What makes trade deadlines inherently compelling is all the manufactured drama that comes along with them: rumblings that Player X is disgruntled and wants a change of scenery; emotional but amicable splits between veteran players with expiring contracts and their under-achieving teams looking to load up on some draft capital; coaches and GMs packed into smoky war rooms, ripping coffee and darts as they make frenzied calls to other coaches and GMs.
Championship contenders going all in by wagering future draft picks on star players who can help them WIN NOW; etc. Perhaps your favorite player gets traded, rendering the $140 jersey that you bought from Fanatics (which cost them $1.38 to manufacture) moot. Fortunes and paradigms shift in real-time, and fans can generally get a sense of how their respective teams’ management feels about the state of the roster.
The news cycle itself is a lot of fun, too, as breaking developments oftentimes materialize and subsequently dissipate in the time it takes to refresh your Twitter feed. Blogs thrive on conjecture, and this very website has been inundated with speculative pieces about various trade scenarios over the past couple of days. There’s a reason why league and network stooges like Adam Schefter get massive engagement on their tweets, and why stories about trade rumors generate tons of page views: trades are utterly captivating, especially when it’s your team on one side of the transaction.
In that vein: I cannot stop thinking about trading for Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. Heading into the season, Surtain Jr. was viewed by many as the best cornerback in the NFL, and while several of his quantifiable metrics—completion percentage allowed on targets, yards allowed per completion, yards allowed per target, and opposing quarterback rating when targeted, all courtesy of Pro Football Reference—are down from 2022, the extent to which all that is inherently his fault is open to some interpretation considering the dearth of talent comprising the remainder of the Broncos roster.
In any event, Surtain is highly pedigreed, one year removed from a first-team All-Pro selection, and still only 23 years old—which is why the Steelers should not think twice about trading for him if Denver’s asking price is, I don’t know, let’s say a first-round pick this year, a third-round pick this year, and a conditional pick in 2025 that could be a second- or third-round pick depending on how much Surtain plays. The Steelers get back a fifth-rounder; why not? I am purely spit-balling.
The fact that teams tend to be overtly covetous in managing their draft capital has always been something that I’ve found manifestly confusing, because the draft is, essentially, a Powerball lottery, and the picks themselves are entirely speculative commodities. First-round picks are held in particularly sacrosanct regard and anytime a transaction involves a first-rounder changing hands, it’s considered markedly newsworthy.
Here’s the thing, though: when your team holds a first-round pick, the best-case scenario is that the guy they use it on turns out to be a stud; say, a shutdown cornerback (a position where true superstar talent has always been at a premium) whose unlimited physical tools and razor-sharp intangibles are malleable to literally any defensive scheme. I would argue, then, that trading a draft pick that might yield an All-Pro-caliber player for a player who is already an All-Pro-caliber player (and whose presence would galvanize the weakest position group on an otherwise solid defense) is a no-brainer decision.
For context, here are some players the Steelers have recently drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft:
- Najee Harris
- Kendrick Green (!!!)
- Chase Claypool (lol)
- Devin Bush (traded up in the draft for him; a disgusting act)
- Justin Layne (remember him?)
- Mason Rudolph
- Chukwuma Okorafor
- Terrell Edmunds
Of course, the caveat here is that the Steelers have also drafted players like T.J. Watt, George Pickens, and Alex Highsmith in the first three rounds, so the risk in giving up multiple premium picks for someone like Surtain is that it could end up being an unbalanced trade in the long run, no matter how good the return at the time turns out to be.
But what makes a trade for Surtain so appealing—and worth the risk—is that he will not only make the Steelers better this season but could represent a foundational defensive element moving forward. Again, Surtain is only 23, presumably yet to reach his full potential, and his aggressive, press-man style of play meshes well with the Steelers’ defensive framework. Importantly, Surtain is technically under team control through the 2025 season (one year remaining on his rookie deal, fifth-year option on the table thereafter), so while locking him up longer-term will almost certainly require a nine-figure contract, the Steelers would have some time to get the books in order to accommodate his deal.
The trade deadline is on Halloween, so there’s plenty of time between now and then for the Steelers and Broncos to hammer out a deal. They won’t, of course, but a guy can dream.