NFLTR Review: Comprehensive Trade Catalog

     

Welcome to yet another week of NFLTR Review! October is here which means the NFL trade deadline is just around the corner. In this issue:

  • A comprehensive catalog of every player potentially available via trade
  • Colts star Quenton Nelson has a path to becoming the NFL’s first $20 million guard
  • Why other GMs are glad the Texans fired Bill O’Brien, too

Comprehensive Trade Catalog

We’re just under four weeks from the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday, November 3, and traditionally this is when the market starts to heat up.

However, like many things in 2020, the trade deadline is probably going to look different this year. Depth is more important than ever before in the time of COVID-19 and some teams have been challenged even with the expanded practice squads. There are fewer surpluses for teams interested in buying to pull from, while movement between teams overall seems to have slowed as keeping the virus out takes priority over churning the roster. 

The other factor is there’s just not as many interesting trade situations this year. Compared to last year, when Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Ramsey, Kenyan Drake, Leonard Williams, Emmanuel Sanders, Gareon Conley, Marcus Peters and Mohamed Sanu were all dealt midseason, there’s not been a single trade since training camp ended this year. There’s been hardly a whiff of any deals percolating, either. 

While we might be in for a quiet October and a sleepy deadline, we’re still in the trade rumor business here at NFLTR. So this week we took a look at every single team’s depth chart to try and list every player who could potentially be on the block this fall. This includes players teams would be willing to shop and who other teams could conceivably have an interest in. 44 players jumped out as candidates. 

Quarterback: Dwayne Haskins

Not only did Haskins lose the starting job this week, he was demoted all the way to third string behind Alex Smith. Washington’s coaches were careful not to condemn Haskins this week but it’s not hard to see how he could already be done in Washington just a year after being drafted in the first round. He needs a lot of development and a fresh start with a coaching staff more invested in his success. Perhaps a team like Pittsburgh with an established starter Haskins could sit and learn behind would be interested.

Running Back: Justice Hill, Jaylen Samuels, Mike Boone, Royce Freeman

The hard part about running backs on the trade market is there are a plethora of options in free agency that could step in and be effective. But all of these guys listed have arguably something extra.

Hill has been buried on the depth chart in Baltimore and could be interesting for a team looking for a speedy receiving back. Samuels played nearly every position in college and a creative coaching staff could see an underutilized player. Boone has two stellar backs ahead of him but has flashed some feature-back potential in his limited showings. The same will be true of Freeman when Phillip Lindsay returns, though Freeman is a less explosive player than Boone. 

Wide Receiver: A.J. Green, Alex Erickson, John Ross, Auden Tate, Marvin Jones, Dede Westbrook, Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Curtis Samuel, Jakeem Grant, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Dante Pettis

More than a third of the potential players available are receivers. Teams are using more receivers than ever before which makes depth even more critical at the position. But it can also be one of the hardest positions to make a midseason transition, especially if you’re landing someplace like New England. 

The Bengals have one of the deepest rosters at receiver of any team, so deep in fact that they’ve had to make Tate and Ross healthy scratches at different times this year. The organization is notoriously conservative which makes any trade unlikely. But they have the depth to trade any of those four receivers and not lose a beat, and one could make a good argument they should take what they can get for Green and Ross in contract years. 

Many of the players on this list are in the final years of their contract, including Jones, Westbrook, Fuller, Stills and Samuel. Some, like Westbrook, Jones and Samuel, have found smaller than expected roles so far in 2020, which could make their original teams more likely to part with them. 

Others are on teams that could find themselves conducting a fire sale if the season continues to go poorly. The Lions with Jones and the Texans with Stills, Fuller and Coutee fall into this bucket. The Eagles could also fall into this bucket, but Jackson is the only actual firesale candidate on this list. Philadelphia would take pennies to shed Jeffery and his salary, while Arcega-Whiteside remains buried on the depth chart despite limited competition. The 2019 second-round pick might already need a fresh start. 

Pettis and Coutee have flashed talent in bursts but have fallen out of favor with their respective coaching staffs, making them potential fresh start candidates. Grant is also an interesting case, as he’s flashed speed and playmaking ability and just signed a four-year extension with Miami last August. He is not a featured player in Miami, however, and another team could think more highly of him. 

Tight End: David Njoku, Kyle Rudolph, Chris Herndon, Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Gerald Everett

Njoku retracted his trade request but the reality remains that the Browns are incredibly deep at tight end, particularly with the emergence of fourth-round rookie Harrison Bryant. With Njoku set to play out next year on the $6 million fifth-year option, that’s both a lot for Cleveland to pay a part-time player and a potential steal for another team if the former first-rounder can reach his potential. While the Browns insist he’s not on the block, that’s front office speak for they haven’t gotten an offer they like yet. 

