Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
In European soccer, there are no trades and there is no draft. Players are developed through youth systems, some starting as young as eight years old, or they’re purchased from other clubs. Those are the two dominant methods of roster creation.
There’s a third spear on this trident: the loaning system. It is exactly what it sounds like; the short-term transfer of a player with the view (typically) that they’ll be returned once the agreement is up in a few months or a year. (The British are very direct in naming things: for instance, ‘blinkers’ on cars are referred to as ‘indicators,’ which is simply delightful).
Loans come in different lengths and with various stipulations. In the second division in England, the Championship division, late season loans are a regular thing. Mid-table teams that are stuck in a mediocre season with no chance of either being promoted up a division nor relegated down a tier, like to trim their wage bill by loaning some players to teams in need for the remainder of the season.
Under this construct, each playoff team in the NFL would have the opportunity to add one player from a non-playoff team onto their roster. Names like Andrew Luck, Von Miller, Cam Newton, Josh Norman, Drew Brees, Mike Evans, Aqib Talib, Joe Thomas and Trent Williams could all be plopped into the playoffs. There’d be handsome bonuses for these players to accept the call, and who wouldn’t want to see Von Miller in the playoffs again? Everybody wins.
Every playoff team in the NFL would easily be coerced into performing various embarrassing tasks to acquire that one player if that were the stipulation. Heck, if the Minnesota Vikings traded a first and fourth round pick for Sam Bradford because they thought he was “That Guy,” what would the Oakland Raiders be willing to do for the temporary services of Andrew Luck right now? I guarantee the entire coaching staff and front office would dress up as chickens — feathers and all — and would walk the entirety of the Golden Gate bridge impersonating the birds if that’s what was demanded.
As funny a visual that’d be, it’d be superfluous; other arrangements could be made. For this fictional idea, we’ll try to be reasonably realistic. That’s to say that the Colts wouldn’t be sending Luck to division rival Houston.
We’ll also start with Wild Card teams in each conference, then work our way up to the Patriots and Cowboys to be fair.
Detroit agrees to loan deal with Tampa Bay for Mike Evans
The Lions are going into Seattle as heavy underdogs. Their defense is a mess, but there’s no one player that could really turn it around, and they have a Calvin Johnson-sized hole in their receiving ranks.
Their best chance may well be getting the Seahawks into a shootout, while hoping that Ziggy Ansah can return to last year’s form against a moribund Seattle offensive line and rekindling the Matt Stafford-to-a-supernaturally-athletic-receiver magic of years prior.
Miami agrees to loan deal with New Orleans for Drew Brees
This works well because if Nick Saban got his way when he was in charge of Miami, Brees would be the star on South Beach. As history would have it, Miami didn’t pull the trigger and Brees went to New Orleans and won a Super Bowl.
Miami could use help somewhere on defense, but if you’ve got the chance to improve upon Matt Moore. then you’ve just got to take that risk. Brees would reunite with Kenny Stills and get the most out of Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
Oakland agrees to loan deal with Indianapolis for Andrew Luck
Houston agrees to loan deal with Carolina for Cam Newton
This one is simple, so they’ll be grouped together. Both teams desperately need a quarterback for two entirely different reasons. The Texans have attached themselves to Brock Osweiler and together, the pair are currently in the conversation for one of the worst free agent signings ever, considering the gargantuan amount of guaranteed money he was signed relative to the small sample size he earned it on.
Meanwhile, the Raiders had it right. They drafted Derek Carr and he’s a genuine MVP candidate this season. But then he fractured his fibula in Week 16. The Raiders should get first pick at their rent-a-quarterback over the Texans based on that.
It was a tough decision to put Luck ahead of Newton or Brees, but in this fictional world, Indianapolis wouldn’t mind loaning in conference because they’d be directly hampering their division rival, Houston. Oakland would immediately return to being a true Super Bowl contender with Luck and we’d finally be able to watch Luck play behind a stout offensive line.
And how exciting would it be for Houston to get Newton? Brees certainly would’ve helped the offense a ton compared to Osweiler or Tom Savage, but Newton adds another dimension even withstanding the pitiful encore to his MVP season. It’d be new life for Newton and another run in the playoffs fueled by all the disappointment that has ensued since they won the NFC Championship a year ago. Last year Newton led the Panthers to a 15-1 record with the help of their ravenous defense. Houston has the number one defense in the league, even without JJ Watt. This is probably DeAndre Hopkins’ dream.
