7 players to keep eye on as NFL trade deadline nears

There was a time in the NFL, not all that long ago, when the trade deadline was a minor mile marker on the highway to the Super Bowl.

Times have changed. Thanks to a new generation of general managers, the trade deadline is now an integral part of the NFL season, one where things actually happen!

Despite the NFL’s reputation as a stodgy league that leans toward conservative business practices, in the past 10 days we’ve seen one super-duper-star — Jalen Ramsey — get dealt for a package of draft picks, and three well-known players (Emmanuel Sanders, Mohamed Sanu and Michael Bennett) be moved as well.

And while there may not be another trade involving a player on Ramsey’s level, here are seven players I’m told — after asking around in recent days — are currently available before the Oct. 29 deadline, for the right price, of course.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Robby Anderson #11 of the New York Jets after his 33-0 win at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Robby Anderson is on a one-year deal with the Jets. (Getty Images)

WR Robby Anderson, New York Jets

Anderson, 26, is set to be a free agent after this season, and the regime that currently runs the show in New York, led by general manager Joe Douglas and coach Adam Gase, did not draft him. That means there’s little investment in the player, which means he’ll likely be with a new team in 2020. If the Jets can get something more immediate for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound speedster, they’ll strongly consider it.

Anderson is on pace to have a modest season, projected to finish with 45 catches, 709 yards and three touchdowns. He is a deep-ball threat with a knack for making big downfield plays. He scored 13 total touchdowns in 2017 and 2018 in a putrid Jets offense, and as far as rentals go, a team that could use a downfield threat (cough, Eagles, cough) could do worse.

DE/DT Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers

Expectations were high for Thomas, 24, when the 49ers made him the third overall pick in 2017 after an outstanding college career at Stanford. But in the two-plus years since, Thomas has only six sacks.

Thomas, who is listed at 6-3 and 280 pounds, is viewed as a tweener — someone who is too big (and not fluid enough) to be a pure rush end — and not big enough to consistently hold up inside. The 49ers are rolling this season at 6-0 thanks to a nasty defense but Thomas has logged only 33.2 percent of the team’s snaps, which ranks seventh among all their defensive linemen.

With Thomas’ salary-cap number rising in 2020 — it will go up from $7.6 million to $8.9 million — it makes sense for the 49ers to seek a trade partner for Thomas, especially since they’d clear zero cap space by releasing him. Yet, finding a team that would take on a fully guaranteed contract for a player without a defined role will be difficult.

EDGE Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons

Falcons coach Dan Quinn spent the offseason prodding Beasley, 27, to maximize his ability and rediscover the pass-rush mojo the team saw when it drafted him with the eighth pick of the 2015 draft.

Unfortunately for the 1-6 Falcons, it didn’t work. Despite playing in 74.1 percent of the Falcons’ snaps this year, Beasley’s production has been modest at best, as he’s recorded 14 tackles, five quarterback hurries and 1½ sacks for the league’s worst pass rush (five sacks all year). What’s more, his run defense has historically left a little to be desired.

Beasley’s lack of production in a contract year is a concern for teams, as is the fact the current regime in Atlanta (Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff) drafted him. If the price is right, there’s a chance a team would make a low-risk bet on Beasley recapturing his All-Pro form of 2016, when he racked up 15½ sacks.

LB De’Vondre Campbell, Atlanta Falcons

Campbell, 26, is in a bit of the same boat as Beasley, as teams will wonder why the same regime that drafted him is willing to move on.

The tape shows that Campbell, a four-year starter, has issues in pass coverage, and his run defense could definitely be more consistent.

But he’s a really good athlete and he’s also a steady tackler, as he leads the team with 63. Since he’s on an expiring deal (like Beasley), a team needing a stack linebacker might be intrigued.

CB Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos

Harris, 30, is still one of the game’s best cornerbacks. He’s a willing run defender (despite his size at 5-10 and 199 pounds) and a sticky cover man, both in the slot and out, with sharp eyes and ball skills. Those are valuable skills, and he’s being wasted away on this 2-5 Broncos team.

Since Harris will likely be elsewhere in 2020 — he re-upped for only a year this past offseason — it makes sense for Denver to get a draft pick for him in 2020 instead of waiting on a 2021 compensatory pick.

General manager John Elway recently said he hasn’t received any interest lately, but given the pass-happy nature of today’s game, some fringe contenders (cough, Eagles, cough) would be wise to keep checking in.

OT/OG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Philadelphia Eagles

The 26-year-old Vaitai — otherwise known as “Big V” — has been a versatile contributor for the Eagles since he was taken in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, logging snaps at left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle. At 6-6 and 320 pounds, he moves fairly well for his size, and he even started at left tackle for the 2017 Super Bowl champions.

Vaitai’s contract expires after this season, and with the Eagles’ starting group currently set — and the team’s selection of quick-footed left tackle Andre Dillard in this year’s draft — Vaitai’s days in Philly seem to be numbered, as he’ll be able to command a starting job on the open market in March.

The Eagles, at 3-4, might opt to get something for him now, especially if a lineman-needy team — like Cleveland — comes calling.

DE Leonard Williams, New York Jets

Many projected Williams, 25, to be a star when the Jets selected him with the sixth pick of the 2015 draft.

It has not happened. Williams has averaged about four sacks a year from 2015 to 2018, and this year he has recorded zero sacks and five quarterback hits for the 1-5 Jets, despite leading their defensive linemen in snap percentage with 75 percent.

Considering he’s slated to be a free agent next spring, that’s disappointing production for a contract season. And when you throw in the fact that again, there’s a new regime in New York — one that did not draft him — it makes sense why the Jets would be looking to move on.

Any team that trades for Williams would have to absorb the remainder of his $14.2 million cap number for 2019, which isn’t great. But he is regarded as a solid run defender with the athleticism to be a good interior rush, and given his youth it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone bet on their ability to get the best out of a player who was once regarded as the best player in his draft class.

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