Identifying Super Bowl contenders in win-now mode is rather simple this time of year.
The Kansas City Chiefs wasted little time stacking a complete offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes after watching helplessly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers devoured their half-billion dollar quarterback in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were in the running for multiple left tackles, acquired Orlando Brown from the Ravens and signed the top interior lineman on the market in guard Joe Thuney. We’re betting former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, recovering from a torn Achilles, gets a reunion offer there, too.
Keeping pace with the Chiefs was a challenge for pretty much every team this side of Tampa. The Buccaneers committed to a run-it-back tour by keeping all of their key parts from the Lombardi float trip and brought in another durable running back in Giovani Bernard.
Will other 2020 contenders remain in the thick of it all by hitting home runs in the 2021 draft?
Here are five trades we’d suggest for potential title teams in 2021:
1. Buffalo Bills trade up, draft Alabama running back Najee Harris
Josh Allen‘s contract is headline news in New York, but the roadmap to the AFC Championship game involves finding a reliable RB1 first.
Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams are all sensible targets for the Bills with the 30th overall selection. To get Harris, the Bills likely need to jump ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (24th) and get into the high teens. Depending on the number of wide receivers and cornerbacks off the board in the top 15 — we’re counting on five quarterbacks — it’s possible Harris might not last even that long.
He’s a bruiser with dominant production in the SEC and the Derrick Henry comparisons go beyond the Tide connection.
Buffalo didn’t get what it wanted from Zack Moss and Devin Singletary can’t handle a lunchpail workload. Allen as a leading rusher is a good way for the Bills to work their way out of the AFC playoff conversation.
2. Denver Broncos acquire No. 4 pick from Atlanta Falcons
Depending on which side of the fence you stand on this time of year, whispers about Trey Lance or Mac Jones as the No. 3 pick are leaving open the possibility that Justin Fields will be available to the highest bidder starting with the fourth pick.
The Atlanta Falcons can ask for a mint to move out of this spot or attempt to rebuild on the fly.
The Falcons can’t afford to trade Matt Ryan — literally, his cap hit is too great under the 2021 structure — so they part with the fourth overall pick and get Nos. 9 and 40 from the Broncos in return.
Denver drafts Fields after closely courting him the past two months and the Falcons can consider Jones or the best offensive lineman available with the ninth pick.
At No. 40, the Falcons are well equipped to take a flier on a pass rusher such as Miami’s Gregory Rousseau or Michigan’s Kwity Paye.
Fields isn’t a must-start immediately for the Broncos depending on Drew Lock‘s development, but he’s the future for one of the few NFL teams with no answer to that all-important question.
3. Miami Dolphins acquire No. 8 pick from the Carolina Panthers for Nos. 18, 50
The Dolphins are ready to cash in on their rebuilding bounty and give Tua Tagovailoa everything he needs to succeed.
Already armed with the sixth overall pick, the Dolphins slide back into the top 10 to guarantee coming away with two of the top playmakers in the draft.
That should equal an offense that centers around Tagovailoa, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and either LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith or dynamic Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
4. Chicago Bears acquire No. 5 pick from Cincinnati Bengals
Unless general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have gone through the double secret handshake with president and CEO Ted Phillips, their necks are on the line again this season.
Missing the playoffs and then taking the field with either Andy Dalton or Nick Foles and no plan beyond that is swimming with sharks — with an open wound, in a fish tank.
Does Jones warrant the fifth overall pick?
We can’t decide. He’s a proven winner, has enough arm and would be more of a marketing play than the Red Rifle.
The trouble with missing on top five quarterbacks is the setback that follows (see Trubisky, Mitchell).
The trouble with not taking the necessary risks to find the right man for the job? Pace and Nagy would be risking their own jobs by standing pat.
To get to this spot from No. 20, Pace parts with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the 20th pick and Chicago’s 2022 first-rounder.
5. Green Bay Packers acquire No. 10 pick from the Dallas Cowboys.
With all of the offensive firepower owner Jerry Jones coveted off the board, Dallas takes a bundle of picks from Mike McCarthy‘s old team and Green Bay breaks character.
But while Aaron Rodgers celebrates at the thought of another playmaker, Green Bay selects Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons to man the middle of a new-look defense. Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn could also invite interest.
Dallas slides all the way down to 29 where safety is a good match. The Cowboys add a second-round pick to address defensive shortcomings in bulk.
–By Jeff Reynolds (@ReynoldsJD), Field Level Media