It's that time of the year in the NFL, when the picture is beginning to shape up on which teams are contenders and which ones are pretenders. As the calendar prepares to flip over to November, there are several teams dominating the standings, but that doesn't mean they're perfect, by any means. Each is still looking for ways to improve as the second half of the season approaches, and that's where the NFL trade deadline on Nov. 2 becomes a very big deal. There has already been some movement around the league here and there, but not as much as what might be seen in the next few days.
So, who should be in on the wheeling and dealing? And does every contender need to be a buyer? Or should some consider holding onto their wallet while instead looking to take advantage of a potential surplus -- capitalizing on a chance to add something for the future?
Let's dig into what moves would take the list of current contenders to the next level.
Trade (out): Andy Isabella, WR
Having already made a big move in trading for tight end Zach Ertz, the Cardinals provided Kyler Murray with yet another high-end target. There aren't many areas you could point at in Arizona as a glaring need, meaning they have a shot here at making a move for the future while dominating in the present. Isabella was the odd man out before Ertz arrived, and even more so now, but the former second-round pick is drawing interest from other teams. The Cardinals might be able to ship him away in exchange for a mid-round pick, giving them back something they lost in the Ertz trade without taking a single step back offensively.
Acquire: Odell Beckham Jr., WR - Browns
Is this the swan song for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay? Given the way he's played following a very poor regular season opener, it's becoming more and more difficult to fathom the Packers letting him go, but if this is the final dance, the goal has to be to go out with a bang. Davante Adams is arguably the best WR in the NFL, but adding Beckham opposite him would level up the Packers offense going forward -- even if OBJ isn't what he was in his time with the Giants. The obvious problem here is salary, but there's always magic that can be worked there as Rodgers tries to finally get back to the Super Bowl.
Acquire: Joe Haden, CB - Steelers
The defending champions are looking as good as they've ever looked in the Tom Brady era, but their attempt at using Richard Sherman to upgrade their secondary isn't going as planned. Sherman quickly went down with a hamstring injury and is now helping coach from the sidelines instead of on the field, while Haden's future with the Steelers gets murkier by the day. Haden still has a lot of tread left on his tires, and he would instantly be what Sherman couldn't. This isn't to write off Sherman, but once he returns, there's clearly no guarantee he can stay healthy, so grabbing Haden just makes sense.
Acquire: Myles Jack, LB - Jaguars
It was curious of the Rams to trade away Kenny Young to the Broncos given their lack of depth at linebacker. And with Young now gone, the need is heightened, but here's how the Rams can flip that move into one that potentially puts them near or over the top in a season that sees them in "win now" mode after landing Matthew Stafford in the spring. It's rather clear the Jaguars are going nowhere, again, and the recent exodus of top-tier talent is headlined by Jalen Ramsey landing in LA via trade. With that pipeline established, the Rams should double dip and grab Jack to take their LB corps to the next level.
Trade (out): Anthony Brown, CB
It feels odd to say it, but there aren't many holes to fill for the Cowboys going into the trade deadline. Instead, they're so deep at many positions that they could afford to send a player or two away in exchange for draft pick(s), and oh how Dallas adores draft picks. To that point, it might be time to consider seeing what they can get for Brown, who the team has held at starter opposite Trevon Diggs with rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph on IR. Joseph will make his debut soon, though, and the team loved what they saw from rookie Nahshon Wright in camp. If they feel Joseph can jump right in, getting a pick for Brown isn't a bad idea.
Acquire: Xavien Howard, CB - Dolphins
It was a tumultuous offseason for Howard and the Dolphins, but they held firm on not trading him and instead reworked his contract to give him more guaranteed money. That was then and this is now, though, and the Dolphins are currently 1-6 with no signs of improving -- their defense currently ranked second-worst in the league. Howard is still a primo talent, and the Bengals just proved they're ready for the big stage by dismantling the Ravens in Baltimore. Adding Howard would not only help keep the Ravens at bay, but also prolific passing offenses like the one in Buffalo.
Acquire: Marlon Mack, RB - Colts
Speaking of the Ravens, there's only so much former league MVP Lamar Jackson can do. The team has been ravaged by injuries and Jackson still has them sitting at 5-2, a nod to just how lethal he is at the quarterback position. There needs to be more balance in Baltimore, though, which is to say there has to be someone else opposing defenses have to scheme for. Mack and the Colts are ready to part ways, and the Ravens are desperately in need of a young, talented halfback. If the Colts are willing to deal within the conference, they should answer the Ravens call, assuming the phone rings.
