The NFL’s trade deadline hits at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1st. There has already been some interesting trade activity around the league, notably RB Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers to the 49ers and EDGE Robert Quinn leaving Chicago for Philadelphia.
It’s been quiet on the trade front in Detroit. Other than some rumored interest in tight end T.J. Hockenson, which the club refuted over the weekend, the Lions have not been linked to any players coming or going beyond message board wishlists and comment section speculation.
Still in the early stages of a massive rebuild, the Lions aren’t expected to be active players in the trade market. GM Brad Holmes will work the phones to see what might be out there, and he could find some interesting offers as either a buyer or a seller.
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When losing teams are sellers at the deadline, it generally involves jettisoning players on expiring contracts. Some of the players who are reportedly available in this circumstance include Washington DL DaRon Payne and Cleveland RB Kareem Hunt.
It can be a great way to pick up a useful player for a bargain price. The problem for the Lions is that the team is no position to give up any assets for a player who will only be in Detroit through the rest of the 2022 season.
Take Payne. He’s a proven commodity at a position where the Lions can use help. However, he’s under contract for just the final nine games of this season, then he’s a free agent. The Lions do not have the available cap room to offer him an extension prior to free agency, not one that he and his agent wouldn’t laugh at.
Giving up a (hypothetical) Day 2 pick for a player for nine games makes no sense for a 1-6 team. The Lions are well-aware of that fact. Whatever the opposite of tanking for better draft resources is, this would be it.
Some other players who fit in this category include Browns RB D’Ernest Johnson, Jaguars TE Dan Arnold and Raiders S Jonathan Abram.
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It would be a big surprise if the Lions make a trade for any player that would move the fan’s excitement needle, but there are a couple of potential targets that make some sense. These are players who are under contract through at least 2023 at affordable rates and offer upgrade potential over the players the Lions currently have in their spots.
San Francisco 49ers CB Ambry Thomas jumps out as this type of player. A third-round pick in 2021 out of Michigan, Thomas keeps getting passed over by the Niners coaches despite major injuries in their secondary. He’s a very impressive athlete, a 6-0 outside CB with 4.37 speed and a 38-inch vertical. Thomas started five games as a rookie but has fallen deep out of the rotation, playing just 24 defensive snaps all year. He’s signed through 2024 and could likely be had for a Day 3 pick or a player the 49ers value higher than the Lions do at this point.
Vikings guard Chris Reed is another. Signed this offseason as a free agent from the Colts, Reed was projected to start for Minnesota at right guard before getting injured in training camp. He’s healthy now (a healthy scratch every week this season) but lost his gig to impressive rookie Ed Ingram. Reed, 30, is under contract through 2023 at an affordable $2.75 million, and he’s got 29 career starts across three different OL positions with three different teams. He could be Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s replacement at a much cheaper rate and with more proven pedigree than what might come available in the offseason.
Hockenson is the most obvious trade candidate, in part because he’s one of the few talented players on the team the Lions could deem expendable long-term. If the Lions are not interested in locking up Hockenson, 25, on a long-term deal at some point before his $9.4 million fifth-year option ends after the 2023 season, they might never get more in return than they would right now. The going rate for TEs of Hockenson’s caliber is around $14-$15 million per season.
Running back D’Andre Swift could have some value if another team is willing to gamble on his ability to stay healthy for the rest of the season. A healthy Swift is capable of exploding for 155 rushing yards against a great defense, as he did in Week 1 versus the Eagles. Since then, he’s rolled an ankle, sprained a shoulder and rushed for just 93 yards. That includes five carries for six yards in Week 8, a game where he ran tentatively–an ongoing issue for the third-year RB. Like Hockenson, he’s under contractual control through the 2023 season. That can either be a reason to keep him in Detroit or coax a more appealing offer from a team that might want to deal for him.
Theoretically, Holmes and the Lions could shop players like DL Michael Brockers and CB Amani Oruwariye, but it’s extraordinarily unlikely any team would give up any compensation for two players who were justifiably healthy scratches in the last month from the NFL’s worst defense. Guard Logan Stenberg and injured WR Quintez Cephus are like that on the offensive side of the ball.
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Neither buying nor selling is the NFL norm, though this year’s activities at the deadline are perking up. I don’t expect the Lions to make any moves, based on information from reliable sources as well as the reality of being a 1-6 team without any real talent to deal away or money to be a convincing buyer.
Look at it this way…
Imagine you’re a fan of a contending team, say the Buffalo Bills. Your GM opts to give away a fourth-round pick in 2023 for a player like LB Alex Anzalone or RB Justin Jackson, unimpactful players from the worst team in the league. How would you react to that as a fan? That’s where the Lions are at the trade deadline.