at no more than a mid-to-late round pick, which is why they might prefer to keep Ray in hopes he finally blossoms during the beginning portion of 2018, at which point they can try to trade him to a contender for a higher pick or consider keeping him around for the long-term.
2. Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler to the Bears or Lions
Let’s stay with pass rushers and the Bears and Lions. Another player from the 2015 draft whocould make sense for both teams: Dante Fowler.
The Jaguars drafted Fowler No. 3 overall, but he’s yet to look like a player worthy of that selection. He. In 2016, he notched four sacks and five passes defended as a rotation player. His sack total doubled in 2017. Then, during the Jaguars’ loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, he sacked Tom Brady twice. So, he’s an ascending talent.
It’s just that, the Jaguars might not really have room for him — not with both Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue slotted in as the starting defensive ends in their stacked defense. So, if they’re looking to move him before he likely leaves in free agency after the season, they could send him to a team that needs pass-rushing help, like the Bears and Lions.
On the other hand, the Jaguars are in the middle of their Super Bowl window and a situational pass rusher like Fowler could come in handy during the playoffs. Depth matters, and they could do way worse than Fowler as their third exterior pass rusher.
3. Browns receiver Corey Coleman to the Patriots
Corey Coleman, to this point, has been a disappointment. Since getting drafted 15th overall in 2016, he’s caught 56 of 131 targets (42.7 catch rate) for 718 yards and five touchdowns. Giving up on him now might be foolish considering most young receivers experience a rough go of it during their adjustment period and the fact that Coleman’s played with some horrible quarterbacks, but— a first-round talent in terms of football alone, though — and Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, who covers the team, recently wrote that “if someone makes the Browns a decent offer, I believe they’d trade him.”
Let’s say the Browns did want to shop Coleman to a team that could use another playmaker and thinks that a change in scenery plus a partnership with a better quarterback could bring out the best in the former first-round pick. Let’s say that team is the New England Patriots.
For one, the Patriots and Browns have had a pretty strong trade partnership for a while now. Second, the Patriots just lost Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola this offseason, so they could benefit by adding another receiver. Third, the Patriots certainly love a reclamation project. Fourth, the Patriots have acquired a bonanza of future draft picks, which means they could give the Browns a decent offer.
This trade seems the most unlikely of the bunch, but the idea of the Patriots developing Coleman is an intriguing one.
4. Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the Cowboys
Even before they released Dez Bryant, the Cowboys needed to bolster their receiving crew. The additions of Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, and rookies Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson shouldn’t change that. If the Cowboys are serious about contending in 2018, they’ll need to provide quarterback Dak Prescott with a better supporting cast.
Meanwhile, the Broncos just drafted Courtland Sutton in the second round and DaeSean Hamilton in the fourth round. It already appeared to be unlikely that both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas would return in 2019, but those two draft picks cemented Sanders and Thomas’ short-term status with a team that is trying to remake their offense. Instead of cutting Sanders after the season, when his dead cap shrinks to $2.7 million, the Broncos should try to trade him to a receiver-needy team.
Sanders might not be as good as he was at his peak, but his diminishing numbers have more to do with the Broncos’ quarterback situation than his own abilities. He’d be a good fit in Dallas, immediately becoming the Cowboys’ top receiver. The Broncos shouldn’t expect more than a Day 3 pick in return, but they could use all the picks they can get their hands on.
5. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas to the Cowboys
Earl Thomas and the Cowboys have been linked for what seems like forever — ever since he ran up to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett after a December game between them andThomas clarified that he didn’t mean for the Cowboys to get him in the immediate future, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.
During the draft, it was reported that. Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Thomas has yet to show up for offseason activities because he wants a new contract, and Pete Carroll isn’t sure when he’ll get his safety back.
“We’ll find out. We’ve got to communicate,” Carroll said Sunday, per ESPN. “Phase 2 doesn’t look like it’s suiting him right now, so we’ll see, we’ll see what’s happening. Phase 3 is around the corner for us, so we’ll see. We’ve got one more week of Phase 2.”
Personally, I subscribe to the belief that the Seahawks should just keep Thomas and pay him. There aren’t many — if any — safeties like him, safeties who can play center field in Carroll’s defensive scheme quite like him. The Seahawks can’t keep cutting weight and expect Russell Wilson alone to carry them back to the playoffs. But if the Seahawks aren’t going to pay him, they should try to get something in return.
The Cowboys look like a team that is more than willing to pay for him. They’re moving Byron Jones from safety to cornerback and they didn’t take a safety in this year’s draft, which means Xavier Woods might be starting at free safety … unless they add one of the game’s best safeties, who also happens to want to come to Dallas.
6. Jets quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Jaguars
What is Teddy Bridgewater’s purpose in New York?
, but all signs point toward Bridgewater not really getting much of a chance to prove it. Josh McCown is slated to begin the summer as the starter. No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold will be . Christian Hackenberg is … irrelevant. That’s an awfully crowded quarterback room, which doesn’t bode well for Bridgewater.
What would’ve made sense for Bridgewater, a former first-round pick, is if he’d landed with a team like the Jaguars in free agency. The Jaguars have a starter in Blake Bortles, but they still would’ve benefited by bringing in someone to push Bortles. That’s the role Bridgewater can serve in Jacksonville. Before suffering his devastating knee injury on the eve of the 2016 season, Bridgewater was considered an ascending talent, having taken the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015. Bortles, on the other hand, has slogged his way through his career to this point. The Jaguars aren’t quite ready to move on from him, but they shouldn’t commit to him as their long-term franchise quarterback.
Bridgewater, assuming he can get fully healthy, wouldn’t just push Bortles. He’d also give the Jaguars a capable backup in the event Bortles struggles during the season and/or gets hurt.
To be traded, Bridgewater will likely have to prove he’s healthy during the preseason. Before Bridgewater got hurt, he was a top-32 quarterback in the NFL. Provided he’s healthy, he deserves a chance to start somewhere. In Jacksonville, he’d at least be able to challenge Bortles.
Again, though, this all comes down to Bridgewater being able to prove he’s fully functional again.
7. Giants tackle Ereck Flowers to the Colts
Flowers, another first-round pick from 2015 who didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up, has been disgruntled for a while now. The Giants, which means Flowers will now slide on over to right tackle. Except to do that, Flowers will need to actually rejoin the team at some point this offseason. So far, that hasn’t happened.
According to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, Giants safety Landon Collins said that Flowers hasn’t reported to the team because he’s upset about losing his job at left tackle. Before the draft,, but to no avail. So, he’s disgruntled, not that good of a player anyway, and the Giants have already tried trading him — not to mention all of the turmoil from last season, which Raanan explains:
Flowers already had his troubles in the past. His relationship with the rest of the offensive line (minus the already exiled Bobby Hart) was rocky at best. He wouldn’t heed the veterans’ advice and wasn’t part of any of their team-building activities — not even Secret Santa.
Then came the final week of the season. Flowers said he was injured and couldn’t play. More than a few people in the organization thought he threw in the towel early, regardless of his eventual denial.
There is so much wrong with this Flowers story that it seems almost impossible to make it right in New York. The Giants are likely better served without him on the roster.
There’s a very real chance the Giants just decide to cut him, but there’s also a chance another team looks at him and sees a 24-year-old player with potential who’s in need of a change in scenery. Speaking of which, the Colts are in need of an improved offensive line. Last year, they ranked dead last in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders. Right tackle is probably their biggest weakness.
The Colts need to make protecting Andrew Luck a priority. There’s no guarantee Flowers ends up blossoming with a new team, but for the cost of a late-round pick, he could be a worthwhile gamble.