The Vikings are another team that could be looking to sell off pieces in a lost year with an eye toward the future. Rudolph would be a prime candidate, as he has a cap hit of $9.45 million in 2021 that only goes up the next two years on his deal. Minnesota could be hard-pressed to find a buyer, though. 

The Jets talked up Herndon again this summer but he’s been a disappointment. New York has enough depth at tight end that it’s doubtful they’d be above selling him if another team thought it could get more out of him. Everett is entering the final year of his deal and while it would be unusual for a contending team to sell off a contributor like Everett, Los Angeles is deep at tight end and likely can’t keep him around next season and beyond. 

That leaves two big-time NFC East tight ends in Ertz and Engram. Some whispers have come out about the Giants doubting Engram’s ability to stay healthy and be a reliable part of their offense. He’s also struggled to start the year, catching just 17 of 30 targets for 131 yards. It’s unlikely the Giants part with Engram without a really strong return, however. 

Ertz is a much better candidate to be traded this offseason than he is in-season for an Eagles team that had designs on contending entering the season. But if the wheels keep falling off and Philadelphia is eliminated — which admittedly does not look likely in a division it currently leads at 1-2-1 — trading Ertz sooner could net more value. Would a team like the Patriots give up a second-round pick to get Cam Newton a reliable tight end again? It feels very possible. 

Offensive Tackle: Riley Reiff, Ty Nsekhe, Brandon Parker

After the bounty of pass catchers, this is where the potential market starts to thin. The league as a whole is starved for offensive line play and that’s reflected here.

The Vikings were ready to cut Reiff before he agreed to a pay cut in August, and while his trade market wasn’t robust then, it could be better now, especially for a team like the Cowboys that’s lost both starting tackles. Minnesota actually has decent depth at tackle, as Brian O’Neill would swap from right to left and players like Rashod Hill, Oli Udoh or second-round rookie Ezra Cleveland could take over on the right. 

The Bills are another rare team that has depth along the offensive line to spare. Daryl Williams has played well enough at tackle to kick 2019 second-rounder Cody Ford inside to guard, and the team is confident in OL Ryan Bates as a backup at all five positions. That means Nsekhe, who has struggled to stay healthy but has been a solid player when in the lineup, doesn’t have a role. There’ a potential win-win scenario with Buffalo getting a pick for a 34-year-old backup tackle and another team getting precious OL help. 

The Raiders made Parker a third-round pick out of small-school North Carolina A&T in 2018, but he’s been passed by journeyman vet Sam Young on the depth chart in Vegas. Young is actually a good example of how linemen can take time to develop, and if the Raiders have lost patience, another team could be willing to take a swing on Parker. 

Guard: Ben Powers, Quinton Spain

Both the Ravens and Bills have outstanding depth along their interior offensive line, especially once Buffalo gets everyone back healthy. Powers was a fourth-round pick just last year, so he could still have some value to another team. Spain lost his starting job but could make sense for another team in need of guard help. 

Center: Billy Price, Brandon Linder

Price’s career has never really gotten off the ground following his torn pectoral at the Combine coming out in the draft in 2018, even though the Bengals made him a first-round pick. The new coaching staff hasn’t been enamored with him and he could probably use a fresh start. 

Linder survived Jacksonville’s salary dump this offseason despite a potential $8 million in cap savings with no dead money hit. However, he went down in Week 2 and his replacement, Tyler Shatley, has actually graded out as the better player per Pro Football Focus. Jacksonville could still save about $6 million by trading Linder. 

Defensive Tackle: Steve McLendon

One place the Jets actually have above-average depth is the interior defensive line. As the team continues its rebuild, a veteran like McLendon becomes more expendable, particularly if another team expresses interest if a hole opens on its roster. 

EDGE: Carlos Dunlap, Olivier Vernon, Marquis Haynes, Brandon Graham, Markus Golden, Ryan Anderson, Ryan Kerrigan

Once again, it’s worth reiterating the Bengals do not make in-season trades. But if they do make an exception, Dunlap is a strong candidate, especially after he was benched and then made a stink about it to local media. Dunlap could even push the team toward a trade if his discontentment continues. He’s not in his prime, but pass rushers are so valuable that he should command some value still. 

Browns GM Andrew Berry believes strongly in keeping both offensive and defensive lines as deep as possible, so it would be surprising to see Cleveland deal Vernon. However, he’s arguably been outplayed by others on the roster, including second-year UDFA Porter Gustin.

Graham falls in a similar boat as his teammate Ertz in that he makes sense as a piece for the Eagles to sell off if they decide to enter that mode. Haynes could be a better fit with a team that runs more 3-4 looks than Carolina does currently. 