Now all of a sudden this hopelessly putrescent playoff game becomes must watch again, just with two players. Maybe this isn’t Hopkins’ dream, but ESPN’s dream as they stand to take a big ‘L’ on the money paid for the rights to broadcast this dumpster fire.
New York agrees to loan deal with Cleveland for Joe Thomas
When was the last time the Giants had an above average left tackle? Scratch that– when was the last time they had an average left tackle? It feels they’ve perpetually been in a dystopian cycle of identifying a weakness on the line, drafting “The Guy,” who turns out to be “Not The Guy,” or at least someone who will be plugged somewhere else on the line. It may be churlish and impatient to write off Ereck Flowers already just 16 games into his NFL career, but, there’s been too many occasions in which he’s single-handily ruined drives.
Maybe pro bowler Joe Thomas is the elixir that gives Eli Manning that extra second or two necessary to go through his progressions, which in turn gives opposing defensive backs the nightmare of trying to guard Odell Beckham Jr for any longer than they’re already failing to.
Green Bay agrees to loan deal with Washington for Josh Norman
The Packers need to plug more than one hole on their team. They could use another pass rusher, another linebacker and their revolving door of running backs was comical until Ty Montgomery, who has at least been adequate, which is all that Aaron Rodgers needs. But they desperately need a shutdown corner as they’re 28th in the league against the opposition’s number one receiver in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), per Football Outsiders. (If you’re wondering, DVOA “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent,” according to Football Outsiders.)
Their path through the NFC will be rife with stud wide receivers. First they’ve got Beckham. If they win, they’ll play either Dez Bryant or Julio Jones.
And who in the world wouldn’t want to see Norman vs. Beckham or Norman vs. Bryant in the playoffs?
Pittsburgh agrees to loan deal with Denver for Von Miller
Pittsburgh’s offense has more than enough playmakers and they wouldn’t mind an extra offensive lineman. But they’ve fared well enough with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to score enough points. Looking around the league, Von Miller is still floating about. Just ask Cam Newton how valuable he is.
Miller has the ability to turn a game on its head and that’s what the Pittsburgh defense needs.
Seattle agrees to loan deal with Washington for Trent Williams
As stated above, the Seattle offensive line is putrid. Russell Wilson’s ankle has paid the toll for that, but since he’s got his mobility back he’s covered some of those holes.
Without Earl Thomas, their vaunted defense has softened a tad and they could really do well with a playmaker on offense since Tyler Lockett got hurt as well, but the more pressing issue is the offensive line.
Kansas City to agrees loan deal with Tampa Bay for Gerald McCoy
The Chiefs need a body to plug the interior defense and McCoy is arguably the best who’s not participating in the playoffs. Kansas City’s bread and butter is takeaways on defense but they rank 26th in run defense DVOA.
Kansas City has enough pass rush to hopefully pester Tom Brady should they meet the Patriots in the AFC Championship game and McCoy could help, well, blunt the impact LeGarrette Blount may have. (I know, I know, I see the door, I’ll let myself out.)
Atlanta to agrees loan deal with Denver for Aqib Talib
Von Miller would’ve helped, but teammate Aqib Talib isn’t a bad alternative. Atlanta struggles mightily to defend the pass but Matt Ryan does more than enough to po’ it up on offense. Talib wouldn’t magically make Atlanta’s defense all that great, but he’s a playmaker and that would be useful for Atlanta.
New England to agrees loan deal with Baltimore for Marshal Yanda
Tom Brady is the best remedy for a poor offensive line. No one releases the football quicker than Brady, but that’s limited his opportunities to look deep. The Patriots need help all across the line and the 2016 Pro Bowler, Marshal Yanda is the best left on the board.
Trials and tribulations of always being so damn good for the Patriots.
Dallas agrees to loan deal with San Diego for Casey Hayward
Similar to the case for Green Bay, Dallas’ key hole is in their pass defense and they’ll face a glut of top receivers and quarterbacks to get out of the NFC. After finishing with the top record in the league, they’d get to pick last here, which means they don’t get Norman or Talib, but Hayward isn’t a bad alternative.
The San Diego CB man leads the NFL in interceptions with seven, something the Cowboys could count on this winter during their playoff run.