A look at top NFL playoff contenders after the league’s trade deadline
Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Geno Smith got help; Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott carry on
Most of the NFL’s top playoff contenders stood pat Tuesday as the league’s trade deadline passed, which isn’t surprising.
Unlike in other major pro sports leagues (MLB and the NBA immediately come to mind), the NFL’s in-season trade market is suppressed by myriad factors, including salary cap issues, club executives being unwilling to part with future mid- to high-round draft picks, and injuries. Additionally, the NFL trade deadline is way too early in the season. Moving the date to mid-November, for example, would enable contending teams to better assess their needs closer to the postseason.
With this season’s pre-deadline movement complete, several teams expected to vie for playoff berths now must rely on their current rosters, for the most part, for the remainder of the season. Clubs are permitted to sign free agents and trades still can occur, but players must clear waivers to change teams.
Let’s examine how several teams high in the standings handled things and assess their rosters.
Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest area of need: Wide receiver.
Key move made before the deadline: Re-acquired wide receiver/return specialist Mecole Hardman Jr. from the New York Jets on Oct. 18. The Kansas City Chiefs sent a 2025 sixth-round pick to the Jets for Hardman and a 2025 seventh-round pick.
Looking ahead: After only six games in which he was targeted three times, Hardman, a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams during his first stint with the Chiefs, was moved out of New York. Kansas City welcomed back Hardman as the team moved to bolster its struggling receiving corps.
The defending Super Bowl champs have a league-high 18 dropped passes, and the team’s fans have seemed downright apoplectic while expressing concern about the shaky group on social media. Truth is, veteran wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore have been major disappointments. Still, the team is 6-2, atop the AFC West and tied for the best record in the conference.
In quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have the NFL’s best player. Superstar tight end Travis Kelce remains a force in the passing game, and promising rookie wideout Rashee Rice is emerging as a playmaker. The Chiefs need more production from others, however, and Hardman, the team’s second-round pick in 2019, could help. But Hardman, who had his best season as a rookie with the Chiefs, isn’t a top-of-the-roster receiver.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who’s second to none in the NFL at roster construction, isn’t one to often expend significant draft capital in pursuit of trades at this time of the year. And even if the Chiefs had been in the market for a top wideout, it’s highly unlikely any were truly available. Hopefully for the Chiefs, Hardman will provide a spark, and Toney and Moore especially will reward coach Andy Reid for sticking with them.
They’ve still got time to make it happen. But it’s getting late.
Biggest area of need: Safety
Key move made before the deadline: Acquired standout safety Kevin Byard from the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 23. The Eagles added Byard, both a two-time All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler, for fifth- and sixth-round draft picks in the 2024 draft and safety Terrell Edmunds.
Looking ahead: Starting with star quarterback Jalen Hurts, the defending NFC champion is loaded on both sides of the ball. Safety appears to be the team’s only significant concern, so general manager Howard Roseman, a rock star roster architect, addressed the position by adding one of the league’s best. Byard is equally effective in deep coverage and in run support.
At 7-1, the Eagles have the league’s best record and are alone in first in the NFC East. Even before adding Byard, Philadelphia appeared to be well-positioned to make another Super Bowl run. With Byard, well, things got a whole lot tougher for the Eagles’ opponents.
Biggest area of need: Pass rushing
Key move made before the deadline: Acquired defensive lineman Leonard Williams from the New York Giants. On Tuesday, the Seahawks sent a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick to the Giants for Williams.
At 5-2, the Seahawks lead the NFC West. Although quarterback Geno Smith – last season’s AP Comeback Player of the Year – leads a talented team, Seattle had room for improvement in applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Williams should help. He has 22 quarterback pressures this season, which now ranks second on the Seahawks.
Williams, who had a personal-best 11.5 sacks in 2020, often draws double teams, which results in opportunities for his teammates across the defensive line. He’s also stout against the run and plays with high energy.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, one of the league’s top talent evaluators, have had a successful, long-running partnership. Trading for Williams could help them keep the good times rolling.
Biggest area of need: No glaring roster holes
Key move made before the deadline: No moves made
Coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta like the team they’ve built, and what’s not to like? Superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson is atop a deep and versatile roster. Jackson is completing 70.5% of his passes, which ranks third in the league, for the AFC North leaders (6-2), who are tied for the conference’s best record.
On defense, the Ravens have been outstanding. Baltimore ranks both first in yards per game and points per game, limiting opponents to only 15.1.
The Ravens have the look of a team built to succeed in the postseason.
Biggest area of need: All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs and starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch are sidelined for the remainder of the season because of injuries.
Key move made before the deadline: No moves made
A few weeks ago, the Cowboys were reeling after a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers that put quarterback Dak Prescott under the microscope again. Since then, the Cowboys have won consecutive games and are coming off a blowout victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Prescott has rebounded nicely for Dallas (5-2), which trails only Philadelphia in the NFL East. The Cowboys have assembled a strong roster, and players the caliber of Diggs and Vander Esch simply weren’t available in the trade market.