The NFL trade deadline might not be as exciting as its counterparts in other major North American sports. In fact, it tends to pale in comparison to those deadlines and other events on its own league-year calendar, including free agency and the NFL draft.
That said, it’s still a critical part of the NFL’s in-season calendar. It represents the last chance for teams to get significant upgrades without having to battle other teams for each player’s service on the free-agent market and waiver wire.
MORE: Latest Deshaun Watson trade rumors
Also, the NFL trade deadline has become more active in recent years. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused teams to reassess their salary cap situations, so that could play a part in this year’s deadline.
If a team isn’t competing now or isn’t using a player on a big contract, they may look to offload some of their assets to open up future salary cap space to rebuild. That’s part of why we’ve already seen guys like Stephon Gilmore and Zach Ertz get traded.
There will be plenty of trade rumors before the deadline. Many will surround embattled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but several other players on teams going nowhere could emerge, like Brandin Cooks and Jamison Crowder. So too could players that are just poor fits on their current teams (we’re looking at you, Odell Beckham Jr.).
Below is everything you need to know about the details of the 2021 NFL trade deadline, including a list of potential targets for teams looking to make deals.
IYER: One trade deadline deal every move should make in 2021
When is the NFL trade deadline 2021?
- Date: Tuesday, Nov. 2
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
The NFL trade deadline will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET. Some trades may not be announced until after 4 p.m. ET, but all must be agreed upon and filed to the league office before that time.
There were a handful of trades before the deadline in 2020, but just one occurred in 2019. There will be plenty of trade rumors ahead of the trade deadline in 2021
Can NFL teams trade after the deadline?
NFL teams cannot trade after the trade deadline. Teams won’t be able to complete trades until the new league year begins in March 2022. The NFL hasn’t officially announced when the new league year begins, though it usually comes on eve of free agency.
Teams can, however, agree to deals in principle before the league year opens. That happens on occasion during the offseason, as we saw with the Rams’ trade for Matthew Stafford in 2021 and Washington’s trade for Alex Smith in 2018.
NFL TRADE GRADES: Stephon Gilmore
NFL trade news
— Oct. 25: The Rams trade linebacker Kenny Young and a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Broncos for a 2024 sixth-round pick.
— Oct. 23: The Broncos acquire defensive end Stephen Weatherly and a 2023 seventh-round pick from the Vikings for a 2022 seventh-round pick.
— Oct. 15: The Cardinals acquire tight end Zach Ertz from the Eagles in exchange for cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick.
— Oct. 6: The Patriots trade cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers for a 2023 sixth-round pick.
— Oct. 5: The Dolphins trade wide receiver and turn man Jakeem Grant to the Bears for a 2023 sixth-round pick.
NFL trade deadline rumors: Potential trade targets
The NFL expanded its postseason in 2020, so now 14 teams make the NFL playoffs. That means that more teams are in the playoff hunt and thus, there are more buyers on the trade market.
That hypothetically makes it more appealing for some of the league’s cellar dwellers to offload talent, as there is more competition for available assets. Teams like the Texans, Dolphins and Jets could opt to accelerate their rebuilds while a few players from potential playoff contenders could use changes of scenery as well.
QB Deshaun Watson, Texans
Watson is the biggest potential prize of the NFL trade deadline. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he is also dealing with a ton of legal troubles off the field, as he has been accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct in 22 lawsuits. The NFL has yet to rule him ineligible to play, however, so he could play this year.
The Texans want at least three first-round picks for Watson. Will a team pay that much considering his issues? That much remains unclear.
MORE: Can Deshaun Watson play this year?
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
Beckham’s time with the Browns hasn’t gone as expected. He has posted just 226 receiving yards on 16 catches in five games this year and has never shown good chemistry with Baker Mayfield during his time in Cleveland. Beckham is still a very talented receiver, so perhaps a contender that needs a receiver — like the Packers — could make a deal to acquire the 28-year-old receiver.
CB Kyle Fuller, Broncos
The Broncos have a deep cornerback room. They spent the No. 9 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Patrick Surtain and have used Ronald Darby and Bryce Callahan as their nickel starters this year. That has left Fuller as the odd man out when Darby has been healthy.
Fuller has appeared in 102 games with 99 starts during his career and has 19 interceptions. The 29-year-old can still function as a starter, so perhaps a playoff team will look to acquire the veteran.
OT Andre Dillard, Eagles
Dillard is a former first-round pick but has never emerged as a starter for the Eagles. Instead, Jordan Mailata has emerged as their left tackle of the future. Dillard won’t be a free agent until 2023, so the team could opt to keep him as a swing tackle through next season.
However, if a team views Dillard as a starter, perhaps they’ll give the Eagles an enticing package for him. After all, Dillard looked good in place of an injured Mailata earlier in the season.
RB Marlon Mack, Colts
Mack has actually demanded a trade away from the Colts. He is buried behind Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines in the Colts’ backfield rotation but has averaged 4.4 yards per carry during his career. He could be a good part of a backfield rotation and with so many backs banged-up, a contender could look at him as a cheap upgrade.
WR Brandin Cooks, Texans
Cooks, 28, has already been traded three times during his NFL career. He might be happy to be traded again to leave the Texans. Cooks is on pace for a 107-catch, 1,283-yard season with the Texans, and that’s working with Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills. Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes would surely appreciate Cooks’ service as a No. 2 receiver.
DE L.J. Collier, Seahawks
Collier had three sacks as a rotational player for the Seahawks last year. This year, he has played in just two games while being a healthy scratch in others. That’s not the production you want from a former first-round pick. The Seahawks could look to move him if they don’t see a future with him in Seattle. And another team could take a chance on his athletic upside.
WR Andy Isabella, Cardinals
Like Collier, Isabella is a former high draft pick (second-round pick) who has had trouble cracking Arizona’s deep receiver rotation. He’s a lightning-fast receiver who can help teams looking to add speed to their offense. The Cardinals probably wouldn’t ask for a lot in exchange for Isabella, who hasn’t played an offensive snap and has played just six special teams snaps overall.
WR Jamison Crowder, Jets
The Jets have invested a lot in the receiver position the last two offseasons, adding free agents Corey Davis and Keelan Cole to the fold and spending second-round picks on Denzel Mims (2020) and Elijah Moore (2021). Crowder is a quality slot receiver and the 28-year-old would be an instant upgrade in the slot for teams battling for a Wild Card spot.
RB Melvin Gordon, Broncos
Would the Broncos trade Gordon? They just spent a second-round pick on Javonte Williams, so it’s possible. The two have played relatively evenly so far, but if the team wants to unleash the UNC product Williams, unloading Gordon could pay dividends. Gordon is one of the better RBs that could be traded, as he is averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season.
WR N’Keal Harry, Patriots
Harry hasn’t worked out since being a first-round pick by the Patriots in 2019. He has fallen behind on the Patriots’ receiver depth chart, as Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor are all ahead of him. Harry may need a change of scenery to realize his potential and Bill Belichick is never afraid to make moves on the trade market.
MORE: Why the Eagles traded Zach Ertz
Why are NFL trades so rare?
The NFL’s trade deadline is arguably the weakest of the four major United States’ sports leagues, as it has decidedly less action than the NBA, the NHL and MLB.
However, there is a reason for that. Mainly, it’s due to the way the NFL’s salary cap works, as Sporting News contributor Jason Fitzgerald detailed in a 2019 piece.