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Opinion: Bills still Super Bowl contenders if they pass on a trade

Trading for the sake of trading may not be a smart play for Buffalo

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles made a splash before the NFL trade deadline, trading a fourth-round pick to the Chicago Bears for pass rusher Robert Quinn.

The New York Jets sensed an opportunity to make a run for the playoffs at 5-2, and didn’t want to let the loss of promising rookie running back Breece Hall sink their chances, so they traded a sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for former undrafted standout runner James Robinson.

The Kansas City Chiefs have seen more man coverage than any team in the league, so they traded a third-round pick along with a conditional sixth to the New York Giants for wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who boasted a solid 2.8 yards per route run against man coverage as a rookie.

Teams who are doing well are buying this year in the NFL. But that doesn’t mean the Buffalo Bills have to.

The best teams in the league are making attempts to shore up their team specifically because teams like the Bills exist. If Buffalo don’t beat the Kansas City in Week 6 while running almost 50% of their snaps in man coverage, does Toney get traded to Kansas City? I’m not sure. The Bills are in the driver’s seat for AFC playoff seeding, and would likely be the favored team in any Super Bowl matchup as of this writing.

It’s different being “the hunted” versus “the hunter,” but making a move for the sake of making it—or to signal to your fan base that you’re “pushing to win a chip now”—is much more about optics than about on-field performance.

Buffalo could trade a fourth-round pick for a 27-year old Kareem Hunt on an expiring contract. Hunt has been a slightly better rusher than Devin Singletary this year, with a one-yard advantage in rushing yards over expected per carry (0.54 against Singletary’s -.55) and has a slightly better average of rushing yards after contact per carry (2.92 vs. 2.77). Although I used both of those metrics in an attempt to isolate out the play of the markedly better run blocking offensive line in Cleveland, Hunt has also been a good pass-catching back in his day. How much do those marginal improvements move the needle for the overall success of a team that throws the ball 63.6% of the time, and has their quarterback run the ball 7.8 times per game?

“But Bruce, Josh Allen wouldn’t need to run as much if we had a running back like Hunt.”

Allen is one of the most effective runners in the NFL regardless of position, and would very likely remain the most effective runner on the Bills almost regardless of the running back that would be acquired at the trade deadline. It seems odd that the potential transaction heralded as an “all in” or “win now” move would also use an an argument that Buffalo should take the ball out of their most effective rusher’s hands more often, when historically the argument in favor of having Allen run less is based on longevity and long-term planning.

Given that you might look at the Bills being 26th in the NFL in both Pro Football Focus’ run block grade and ESPN’s run block win rate metrics and think the problem with the run game is the offensive line, you may pitch trading for an offensive lineman to help jumpstart their running game with the running backs already on the roster. Going back to the beginning of the 2020 season, here are the offensive linemen that have been traded in the NFL:

  • Justin Herron
  • Jesse Davis
  • Dennis Daley
  • Cole Van Lanen
  • Cody Ford
  • Matt Waletzko
  • Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff
  • Yasir Durant
  • Ben Bredeson
  • Billy Price
  • Orlando Brown
  • Mason Cole
  • Rodney Hudson
  • Gabe Jackson
  • Marcus Cannon
  • Isaiah Wilson
  • B.J. Finney

Brown has been reasonable in Kansas City, but likely not what they were hoping for after their expenditure. Hudson, a good player, hasn’t been in Arizona what he was for the Raiders. Every other player is a bottom-of-the-roster depth piece who wouldn’t be an upgrade from any of the Bills’ starting five offensive line. Teams aren’t letting go of good offensive linemen in today’s NFL.

If a potential running back acquisition might not move the needle much, and an upgrade at offensive line isn’t likely to even be available (the two most commonly-discussed upgrades for the 2022 deadline), the Bills don’t need to make a move just to say they’re keeping up with the Eagles and the Chiefs of the world. Some might get restless, but it feels like it could very well be the right thing to do.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!