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The 1 trade the Detroit Lions should make before the deadline

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Pats Pulpit proposed an interesting TE swap, and it makes a lot of sense on both sides.

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Editor’s note: This week’s SB Nation theme across platforms is: What is the one trade you’d make for your team right now? Even though the NFL trade deadline is typically one of the quietest, it’s a fun exercise to consider what you’d do as an NFL GM. So here’s our proposal.

The trade deadline is exactly a week from Tuesday, and the Detroit Lions clearly could use some help on their roster. While no team is going to ship a franchise left tackle or a 10-sack pass rusher, Detroit should certainly be entertaining offers to either help their offense produce some points or aid their defense in generating some pass rush.

With the Lions low on draft pick capital—they’ve already traded away their sixth-round pick to the Rams for Greg Robinson—one of their biggest pieces in trade value is tight end Eric Ebron.

Though it was just over five months ago that the Lions decided to exercise Ebron’s fifth-year option, the young tight end may have fallen out of favor completely. Expected to take over Anquan Boldin’s role as a third down fiend and a red zone threat, Ebron has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, hauling in just 13 catches for 103 yards in six games. The drops have continued and they are clearly starting to get to his head.

Ebron has been outplayed by fellow tight end Darren Fells, and Detroit has a potential long-term replacement in rookie Michael Roberts, who still developing his skills. In other words, Ebron is replaceable at this point.

Trade partners

But what can the Lions get for Ebron? At this point, his value has to be lower than ever. That being said, with his physical tools and the prestige of being a former top-10 pick, there may be a tight end needy team out there that is willing to take a chance on Ebron. And for Ebron, a change in scenery could be just what he needs to recuperate mentally.

Teams like the Ravens and Jaguars are desperately thin at tight end and could definitely look Ebron’s way. But it’s unclear if either of those teams would offer anything valuable in return. Detroit could just demand a mid-round draft pick, but with the NFC North wide open, if the Lions are trading a former first-round pick, they should get something immediately in return that can help them contend this year.

Therefore, the most appealing deal out there comes from a team that I know most Lions fans won’t want to trade with, but it makes a lot of sense for both sides.

Rich Hill, writer for Patriots blog Pats Pulpit, proposed a trade that I think the Lions wouldn’t pass on.

The Deal

Patriots get:
TE Eric Ebron

Lions get:
TE Dwayne Allen
2018 fifth (or sixth) round pick

Here’s Hill’s explanation:

A reasonable idea: Lions TE Eric Ebron is an option due to the Patriots familiarity with Detroit general manager Bob Quinn. Ebron racked up 711 yards in 2016, but has underwhelmed in 2017 with just 13 catches for 102 yards. Ebron and Allen could both benefit from a change of scenery, so why not swap the two, with the Patriots also tossing in a 2018 fifth or sixth round pick?

Now here’s a stat comparison between the two over their collective careers:

Ebron: 46 games, 146 catches, 1598 yards, 8 touchdowns
Allen: 64 games, 126 catches, 1451 yards, 19 touchdowns

What Allen would bring to the Lions

Allen is a former third-round pick (though could be argued as a second-round pick since he was taken 64th overall). What obviously pops out in his statline is his touchdown output. In 2016, Allen had six touchdowns with the Colts. In 2014, Allen matched Ebron’s career total, grabbing eight touchdowns in just 13 games.

The Lions have been desperately missing a red zone threat since Anquan Boldin left Detroit and eventually retired. Allen is a big, physical target that excels in the red zone. HIs physical measurables are somewhat comparable to Ebron:

Allen: 6-foot-3, 265 pounds
Ebron: 6-foot-4, 253 pounds

This offseason, Colts blog Stampede Blue wrote about how much they’d miss Allen’s red zone presence after they traded him to the Patriots. From the article:

Physically, Allen certainly fits the mold of a perceived red zone target. He’s big, was a quality route runner, and was utilized to draw mismatches – or disguised appropriately – and certainly someone Chudzinski was hoping to use inside the twenty yard line.

Stampede Blue also put together this nice montage of all of his red zone targets (technically inside the 25-yard line) from 2016:

Allen comes with a pretty hefty contract. He’s only in year two of a four-year, $29.4 million contract. However, all of his dead money comes in 2017, meaning Detroit could get out of his contract at any point after the 2017 season with no cap hit to take. Here’s a look at the breakdown of his contract via Over The Cap:

The drawbacks

No deal is going to be perfect, and if a team is willing to part with a player, it’s probably a good sign he’s flawed.

With Allen, it’s pretty clear things haven’t worked out in New England. He’s played in seven games now with the Patriots, including three starts, and he hasn’t even pulled in a single catch. He’s seen both his snaps and targets reduced throughout the season. On Sunday, he saw 20 snaps—around 27 percent of the Patriots’ offensive plays—but the week before that he was only on the field for six.

Additionally, despite Allen’s large frame, he isn’t exactly the blocking threat you’d like to see. From Pro Football Focus:

He has a reputation as a good blocking tight end — Bill Belichick cited his blocking prowess in 2014, and it was true that in the 2014 season, Allen was a strong blocker — but in 2015 and 2016, Allen was one of the worst-graded tight ends in the league in both run- and pass-blocking. In fact, Of all 126 tight ends who were in on a pass-blocking snap last season, Allen’s pass-blocking efficiency was the fourth-worst.

Allen has occasionally been dinged for drops, including this awful one from earlier this season, but the problem hasn’t always persisted and he’s generally thought of as a somewhat reliable catcher. In 2013, he dropped just three passes, ranking 11th-best among tight ends, but it has progressive gotten worse. He stuck out during minicamp with the Patriots for leading the team in drops. Even in Indy, he was occasionally—but not often—criticized for dropping too many passes.

Overall

My favorite part of this trade is that the Lions get a tight end in return. A lot of people want Ebron gone, but with only two other tight ends on the roster, it would leave Detroit very shorthanded at the position. The Lions do have Hakeem Valles on the practice squad, but I’m guessing they’d like to keep it that way.

Though Allen has struggled recently, he’s proven to be capable of being the red zone threat that Ebron has never shown to be. Just last season, a down year by some Colts fan’s standards, Allen hauled in six touchdowns.

Allen isn’t the perfect prospect, and his career could definitely be on the downswing, but the Lions are also trading away a pretty flawed player. They aren’t going to get a huge upgrade in a trade, especially from a team like the Patriots.

Additionally, the Lions would get some draft capital, whether it would be a fifth or sixth-round pick. I know plenty of Lions fans that would gladly trade Ebron just for a late-round draft pick, so getting that pick plus a player that can immediately contribute would be huge.

There are probably some people that don’t want to send Ebron to the Patriots, seeing as how Kyle Van Noy and Johnson Bademosi have turned out after the Lions dealt them to Foxborough, but whatever any other team gets out of Ebron is irrelevant. He is clearly not going to turn it around in Detroit, and if the Lions can get a valuable player immediately, plus some future investment opportunities, that’s a win for them.

Poll

Would you trade Eric Ebron for Dwayne Allen and a 6th-round pick?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Yes
    (2046 votes)
  • 32%
    No
    (994 votes)
3040 votes total Vote Now