The Biggest Holes Left On Contenders After The NFL Trade Deadline

The 2019 NFL trade deadline often has more bark than bite, with a lot of names swirling around for several weeks but only a few actually changing addresses. There has been a little more movement in recent seasons, but still fairly light in comparison to other sports.

We shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed by this. Compared to a sport like baseball that consistently has a dynamic trade deadline, in football it’s not so easy to integrate new players midseason, and there are only so many games for them to make an impact. That means teams aren’t as likely to pull the trigger on a deal for a guy when they can’t be certain how well he’ll fit in schematically and culturally. 

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Having said that, if you fancy yourself a contender and have a glaring weakness in your roster, it might be worth making a move if the potential improvement is large enough. It’s both cheaper and easier to upgrade from bottom-tier to average at a spot than it is to acquire an elite talent.

Which teams had the opportunity to make such an upgrade, but didn’t end up making a deal over the last couple weeks? I used Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points system to evaluate each contending team’s roster, looking for gaping holes that might have been mitigated by making a deal, even if it wasn’t a blockbuster. For this exercise, consider any team at .500 or better as a contender to avoid the vagaries of subjectivity.

Houston Texans – Cornerback

Fewest Team Total Points Saved at CB, 2019

TeamTotal Points Saved

The Texans were the most obvious selection for this list given their corner performance compared to the rest of the league. Their minus-24 Total Points Saved from the cornerback position is 18 points worse than any other contender, and 111 points worse than the best group, the New England Patriots’ (or 94 worse than the merely mortal San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks).

Given the deals Houston had already made this year to address their offensive line and skill positions, they didn’t have much wiggle room to make a big-time deal. Despite that, they were able to address their secondary by acquiring Gareon Conley from the Oakland Raiders. That doesn’t necessarily mean they upgraded — Conley allowed a league-high 14.5 yards per target and five touchdowns while in Oakland — but they addressed the position, so they get some credit for that.

Johnathan Joseph used to be one of the most well-respected corners in the league, but at age-35 he is one of the primary culprits for Houston’s struggles on the back end. He’s allowing 70% of passes in his direction to be completed after keeping that rate below 60% over the last several seasons. 

Both Joseph and Bradley Roby have given up hidden value even when they force incompletions. Both players have dropped interceptions in the red zone this year, and they’ve each allowed would-be 40-yard completions were they not dropped by the intended target.

Philadelphia Eagles – Cornerback

One could argue the Texans shouldn’t qualify for this list because they did, in fact, make a move, so we’ll include the second-most-needy contender as well. The Eagles secondary would have been right behind the Texans on the above list without a decent day against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Philadelphia’s Ronald Darby returned for the first time in a month last week against the Bills. Prior to his return, he was tied for the worst Total Points Saved among cornerbacks with minus-17. He has more targets per snap in coverage (30 in 82 snaps) than anyone with at least 50 snaps and has a problematic ratio of touchdowns to targets (3 TD in 30 targets). 

Unfortunately for the Eagles, a couple of Darby’s teammates join him at the top of those lists: Jalen Mills has been targeted more than 40% of the time he’s been in coverage (albeit on under 30 snaps), and Rasul Douglas has allowed four touchdowns on 36 targets.

It wasn’t surprising when we heard the Eagles mentioned in connection with Jalen Ramsey, Chris Harris, and Darius Slay. We can’t know what conversations they had or didn’t have, but it seems if they were going to end up holding the bag after swinging big, they should have had some smaller deals in their back pocket.

Kansas City Chiefs – Linebacker

Fewest Team Total Points Saved at LB, 2019

TeamTotal Points Saved

The Chiefs’ 11 Total Points Saved from their linebackers is by far the worst of any contending team. Offseason acquisition Darron Lee has not panned out so far, falling off quite a bit from what was a strong 2018 campaign. He was one of the 20 best linebackers by Total Points Saved last year and is at the bottom of the list so far in 2019.

While with the Jets in 2018, Lee intercepted three passes while allowing a 59% completion rate and 4.1 yards per target, the latter of which was top-five at the position. So far this season, he’s allowed all seven targets against him to be completed, and his 12 yards per target is among the highest averages in the league.

Anthony Hitchens looks like much more of a liability after allowing a 50-yard completion to Aaron Jones on Sunday night, although it seems like it might just be an evening out of “luck” for him. He’s actually allowed completions substantially less often than he has in past seasons (61% after allowing 89% each of the last two years), but his coverage assignments have dropped three passes, which trails only two linebackers.

49ers / Colts – Kicker

Fewest Team Total Points Earned at K, 2019

TeamTotal Points Earned

Obviously, kickers aren’t considered particularly likely trade targets. A team might be just as likely to improve by signing someone off the street given the inherent uncertainty in kicker performance. In fact, the Patriots did just that by signing Mike Nugent when Steven Gostkowski went down, and have just done so again by replacing him with Nick Folk.

The 49ers probably didn’t consider making a move for a kicker, considering that they gave Robbie Gould a four-year extension after slapping him with the franchise tag in the offseason. But teams off to surprising starts (which could include the Colts as well, depending on your expectations) can fall back to mediocrity quite quickly, and there’s nothing like some late kicking failures to get that going.

Kicking Total Points Earned, per SISDataHub, comes from comparing actual kick performance against the number of kicks you’d expect to make given the distance and weather conditions for each kick. But Adam Vinatieri’s and Gould’s struggles stare you in the face without knowing those details. 

After making 50 of 56 kicks from 40+ yards from 2015-2018, Gould has made just two out of seven this year. He’s missed two of 35 kicks from under 40 yards (including extra points), which is about what you’d expect, so he might just not have a big enough leg anymore.

Vinatieri is the oldest player in the league and has been so for a few years, so there’s more of a chance he is offered a chance to retire as opposed to being cut if he continues to struggle. He has already missed four extra points this year and leads the league with seven missed PATs over the last two seasons. Beyond that, he’s one of only two kickers to miss a kick under 30 yards. After winning Special Teams Player of the Week for his exploits against Denver this past weekend, he might have brought himself back from the brink in terms of perception, but he also missed two kicks in that game, so he’s by no means out of the woods.