Golden is currently the Giants’ fourth pass rusher in terms of snaps despite leading them with 10 sacks a year ago. He’s on a very affordable deal after New York used the unrestricted free agent tender on him. And Washington could be willing to part with either Kerrigan or Anderson if the season keeps going south given both are in contract years. 

Linebacker: Jarrad Davis, Oren Burks, Avery Williamson

Like running back, linebacker is typically deeper and easier to address in free agency. But Davis has the athleticism and pedigree as a former first-round pick that could lure another team to take a chance and see what he can do outside of Detroit. 

Burks was drafted by the Packers in the third round, but he’s another NFC North linebacker who hasn’t lived up to the expectations placed on him and could use a fresh start. Meanwhile, Williamson is another veteran the Jets could deal as they continue to look for pieces to aid their rebuild. He’s limited in coverage but still productive as a run stopper. 

Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell, Gareon Conley, Fabian Moreau, Desmond King

There’s actually a number of other areas where the Browns are deep, which again is Berry’s philosophy. Generally, teams can never have too many corners but the Browns have enough depth that they could part with Mitchell, who would start for a number of other teams right now. 

Conley was traded in-season last year from the Raiders to the Texans, but despite a brief stretch the former first-round pick still hasn’t seemed to find his footing. Houston could try and recoup some of the draft value it gave up by trading a third-round pick for him. 

Washington’s secondary isn’t among the best in the league but Moreau is barely playing. The former third-round pick is in the final year of his deal and a fresh start could be needed. 

King has had issues with the Chargers for a couple of years now. After an All-Pro season as a slot corner, the team moved him outside last year and he struggled. This offseason the team signed veteran CB Chris Harris to take over the slot and King was reduced to a role player. He’s playing significant snaps now due to injury, which makes a trade a lot more unlikely, but given he’s likely ready to split as soon as he can this offseason, getting a pick back would be savvy by the Chargers. 

Safety: Tracy Walker

Walker is an excellent young player but the Lions have been reluctant to use him as a full-time starter at times this season. While Detroit isn’t in a position to be trading away starters in a secondary that needs all the help it can get, they do have a number of options at safety. And another team could value Walker more than Detroit inexplicably does. 

The Big Picture: Guard Market Poised To Skyrocket

One quirk of the NFL’s franchise tag process, which the vast majority of the time restricts players from cashing in, is the way it views offensive linemen. Instead of differentiating between tackles, guards and centers, the tag lumps all of them together. 

The NFL does not value them that way. While the difference between right and left tackles has lessened in the modern NFL, given elite pass rushers no longer play exclusively on the offense’s blind side, tackles overall make significantly more than the other positions. The NFL’s six highest-paid linemen are all tackles. At $22 million a year, Texans LT Laremy Tunsil significantly outpaces Washington G Brandon Scherff who’s playing under the tag in 2020 at $15.03 million. The Colts just made Ryan Kelly the highest-paid center all the way down at $12.412 million. 

Player Team Position AAV
Laremy Tunsil Texans LT $22M
Lane Johnson Eagles RT $18M
Anthony Castonzo Colts LT $16.5M
Trent Brown Raiders RT $16.5M
Taylor Lewan Titans LT $16M
Nate Solder Giants LT $15.5M
Brandon Scherff* Washington G $15.03M
Taylor Decker Lions LT
$14.912M
Joe Thuney* Patriots G
$14.781M
D.J. Humphries Cardinals LT $14.75M

*Playing 2020 on the franchise tag

However, thanks to that quirk in the tag, guards could be poised to close the gap next offseason. Both Scherff and Patriots G Joe Thuney are playing out 2020 on the tag (the difference in their salaries is due to Scherff’s tag being based off his fifth-year option). A second tag for Scherff would be 120 percent of his current salary which would be just over $18 million.

Often agents will use the tag as a floor for annual salary in a long-term deal, so one way or the other that’s the number Washington is looking at to lock Scherff up before free agency. If they’re not comfortable with that number, they could let the open market set his price and hope no one else is willing to meet his demands in a year where the cap will be as low as $175 million. Regardless of if it’s in Washington or elsewhere, Scherff shouldn’t make less than his current salary and could hit as much as $18 million depending on what happens with Washington. 

Thuney is in a similar boat. A second franchise tag by the Patriots would be around $17.737 million. And while it was surprising when they tagged him the first time this offseason because of how much they already have invested in their interior, it would be even more surprising for them to do it a second time, especially since there’s a good chance the Patriots will need their tag for Newton. 

So unless the two sides can reach an agreement — and they were unable to do so by the July 15 deadline this year — Thuney looks to be headed for free agency. He might be an even better candidate to reset the market than Scherff, as he’s been an ironclad starter for the Patriots and is the rare lineman who can legitimately play all five positions. Scherff has had some injury issues and is actually on injured reserve right now. If both hit free agency, both feel like good bets for deals in the $15-$16 million range. If Washington tags Scherff or locks him up in that $18 million range, Thuney will slot in around there as well. 

