Imagining Hypothetical NFL Trades That Could Change the Playoff Landscape

Since the NFL trade deadline has passed, teams are limited to the free-agent market for potential reinforcements.

What if that wasn’t the case, though?

Division races and wild-card chases are heating up around the league, but key injuries are starting to plague rosters. Meanwhile, non-contenders are beginning to eye the offseason, where notable contributors will hit free agency and may leave for nothing in return.

Very Serious Football Analysis is happening all over, and Bleacher Report has you covered there, too.

For a moment, however, let’s dream up some hypotheticals and envision how a handful of trades could change the final six weeks of the regular season. Each player included is an impending free agent who would join a contender.

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The Houston Texans are one of the best surprises of the 2023 season. They have surged to a 6-5 record and firmly sit in the AFC wild-card hunt.

But they just received some bad news: Left guard Tytus Howard is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

That’s yet another hit to Houston’s already decimated offensive line. Juice Scruggs, a 2023 second-round pick, is the likely replacement for Howard.

Meanwhile, the 2-9 New England Patriots are spiraling toward the worst record in the AFC.

If allowed, Mike Onwenu would be an excellent trade chip. The versatile lineman is the Pats’ right tackle, but he started at right guard in 2022 and previously aligned at left guard.

New England would avoid seeing him possibly sign elsewhere in March, while the Texans could immediately improve the protection in front of breakout rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

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It seems unlikely—as of now—that Jaylon Johnson will return to the Chicago Bears. He requested a trade before the deadline and the Bears allowed him to a seek a move, although they didn’t end up dealing him.

One month ago, the New Orleans Saints didn’t have a major need at corner. That changed less than two weeks later.

Star cornerback Marshon Lattimore exited the Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings with an ankle injury. New Orleans recently placed him on injured reserveso Lattimore cannot return until Week 16 at the earliest.

In the wide-open NFC South, the 5-6 Saints—who are tied with the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the division—still have a path to the playoffs.

Adding Johnson would not guarantee an NFC South crown for the Saints, but he’d bolster a secondary that is missing its top corner.

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Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips missed a few games earlier in the season, but he was otherwise been fulfilling the expectations of a breakout season. After returning in mid-October, the third-year edge-rusher had notched a sack in five straight games.

However, Phillips tore his right Achilles during Miami’s win over the New York Jets on Black Friday. He’ll now be sidelined for the rest of the season.

In his place, the Dolphins signed veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. Wouldn’t it be great if they could’ve landed Brian Burns, though?

Burns is due for a new contract this offseason, and negotiations with the Carolina Panthers seemingly have not progressed. The Panthers could franchise-tag him, but players typically do not like playing without a long-term contract.

Carolina reportedly rebuffed offers for Burns at the deadline. In a hypothetical world, however, the Dolphins could reinforce their defense while the Panthers fully commit to their rebuild.

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Can you imagine Derrick Henry as a change-of-pace option? That’s a real Madden-level roster situation.

While the 4-7 Tennessee Titans drift toward missing the playoffs, the soon-to-be 30-year-old is also approaching free agency. His contract voids following the season, and the Titans probably should move in a new direction. After all, they drafted fellow running back Tyjae Spears with a third-round pick this past spring.

Henry remains effective, however, and the Dallas Cowboys could use a half-season jolt.

Henry’s greatest value is his strength. Tony Pollard is a quality back, but he isn’t the short-yardage and red-zone powerhouse that Henry has always been.

Throw in Henry’s strong pass-blocking value, and Dallas would add another element to its diverse, productive offense.

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On the bright side, the Baltimore Ravens appear to finally have landed a long-term receiver with rookie Zay Flowers.

Lamar Jackson still needs more help, though—especially now that his favorite target, veteran tight end Mark Andrews, will be sidelined for at least the next few weeks due to an ankle injury.

Mike Evans, you (would) have a call on Line 1.

Prior to the season, Evans’ representation gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a deadline for a contract extension. The two sides never reached an agreement, so Evans will be a free agent in March and could leave.

Baltimore currently leads the AFC at 9-3, but we’ve seen this movie before. Basically every year, the Ravens offense has stumbled in the playoffs. Part of that lands on Jackson, but part of it falls on the supporting cast.

Evans, who ranks second in the league with nine touchdown catches, would instantly be Baltimore’s much-needed top receiver.

2023-12-01 12:02:55
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