NFL teams looking for a Super Bowl boost can choose among some aging defensive stars at trade deadline

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

For NFL teams with Super Bowl aspirations and a void at cornerback this season, the opportunity to plug a hole will never get better than now.

As the league’s trade market builds toward a potentially frenzied final day into Tuesday’s deadline, no position is suddenly more ripe for the picking than the cornerback spot. This despite the best available player at the position (Jalen Ramsey) already having been traded from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams, the next-most-pursued player (Patrick Peterson) being kept off the market altogether, and another high-end talent (Marcus Peters) going from the Rams to the Baltimore Ravens.

While that took some steam out of the defensive trade market, it didn’t entirely deflate it. Particularly for teams that might be looking for a quick three-month fix — a commitment that is just long enough to make a Super Bowl run before parting company. Typically, it’s rare for that type of cornerback booster shot to become available, but heading into Tuesday’s deadline, the cornerback trade market still features four former All-Pros and a fifth player who was one of the biggest free-agent signings of 2018. Among the players who will be available heading into Tuesday’s deadline:

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Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos: A three-time All-Pro, Harris hits free agency in a few months and also turns 31 in June. He’s still a top-10 cornerback in the league — despite not being a perfect fit for some of the defensive changes under Vic Fangio. Of all the cornerbacks on the block, Harris is the one who could be the Super Bowl booster for the right team. He has the talent and leadership teams covet and should also be worthy of one more contract that takes him through at least 2021.

The one hangup: Denver still likes him and hopes to re-sign him this offseason. The Broncos also know that dealing him would completely scuttle that possibility.

Denver's Chris Harris Jr. is considered a top cornerback in the league. (USA TODAY Sports)
Denver's Chris Harris Jr. is considered a top cornerback in the league. (USA TODAY Sports)

Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants: A man cover corner who has seen better days since his All-Pro nod in 2016, the simple truth is that Jenkins hasn’t always been surrounded by the best talent in the Giants’ secondary. He has also suffered some significant lapses in consistency and looked like he’s guessing at times. He turns 31 on Tuesday and could use a fresh start.

The good news for any team acquiring him is that his next team would be responsible for only $11.25 million of the final year of his contract if they keep him. On the flip-side, if they don’t like what they see, they can cut Jenkins in the offseason and pay nothing in 2020. Essentially, it would be a glorified tryout with the hopes he’d get back some form with a change of scenery.

Aqib Talib, Rams: Dealing Talib would be a salary dump for the Rams to set up another trade. They’d be trying to shed the remainder of Talib’s salary this season (roughly $4.2 million left to pay out) so that they could get in play for another trade.

Right now, the Rams have between $4 million to $5 million in salary-cap space. Shedding Talib and potentially a few other players would likely be done as a precursor to completing another blockbuster deal — possibly for an offensive lineman. It would be somewhat similar to the team moving on from Marcus Peters to help make room for Jalen Ramsey. It’s unlikely given the lack of draft picks to offer on the market, but the Rams want to be aggressive right into the deadline regardless of their perceived limitations.

As for Talib, he’s 33 and unlikely to be more than a year-to-year player after this season. Any team acquiring him would have to be certain he knows the defensive system he’s joining (like, say, the New England Patriots) and also that he could still be helpful after he comes off injured reserve in Week 16 (for a team like, say, the New England Patriots).

Josh Norman, Washington Redskins: He has been bad for Washington, which wants to get out from under his massively overpriced contract as soon as possible. Barring a miracle, he wouldn’t be back for the Redskins next year anyway.

At this point, if Washington can get anything of value for Norman, it will take it. In the right system, he might still be useful for a team. But this is a total rental situation for a team that thinks it can protect Norman’s flaws in coverage and isn’t afraid of his personality. He turns 32 in December and doesn’t appear to have a lot left in the tank. That’s a thin market.

Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets: Signed in 2018, he’s one of the biggest free-agent mistakes of the past Jets administration — to the point the Jets will likely cut Johnson in the offseason and eat the $12 million in dead money rather than keep him around. That said, he’s the youngest of this bunch, turning 30 on New Year’s Day. If someone is willing to take a flier on Johnson returning to the form that once made him worthy of a franchise tag for the Rams, then he’ll get a look. It’s more likely the Jets are strapped to him. And even if there is a buyer, it’s still likely the Jets would have to eat some of Johnson’s base salary just to get away from him.


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