Thirty trades were made in the 2017 NFL offseason between August 1 and September 4, which was more than double the league average. It was a run that even saw such stars as Sammy Watkins, Sheldon Richardson and Ronald Darby being hocked. Mike Sando of ESPN put together a comprehensive breakdown explaining why there was a trade explosion this year, proposing such theories as tanking, devaluing of draft picks, millennial GMs and more.
But the overall message was that the league is evolving, and we’re seeing a more Madden- or even NBA-like approach to team management.
This ultimately leads to increased opportunities for bottom-dwelling teams to climb out of the cellar. It’s another resource to retool the roster, add experience and proven commodities, and plug in impact players. Of course, it requires giving up assets, but in a case like the 49ers, who have a nine draft picks and an abundance of cash lying around, this evolution benefits them more than any other team in the league.
They have the capital to make a splash move and the young, audacious new regime that’s perhaps willing to take a chance.
If the 49ers were to dip into this market and try to take advantage, the following presents a few abstract and high stakes deals they could explore given the team's situation and current NFL climate.
Trade for Odell Beckham Jr.
With his light frame, insane body control, flexibility and sticky hands, Beckham Jr. looks like Spiderman flying around on the field every Sunday. The 2014 first-round pick out of LSU is easily one of the best players in football, at times looking like a one-man offense. And he knows it, and wants to be paid like it. But that, coupled with the fact that he’s time and time again proven a real lack of maturity that’s irked ownership and face of the franchise, Eli Manning, leading to a growing rift, and maybe it’s worth the 49ers calling.
They may be surprised by what they’d hear, especially if they were persistent about it.
While it’s likely, it is definitely not a certainty the team retains Beckham Jr. – crazier things have happened. After all, they do have promising offensive building blocks in tight end Evan Engram and receiver Sterling Sheppard, and the picks the Giants could acquire from the 49ers could replace Beckham in the aggregate. And, theoretically, those players will have better attitudes to fit what the Giants are looking for.
Beckham also has two years left on his rookie deal that pays him $8.46 million in 2018. The 49ers could speed that process up, pay him now like he wants, and even afford to make him the highest-paid player in the league, if that’s what it took (it wouldn’t). But say they have to at least make him the highest-paid WR – that means north of Antonio Brown’s $17 million per year average. They can do it.
The Niners have the money, the need and know Beckham would be an MVP-caliber player in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Trade away Arik Armstead
Instead of giving away picks, the 49ers net more capital and/or another player by selling off a former first-round pick that isn’t a bad player, but just isn’t a scheme fit anymore. The reason to part with Armstead now is because the 49ers don't appear likely to extend him, and not only that, they need to draft or sign another true outside pass rusher to come into this scheme and replace him as the Leo. With DeForest Buckner in the middle, Armstead is the one they’re counting on to rattle the QB, and he’s not getting it done.
As unattractive a move as it is to admit a first-round miss, this one can be chalked up to a change in regimes and a change in defensive schemes. The 49ers need to let Armstead be the best version of himself elsewhere and, best case scenario, the team gets something back in exchange to help them move forward at the EDGE position.
Trade for Andrew Luck
It’s hard to gauge whether this would be a good idea or not, simply based on what the 49ers would have to give up and Luck’s nightmarish injury history. He’ll be 29 years old next season and he’s already very worn. But when he’s healthy, and protected, this is a top-10 quarterback. He’s a true field general; he can make all the throws and he’s capable of lighting defenses up. What you’re getting with Luck is a weapon at the quarterback position.
But the fact remains, he’s broken down and sidelined. The Colts, including owner Jim Irsay, are seemingly growing impatient. Rumors of contention between Luck and the franchise seem pretty regular now, and many are talking about a fresh start for the quarterback. Indianapolis would have to be open to a trade, though. How they feel about Jacoby Brissett and if they happen to land another top-5 pick in 2018 may impact their thinking here.
Theoretically the Colts could strip it all down and start over again with a new quarterback, and have extra picks by dealing Luck.
With Luck’s return to the Bay Area, the 49ers gain a franchise quarterback to complement a budding young defense. Pairing Luck with Shanahan also means big returns. The former offensive coordinator helped turn Matt Ryan into an MVP in just their second year together, which was the quarterback’s ninth season in the league. Luck could have a brand-new career essentially if the 49ers and Colts were bold enough to get a deal done.
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