For years, the NFL's trade deadline made little to no blip on the sports calendar. Unlike baseball, basketball and hockey, football seemed to move notable players only during the offseason. However, that perception has slowly changed as the result of the league's 2012 decision to push the trade deadline back two weeks from its original post-Week 6 date.
With more time for teams to figure out whether or not they can contend this season, the prospect of significant deadline trading has increased. According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, "Several NFL executives believe this could be a more fertile trade deadline than normal, with clubs now adjusted to the later deadline and with there being a growing delineation between the haves and the have nots."
With that in mind, here are five players who can and should be moved prior to the Nov. 3 trade deadline.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Forte has played eight seasons with the Bears. In that time, he has seen the team cycle through three coaches, lose more games than half of its games and qualify for the playoffs just once. That second postseason trip doesn't appear likely to come in 2015, as the team is 2-4 and just dropped a game in overtime to the previously winless Lions. With the trade deadline fast approaching and the team in need of a complete makeover, the idea of trading Forte must surely have crossed the mind of Chicago's first-year general manager, Ryan Pace.
So, why would the Bears consider trading Forte, one of the most versatile running backs in NFL history and the team's best weapon on offense?
They have a few reasons, actually. Forte is playing out the final year of his contract, meaning he can depart in free agency this offseason. To date, the team has shown "no inclination" to extend their star tailback, likely in part because he turns 30 in December. The Bears can recoup some value in the form of a compensatory draft pick if Forte signs with another team this offseason, but that selection wouldn't arrive until 2017. Trading Forte now could yield a draft pick in the upcoming draft and, perhaps, a better overall selection than the one expected from the compensatory system.
Ideal landing spot: Dallas Cowboys
For the most part, the Cowboys utilize a different run-blocking scheme than Chicago. Still, Forte runs better between than tackles than Dallas ball carriers Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden. Forte would also replicate much of what the team lost when Lance Dunbar tore his ACL and MCL.
Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens
Since entering the NFL in 2001, Smith has established himself as one of football's premier athletes. Despite standing at just 5-foot-9, he worked himself into an elite receiver. His 13,772 career receiving yards ranks No. 1 among active players and 12th all-time, and even at age 36, Smith should top 1,000 receiving yards this season. Smith is also one of the sport's more beloved personalities. Whether it's explaining why he doesn't use Facebook or answering questions about his stamina, Smith seemingly always has something interesting to say. It's a shame to watch him play out his final season on an otherwise hapless 1-5 Baltimore team.
But it doesn't have to end like this. The Ravens have no reason to hold onto Smith given their trajectory, and they receive nothing for him if they simply watch him retire at the conclusion of 2015. GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh don't need to worry about their job security, which means they can make decisions based on the team's long-term interests. Trading Smith to a contender, even for just a Day 3 draft pick, benefits all parties involved.
Ideal landing spot: Green Bay Packers
The Packers lack a reliable vertical threat in Jordy Nelson's absence. Smith can replace some of what Nelson provided while offering another veteran presence for an overall young team. GM Ted Thompson never makes such moves, but the idea of pairing Smith with Aaron Rodgers remains intriguing.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Few tight ends have been more dominant over the past 10 seasons than Davis. The former No. 6 overall pick has consistently ranked among the best at his position, twice hauling in 13 touchdowns and six times registering 500 or more receiving yards. When healthy, he remains one of the most athletic tight ends in the league, and a capable weapon for any offense.
However, the 49ers find themselves in the midst of a rebuilding season and could use extra draft picks to speed up the process. Davis, who like most of San Francisco's pass catchers has seen his productivity dip this season as the result of Colin Kaepernick's struggles, could help any number of teams with a more stable quarterback under center.
Ideal landing spot: Denver Broncos
The Broncos' offense never recovered from the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas. Though Peyton Manning continues to struggle this season, perhaps adding an athletic tight end to work the middle of the field could help him overcome his recent issues.
Haloti Ngata, Detroit Lions
One of the most underrated moves of the offseason was the trade that sent Ngata from Baltimore to Detroit for a fourth- and fifth-round pick. Ngata, a talented defensive lineman, gave the Lions a suitable replacement for the departed Ndamukong Suh for a reasonable price. Though he had to adjust to a new scheme with new responsibilities, the transition has gone well, and Ngata appears to have a few good years left to give.
Unfortunately, the Lions don't appear to have much reason to hold onto him. The team won just one of its first six games, a 37-34 overtime victory over Chicago in Week 6. Moreover, Detroit has no long-term stake in Ngata, who becomes a free agent at season's end. Though coach Jim Caldwell undoubtedly believes his club can rally, trading assets like Ngata make more sense for the team's future.
Ideal landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks can't solve all of their problems with one move, but adding Ngata to their defense could fix a few. The play of interior linemen Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin has been up and down this season, and the team has a track record fitting older players into their rotation. Ngata could improve a pass rush that ranked 17th in DVOA entering the week, as well as give defensive coordinator Kris Richard another versatile weapon at his disposal.
Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
Though widely unknown outside of Kansas City, Johnson has carved out a niche as one of the league's best off-ball linebackers. Even a ruptured Achilles in 2014 has done little to dull his abilities. Johnson leads all Chiefs with 34 tackles, and he continues to provide quality pass coverage and run defense. The 32-year-old linebacker remains a valuable piece to any defense. But with the Chiefs flirting with irrelevance at 1-5, trading away their defensive captain may make some sense.
Despite Johnson's long list of admirable qualities, his age makes him a regression candidate beyond 2015. Furthermore, his contract with Kansas City expires after the year. Like with the Bears and Forte, the team could receive a compensatory pick if Johnson signs elsewhere during the offseason, but that selection likely probably wouldn't be until the later rounds. Better to get that value sooner than later if Johnson isn't going to contribute to a playoff run.
Ideal landing spot: St. Louis Rams
With the Seahawks cratering and few other non-division-leading teams in the NFC taking advantage, the Rams could find themselves in position for a playoff run. Adding a linebacker of Johnson's caliber could take the sting out of losing Alec Ogletree to an ankle injury.