This year’s trading deadline was largely uneventful, which was expected. There weren’t any blockbuster deals leading up to the deadline, like last year when the Jaguars moved Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Rams, because of the coronavirus pandemic’s financial impact. 

The NFL and NFLPA have set a $175 million salary cap floor for 2021 with league revenues declining due to COVID-19. Teams weren’t interested in major acquisitions that would deplete current cap space that can be rolled over to next year or add to future cap commitments.

The expectation is it will be a buyer’s market during the offseason where a glut of players will be available because of a significant drop in the salary cap from the current $198.2 million figure. Most teams made being best positioned to take advantage of potential bargains on the open market more of a priority. 

Here are three of trades that should have been explored before the deadline that may have improved chances to make the postseason, go on a deep playoff run or helped save jobs of coaches and/or general managers potentially on the hot seat. The financial ramifications of the moves are highlighted. Salary cap space is according to NFLPA data.

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An acquiring team would have needed enough salary cap room to absorb the remainder of the player’s current salary. Since the trades would have occurred after Week 8’s games, the acquiring team would have been responsible for 9/17th of a player’s 2020 base salary and any other applicable salary components in his contract. Trades can’t be executed again until the 2021 league year begins, presumably sometime in the middle of next March.

Trade Compensation: 2021 second round pick and conditional 2022 sixth round pick
Remaining 2020 Salary:
$8,205,882 (Texans 2020 salary cap savings)
Packers Current Salary Cap Room:
$6.718 million
Texans 2021 Dead Money:
None ($17.5 million salary cap savings)

The Texans trading the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year would have been a way to start replenishing the draft capital lost in a series of trades made once Bill O’Brien, who was fired as head coach and general manager after an 0-4 start to the season, became the major power broker within the organization. Most notably, Houston’s 2021 first and second round picks belong to the Dolphins because of acquiring offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

The Texans and Packers had discussions about sending wide receiver Will Fuller to Green Bay before the trading deadline. Trying to bolster a defense that was eviscerated by Vikings running back Dalvin Cook last Sunday and isn’t generating sacks with the same regularity as in 2019 may have been a more worthwhile pursuit.

Watt said after the trading period ended that he isn’t interested in staying in Houston, which has a 1-6 record, for rebuilding. It should be noted that the 31 year old Wisconsin native is off to an uncharacteristic slow start this season. 

The Texans converting $2 million to $3 million of Watt’s base salary into signing bonus probably would have been a necessity since the Packers lack the cap space to take on the full remaining amount. This isn’t a foreign concept to the Texans. It was done in 2019 when Jadeveon Clowney was traded to the Seahawks.

The 2022 conditional sixth round pick would have elevated to a fifth round pick with Watt being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2021. It would have become a fourth round pick for Watt being named first team All-Pro in 2021. The elevation to a fourth round pick would have also occurred with Watt playing at least 70 percent of the remaining defensive snaps in the 2020 regular season and Green Bay winning the Super Bowl or Watt having a minimum of 70 percent defensive playtime in the Super Bowl with a Green Bay win. The pick would have increased to the third round with a Green Bay Super Bowl win in either 2020 or 2021 and Watt being named first team All-Pro in 2021. 

Trade Compensation: 2021 second round pick and 2021 fourth round pick
Remaining 2020 Salary:
$6,882,235 (Patriots 2020 salary cap savings)
Lions Current Cap Room:
$14.265 million
Patriots 2021 Dead Money:
$8,920,834 ($7,911,765 salary cap savings)

Gilmore, who is 30, was rumored to be on the trading block in the offseason. The Patriots had too steep of an asking price — a first round pick and a player — to part with Gilmore. Trading the reigning NFL Defensive Player of Year would have fit with head coach Bill Belichick’s “Patriot Way” of getting rid of a player a year too early rather than a year too late, whether it’s because of salary, performance or age. One of the rare instances this principle didn’t apply was with quarterback Tom Brady. 

The Lions have an affinity for players with a Patriots pedigree (Danny Amendola, Jamie Collins, Trey Flowers, Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton) because general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia were New England’s director of pro scouting and defensive coordinator, respectively, before going to Detroit. Both Quinn and Patricia may not survive if the Lions, who are 3-4, finish in the NFC North cellar for the third consecutive year. 

An adequate replacement hasn’t been found for cornerback Darius Slay, who was dealt to the Eagles in March for 2020 third and fifth round picks. A hamstring injury has limited Desmond Trufant to two games this season and third overall pick Jeff Okudah is playing better of late but isn’t living up to his lofty draft position.

The salary cap consequences would have ultimately changed because Gilmore’s $2.5 million of game day active roster bonuses ($156,250 per game) that were added to his deal in early September are being treated as signing bonus and prorated over this year and next year under the salary cap due to the timing of his contract renegotiation. The Patriots would have gotten a cap credit of $1,562,500, most likely in 2021, since Gilmore would have been active for only six games this season prior to the trade. The Lions would have incurred a $156,250 cap charge for each game Gilmore was active this season after his acquisition. 

Trade Compensation: Conditional 2022 fourth round pick
Remaining 2020 Salary:
$933,835 (Browns 2020 salary cap savings)
Cardinals Current Cap Room:
$6.384 million
Browns 2021 Dead Money:
None (fifth year option)

Njoku requested a trade during the offseason, which he withdrew during the preseason. The 2017 first round pick renewed the request as the trading deadline was approaching. Njoku fell to third on Cleveland’s tight end depth chart after missing three early season games with a sprained MCL. High priced free agent signee Austin Hooper is expected back from an appendectomy next week following Cleveland’s bye.

The Cardinals are in the thick of the playoff hunt with a 5-2 record. Njoku would have given the Cardinals a pass catching threat to pair with Maxx Williams, who was just designated to return from injured reserve (ankle), as the blocking tight end.

The fourth round pick would have changed to a 2021 fifth round pick without either the Cardinals winning a playoff game in 2020 or Njoku being on Arizona’s roster after the first day of the 2021 league year. The Browns picked up Njoku’s fifth year option in 2021 for $6.013 million, which is guaranteed for injury. The $6.013 million becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2021 league year.

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