The 2021 NFL trade deadline passed without a major blockbuster transpiring in the 11th hour. And while there was some movement in terms of in-season swaps this year, many of the trade candidates floated by outside observers did not change teams. But before we turn the page completely, I want to consider some hypothetical trades that should have happened in 2021.
Note that I am not trying to criticize any of the teams below for not making these trades -- these would-be pairings merely make sense to me, regardless of whether or not they were close to actually happening. I also know how hard it is to make a trade in the NFL. Think of the reported inability by the Saints and Browns to work out a deal for Odell Beckham, who is as in need of a change of scenery as anyone.
But while there are likely many real-world reasons that they couldn't have taken place, these moves-that-never-were still illustrate roster holes and areas of weakness for teams in need. Without further ado, here are seven trades that should have happened in 2021:
Robinson is stuck in neutral offensively during what is looking like his final year in Chicago, on pace for a shockingly low yardage total (576) while he plays on the franchise tag. I understand why there might not have been a good match for Robinson on the trade market, but it's a shame the Bears couldn't at least secure some draft capital here. As for the Chiefs, the lack of reliable targets beyond Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce is just one of many issues dogging them in 2021. But the offense -- which has been outscored by the Chiefs' opponents, 220-208 -- needs to figure something out if it is to keep up with the 29th-ranked defense. As a surehanded veteran who is also capable of breaking a big play or two, Robinson would have been a natural fit for the third-option role filled so ably by Sammy Watkins over the previous three seasons.
We can trust Sean Payton to know how to get the most out of whatever arrangement he settles on at quarterback in the wake of Jameis Winston's knee injury, whether he rolls with a combination of Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill or cooks up another option. On a certain level, it makes sense that New Orleans did not rush to make a deadline deal. And adding Garoppolo's contract likely would have been difficult to navigate for the cap-strapped team. But given that this regret-tinged reflection on what could have been is already an exercise in alternate realities, let's set all that aside. Because the idea of Payton making Garoppolo his latest reclamation project is just too tantalizing not to chew over. Imagine Garoppolo helping to shepherd New Orleans' otherwise competitive roster to the playoffs, refurbishing his reputation and maybe even setting himself up as a potential long-term option for Payton. San Francisco, meanwhile, might have benefitted from committing the rest of the season to Trey Lance's development while also extracting extra picks rather than delaying the inevitable end to the Jimmy G era.
Don't be fooled by Aaron Rodgers' ability to beat the Cardinals with Aaron Jones and Juwann Winfree as his two most-targeted pass-catchers. Randall Cobb's big scoring night (and Rodgers' recent positive test for COVID-19) aside, Green Bay's 22nd-ranked offense could still use the kind of additional help Rodgers was angling for in the offseason. Cooks would have slotted perfectly into the Packers' attack as a potent deep threat; this season, he's recorded a +9.6 percent catch rate over expectation and a passer rating of 111.9 on deep throws, ranking 13th and 12th, respectively, among those with 10-plus such targets. Houston, meanwhile, obviously would have benefitted from whatever draft picks would have come back. Time will tell if Green Bay's quiet deadline will negatively impact the Packers' postseason prospects.
The dots were extremely easy to connect here, matching a running back looking for a new team with a team in desperate need of a new running back. Alas, this pairing was not to be. Indianapolis could theoretically use the depth provided by Mack's presence for a potential late push for a postseason spot in the AFC, and teams might not have been wanting to match the Colts' price for a rental, given that Mack is headed for free agency. But the Ravens might be wishing they'd figured out a way to snag Mack when Lamar Jackson is handing the ball to Devonta Freeman in a high-stakes December or January game.
Maye got his wish: He's staying with the Jets, at least through the rest of the season. But trading for him sure would have given a boost to those playoff hopes I mentioned for the Colts in the preceding blurb. The franchise-tagged player would have nicely plugged the hole created by Julian Blackmon's Achilles tear last month, putting Indy in a better position to try to overtake the Titans during Derrick Henry's absence. Another missed opportunity: A deadline-week deal would have added additional spice to this week's Jets-Colts showdown on Thursday Night Football.
Dillard hasn't shown much since Philly selected him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Setting aside the 2020 season, which he lost to a biceps injury, Dillard has made just eight starts as a professional, playing 54 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps this season, per Pro Football Reference. But if the Eagles ever do decide to part ways with him, it would still be worth it for someone to take a flier on Dillard's first-round pedigree. And the Chargers sure could have used the help up front down the stretch. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga's been out since September, and while QB Justin Herbert has played very well for most of the season, opposing pass rushers have been getting to him, as reflected by his 88 total pressures, eighth-most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Dillard might have been able to rejuvenate his career while making life a bit easier for Herbert.
A recent tailspin has dropped Cleveland into last place in the AFC North -- but perhaps the most glaring concern is right tackle Jack Conklin's elbow injury, which will force him to miss significant time. The Browns' offense has been inconsistent, but Conklin has been a rock, ranking as Pro Football Focus' eighth-best tackle overall and fifth-best run-blocking tackle this season, undoubtedly playing a huge role in the NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing attack. If Cleveland is to still make a play for a postseason berth, the Browns will have to stabilize the offense, but that's going to be a challenge without Conklin helping to pave the way. A short-term rental like Moses -- a solid veteran having a solid season on a one-year deal with the Jets -- could have at least stabilized one problem area for the beleaguered Browns.