NFL teams are not typically in the business of making big in-season trades.
Complementary pieces are, of course, swapped with some regularity, and this offseason included a handful of eye-catching deals, but the annual trade deadline usually does not produce the kind of frenzy one might see in MLB or the NBA.
Still, with this year's Nov. 3 deadline rapidly approaching, I thought I'd come up with a list of trades I'd like to see. Before we dive into the list, I should note that, with the market being as tough as it is, getting fair value for a player will be difficult, with price in terms of draft picks generally being a round lower than what it should be based on talent. I should also emphasize that these are not predictions, merely hypothetical trades that would make sense if they came to pass. In other words, some teams are included in multiple deals below, but that doesn't necessarily mean I expect any one team to actually pull off every move I suggest. Below is the list, arranged in alphabetical order by player name:
Vernon Davis, TE, to the Broncos
Denver seems to be missing tight end Julius Thomas, who departed via free agency last offseason. Through the team's first six games last season, Thomas had nine touchdown catches, two more than the entire pass-catching corps has thus far in 2015. As good as their defense is, the Broncos have a quarterback who's been struggling and is nearing the end of the trail. They have to do everything possible to win it all this year, and the more weapons they can give Peyton Manning, the better. Davis is stuck on a bad Niners team that needs to retool. The 31-year-old hasn't done much this season, but it looks like he has enough in the tank to contribute on a Super Bowl competitor. I'd expect Davis to get a big psychological boost in moving from a cellar-dweller to a Super Bowl contender. I could see him traded for a sixth-round pick.
(UPDATE: On Monday, the Niners agreed to send Davis to the Broncos in exchange for Denver's 2017 sixth-round pick, with the teams also swapping late-round picks in 2016.)
Matt Forte, RB, to the Broncos
Forte, who is set to hit free agency this offseason, is a good runner and a good receiver -- he's everything you want on a short-term basis. I think it'd be easy enough for the veteran back to adjust to a new scheme in-season; in fact, I think he'd be a pretty good fit for Gary Kubiak's system. I would think he could learn the system and his responsibilities quickly, especially with the jolt of extra motivation that comes from joining an elite team. Forte will turn 30 in December and is in his eighth pro season, but he looks every bit as good today as he did coming out of Tulane, with 507 rushing yards (sixth-most in the NFL) and 698 yards from scrimmage (fourth-most). Denver's 30th-ranked ground game could really use a back of Forte's caliber. If I were the Bears, I'd hope to get a third-round pick for him, but in this trade market, I could see him moving for a fourth. Of course, the Broncostraded away their fourth-round pick last April, so that could get tricky. Adding Forte would take priority over adding a tight end like Davis.
Tamba Hali, OLB, to the Falcons
The 2-5 Chiefs should think about selling off some veterans. The 31-year-old Hali is set to be a free agent, and Kansas City has a former first-round draft pick in Dee Ford presumably waiting in the wings to replace Hali. Hali might be in his 10th season, but he's coming off a five-tackle, two-sack performance in which he also forced a fumble, and he could definitely help the Falcons. Atlanta ranks second against the run but 25th against the pass, with a league-low eight sacks -- if Hali can boost the Falcons' pass rush, their defense could suddenly become a factor. He's probably worth a fifth-rounder, but I'd be happy with a sixth if I were the Chiefs.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, to the Giants
NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport has reported that Jeffery is thought to be among the players Chicago is highly unlikely to trade. But the fact is, he's in the final year of his contract, and his agent, Eugene Parker, is a tough negotiator. While the team could turn to the franchise tag to keep Jeffery on, it might behoove the Bears to see what they could get for him in a deal. He's not a speedy big-play guy, but he's a dependable pass-catcher who can move the chains. The Giants could use him to add depth, especially as they're still waiting on Victor Cruz to get healthy. Of course, the signability factor limits Jeffery's trade value to the point that Chicago might not get more than a fifth- or sixth-round pick back.
Calvin Johnson, WR, to the Panthers
The thing that might make 1-6 Detroit want to move Johnson -- his high salary -- is also the thing that makes trading him very difficult. However, this is about trades I'd like to see, and Johnson to the Panthers makes sense. 6-0 Carolina has obviously been pretty good, but the team needs a wide receiver, and I'm not sure how far the Panthers can get without adding help. And while the 30-year-old Johnson might be picking up fewer yards per catch this season (13.3) than at any other point in his career, he would definitely qualify as help. Of course, Johnson's true value -- the face of the Lions' franchise would be worth a second-round pick at least -- is much higher than what the team could likely get for him on the market: something like a fifth-rounder, given the level of money involved. Perhaps the Panthers, who would also have to do some tinkering to make the numbers work, would do well to look toward Jeffery instead.
Derrick Johnson, ILB, to the Packers
The Packers tend to prefer to build from within, but their run defense has been a weak spot this season, and Johnson could be exactly what they need to ensure a Super Bowl push. Johnson is 32 and coming off an Achilles injury, but he's playing well this year, having contributed 38 tackles, four passes defensed, a pick and a sack. He's simply a darn good football player, someone who can stop the run but also make plays in space. Rookie Ramik Wilson has made two starts and is waiting in the wings for Kansas City, and the Chiefs could ship Johnson to Green Bay for a sixth-round pick.
Ronald Leary, OG, to the Steelers
The Steelers have a hole at left tackle, with Kelvin Beachum done for the year, and acquiring Leary would allow them to move someone like guard David DeCastro into that spot. Leary lost his starting job in Dallas to talented rookie La'el Collins, and he is injury-prone, but he'd still represent an upgrade for Pittsburgh, which could stand to add protection for Ben Roethlisberger. I could actually see Leary fetching a relatively high price, perhaps a fourth-rounder.
Sean Smith, CB, to the Patriots
Three years ago, Bill Belichick successfully landed some needed cornerback help when he plucked Aqib Talib from the Bucs. This season, Smith could be Belichick's Talib. The seventh-year pro fits the Patriots' mold as a tall (6-foot-3) corner with long arms, and he could really help their secondary. I could see him moving for a sixth-rounder.