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Why the Steelers should pull out all the stops and trade for Patrick Peterson

The Cardinals star cornerback has reportedly demanded a trade, and the cornerback-needy Steelers could certainly use his services.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long ago—like, maybe two or three years ago—that the Arizona Cardinals looked like the deepest, most complete team in the entire NFL. They boasted a dangerous, multifaceted offense and a defense to match, one laden with amorphous playmakers at all three levels. Overseeing the whole operation was a charismatic and be-Kangol-ed offensive warlock, owner of two Super Bowl rings. Those Cardinals were a fun team.

These Cardinals, who are currently 1-6 and have the best chance of securing the no. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, are not. They are a ghost ship sailing aimlessly toward inevitable doom. All-Pro cornerback Patrick has seen quite enough, and he’d prefer to take his talents elsewhere. This from ESPN’s Adam Schefter (emphasis my own):

“Peterson feels as if the situation is deteriorating and continues to reaffirm to others that he desperately wants out, a source said. The Cardinals continue to insist that they won’t trade him, but Peterson keeps asking.”

It’s hard to blame the guy. The Cardinals do have a handful of nice players on their roster (Peterson, edge defender Chandler Jones, all-purpose back David Johnson, safety Budda Baker, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, and, of course, the ageless Larry Fitzgerald) and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that, armed with the top pick in the draft and mountains of cap space after the wretched Sam Bradford comes off the books this March, they could field a competitive team as early as next season. Possible, too, is that the 2019 version of the Arizona Cardinals look just as hopeless and despondent as the current iteration. Peterson’s likely betting on the latter outcome.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, a team nearly bereft of skill in its secondary, should do whatever it takes to acquire Patrick Peterson, even if it means [Hot Take Trigger Alert] trading a first-round draft pick.

Forgive the tangent, but hoarding draft picks is so, so dumb. The Browns have been cultivating draft capital for 10 years, and their strategy has just recently bore fruit. Their harvest? A 2-4-1 record.

I’ll revise the aforementioned statement: Hoarding draft picks is not dumb in principle, but it’s dumb if you’re doing it at the expense of acquiring proven commodities. Like, what are the odds that either of the two first-round draft picks the Raiders obtained from Chicago in the Khalil Mack trade nets them a player who is even a fraction as skilled as Mack? The chances that your favorite team’s first-round draft pick becomes a five-year starter are a little better than 50/50, and the odds of them making the Pro Bowl are even slimmer. To uncover a player of Khalil Mack’s aptitude—a gameplan-altering, run-defending, quarterback-sacking, MVP-caliber, generationally-skilled defensive powerhouse—is to win the lottery. To trade that play away for draft capital is asinine, and I’m glad Jon Gruden has enabled the Raiders to reach a nadir they haven’t approached since the Jamarcus Russell era.

Anyway, what I guess I’m getting around to asking is if you could’ve traded the pick that ultimately became Artie Burns for Patrick Peterson, would you have pulled the trigger? That question isn’t entirely fair, of course, because everything is crystal clear in retrospect and you can play the “what if?” game with most draft picks for most teams, so I guess I’ll rephrase this, too: Knowing that any first-round draft pick carries a more or less equal chance of yielding a player whose acumen ranges from Artie Burns to Patrick Peterson, would you be in favor of trading that pick—technically speaking at best a nebulous commodity—for a player whose current value is at least equal to that of the player you might find?

Draft picks are critical components of the team-building process. This is inarguable. Many of the league’s most formidable squads—the Steelers, the Bengals, the Packers, and the Chiefs, among others—boast cores that are almost entirely homegrown. First-round picks are especially priceless commodities and are thus generally untouchable, which is why the Bears shipping two of them westward to acquire Mack was such a striking development. But the Patriots—to borrow the most glaringly obvious example—have remained a towering colossus for nearly two decades specifically because they have supplemented their draft classes (which, shockingly, are pretty suspect compared to other perennial contenders) by taking fliers on veterans who have fallen out of favor with their former squads. I don’t wanna understate Bill Belichick’s intellect, because I truly and begrudgingly believe that he is the greatest football coach ever, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Josh Gordon, a former 1,600-yard receiver, is probably more valuable than whatever fifth-rounder from Missouri State A&T University they’d have drafted otherwise. The Rams, currently 7-0 and by far the best team in the NFL, have a similarly-hybridized core, one that’s nearly equal parts draft capital (Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, Lamarcus Joyner) and and hand-me-downs (Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh, Andrew Whitworth).

None of this is to necessarily suggest that the Steelers should fundamentally alter their paradigm. The build-through-the-draft thing has worked well for the Steelers during the Mike Tomlin era, but it’s led to only one Super Bowl victory (one the anti-Tomlin contingent are quick to remind you was won with Cahhr’s players). Perhaps what these Steelers need is a mercenary, and perhaps Patrick Peterson is a core component that help could keep them squarely in the Super Bowl picture this year, next year, and maybe even the year after (Peterson’s signed through 2020, his age-30 season).

Peterson to the Steelers admittedly does not seem to be a likely outcome, and to even chart a course toward this eventuality would require the Steelers to first do some creative bookkeeping. They’re already pretty tight against the cap, and that’s without taking Le’Veon Bell’s eventual return into consideration. They could I guess maybe rescind Bell’s tag (dumb, but I don’t know, who knows) or trade Bell to clear some additional space. The Eagles have apparently expressed interest in Bell, so maybe Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Arizona could work out some kind of NBA-style deal that sends Bell to the Eagles, Peterson to the Steelers, and picks to the Cardinals. Alternatively, if the prorated portion of what Peterson’s new team would own him for the remainder of the 2018 season is less than the current amount of cap space the Steelers currently have, they could probably find a way to make a trade work. Doing so would require an extremely high pick, probably a first-rounder, but whatever. Defensive back is among Pittsburgh’s most obvious and immediate needs, and Peterson’s probably better than anything they would’ve found in the bottom-third of the draft. Furthermore, not only would trading for Peterson make the Steelers better, it would prevent another prominent contender (most notably the Chiefs or Patriots) from bolstering their secondaries and further goosing their Super Bowl odds.

So, yeah, I think making a move for Peterson makes sense, practicality and future cap implications be damned. The finances will work themselves out eventually, probably. Or they won’t, whatever. At least the Steelers could have a Super Bowl to show for it.