Acquire: Hayden Hurst, TE - Falcons
It felt as if the decision to draft Kyle Pitts put Hurst in a bit of a bind, and the fact Pitts has now rattled off two consecutive 100-yard games only raises more questions. Hurst is set to have contract talks with the Falcons, having proven himself a viable starter in the league, but he may not get his market value in Atlanta when the time comes. If you're the Titans -- a team that's now presumably righted its ship -- you're drooling at the thought of adding Hurst to an offense that features Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, with the trade for Jones opening a line of communication between Tennessee and Georgia that should be used again to send Hurst to Nashville.
Acquire: Lee Smith, TE - Falcons
After losing Derek Carrier and Nick Bowers to injured reserve, the Raiders are thin at TE. The definitive No. 1 is Darren Waller, but while Foster Moreau had his best game of the season in the absence of Waller in Week 7, he also had only a total of 53 receiving yards with one touchdown prior to that contest. He'll be used more going forward, but grabbing a talent like Smith to help with the TE2/TE3 duties would go a long way in helping to ensure Derek Carr doesn't have to key in on targeting Waller an insane number of times on a weekly basis. A solid veteran talent, Smith wouldn't be a blockbuster deal, but a late-round pick to the Falcons could help Rich Bisaccia keep some of the three tight end sets in his playbook. If the Falcons hold on to Hurst, Smith should be an easy get.
Acquire: Akiem Hicks, DT - Bears
It's clear the Chargers mean business in 2021. Justin Herbert is following up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020 with an equally stellar second season in the NFL, and the club is off to a 4-2 start. That doesn't mean they can't improve, though, as evidenced in how poorly they performed against the same Ravens team that got shellacked this past week by the Bengals. Put in a call to the Chicago Bears to see what it would take to put Hicks on a defensive front that also features Joey Bosa and other noticeable talent, and they'll be better equipped to take down a player like Lamar Jackson in the postseason. For the Bears, Hicks is in a contract year, so getting something in return before he potentially walks in 2022 is good business.
Acquire: Kyle Fuller, CB - Broncos
Fuller signed a one-year deal with the Broncos, but Denver is going to need a whole lot to fall in its favor in order for this season to not be yet another lost one under Vic Fangio. With that in mind, it might be time to start peeking at the possibility of stacking draft picks for April, because while they're 3-4 on the year, they've lost four in a row and their remaining slate of opponents is brutal. If they don't believe they'll keep Fuller around for 2022, or if they can (free agency is a two-way street), they'd benefit by finding out if the Bills are interested -- seeing as Buffalo might benefit greatly by playing the two-time Pro Bowler opposite Tre'Davious White.
Acquire: Brandin Cooks, WR - Texans
It's an all-out tailspin in Houston, and Cooks is one of the remaining few who have any star power for the Texans. It appears Deshaun Watson is on his way out, DeAndre Hopkins is conquering worlds for the Arizona Cardinals, and sitting at 1-6 on the year, there's no reason for Houston to sit on Cooks when they also know he has a $15.5 million cap hit looming for 2022. They can get out from under that financial cloud while also getting something in return -- presumably draft picks -- to send Cooks east to New Orleans, where they continue to be without Michael Thomas and are experiencing a rash of drops that makes life tougher for Jameis Winston.
Acquire: Marcus Mariota, QB - Raiders
Will Baker Mayfield be able to play through both a torn labrum and a bone fracture? That's asking a lot, even for the toughest of quarterbacks, leaving the Browns with the possibility of having to rely on backup quarterback Case Keenum going forward. That's a scary proposition considering Keenum is 28-35 as a starter, and while the Browns were able to hold off the struggling Broncos in Week 7, Keenum missed on 12 of his 33 pass attempts en route to 199 yards and just one touchdown. Those numbers won't cut it against the upper class of the AFC, and Mariota gives them a better chance at staving off dark days. All they have to do is convince the Raiders of Derek Carr's durability and Mariota, who has a no-trade clause, that it's better to start in Cleveland than to sit in Las Vegas.