Which brings us to the biggest heavy hitter: Colts G Quenton Nelson. The former No. 6 overall pick will be eligible for an extension for the first time this offseason and despite Indianapolis having another year and the fifth-year option still on Nelson’s rookie deal, he’s the type of elite player who merits an extension during the summer. He’s also the type of player, like 49ers TE George Kittle, who is due to push the market forward in a big way.

If neither Scherff nor Thuney hit $18 million, Nelson almost assuredly will. The more interesting question becomes if either of those two can boost the market higher, even if not all the way to $17 million. Nelson could conceivably become the first $20 million a year non-offensive tackle ever in league history. 

This Week In Football

  • Loads happened on the COVID-19 front in the NFL’s battle with the virus this past week. So much so it needs its own set of bullet points: 
    • The Tennessee Titans outbreak is under investigation as it continued into a second straight week. After two days with no new tests, it looked like the Titans were on the verge of getting back to normal. Now, however, they’re facing a punishment possibly harsher than any in NFL history after revelations of just how boldly they flouted the protocols, including numerous ill-advised player workouts while the team was supposed to be quarantining. 
    • It’s still not clear what will happen to the Titans’ Week 5 game against the Bills. The NFL announced it would move the game to Tuesday, but that’s contingent on Tennessee’s outbreak abating, which is far from a guarantee at this point. Complicating matters is the Bills were set to have a Thursday night contest against the Chiefs next week, who have had their own disruptions from the virus. That game too could end up rescheduled. 
    • After the Patriots and Chiefs had their game moved due to a positive test by Newton late last week, the NFL also moved New England’s upcoming game against the Broncos to Monday for now following CB Stephon Gilmore’s positive test Tuesday. Not only do the Patriots need to finish out the week without any more positive tests, getting back to their facility to be able to practice for the game is also a consideration. 
    • So far, no Chiefs appear to have tested positive from their contact with the Patriots. Based on what we’ve learned about the coronavirus’ incubation period, though, they’re not out of danger. 
    • The Saints had a big scare Sunday with what thankfully proved to be a false positive. The Raiders also had a positive COVID-19 test but that one appears to be isolated as well. Las Vegas plays the Chiefs Sunday. 
    • The NFL is pondering other adjustments to the virus like adding a Week 18 and revisiting the bubble concept for the playoffs. 
  • In a move that was shocking only because of timing, the Texans fired HC Bill O’Brien this week after an 0-4 start. O’Brien the coach could have been about average, but it’s safe to say O’Brien the GM got the coach fired. The last few years will be a cautionary tale against giving coaches general manager duties. There’s also plenty of behind-the-scenes drama to unpack here. 
  • In another mild shocker, again because of the timing, Washington pulled the plug on 2019 first-round QB Dwayne Haskins and HC Ron Rivera will turn again to Kyle Allen. Haskins still isn’t where he needs to be to start in this league, and with the NFC East somehow still in play for Washington despite its 1-3 record, Rivera made the move he thinks can help the team take advantage of an upcoming soft stretch in the schedule. This isn’t the final stroke of doom for Haskins but it does not look good. 
  • Across the country, the Chargers officially started the Justin Herbert era, named the No. 6 overall rookie quarterback their starter for the rest of the season. After initially refusing to allow a freak accident to cost veteran QB Tyrod Taylor the starting job, possibly and probably the last one of his career, HC Anthony Lynn had almost no other choice with how well Herbert has played in his three starts. 
  • Earl Thomas might be legitimately radioactive right now. Word leaked the Texans were likely to sign Thomas after he passed through all of the testing protocols. In that time, enough Texans players apparently expressed their distaste for the move to O’Brien that the team reversed course. Thomas has created such a bad locker room reputation that despite his talent, he could be out of work for a long time.
  • The latest reports indicate no movement between the Bears and WR Allen Robinson on contract talks. Chicago needs Robinson too much to seriously consider a trade this season, which makes the franchise tag in 2021 seem like an inevitability right now. 
  • The Cowboys lost RT La’el Collins for the rest of the year after he underwent hip surgery. Now they’re facing the potential loss of both tackles as LT Tyron Smith is considering calling it a year with neck stinger issues. Losing both starting tackles is a tremendous blow for any team to take and it’s another obstacle for a 1-3 Dallas team that already faces plenty. 
  • When the Vikings made their blockbuster deal for DE Yannick Ngakoue, they claimed it had nothing to do with the status of DE Danielle Hunter, who left practice on August 14 with what the team called a tweak. However, Hunter ended up on injured reserve and later reporting revealed he has a herniated disc in his neck. In fact, Hunter has received multiple opinions from medical professionals advising him to sit out the rest of the season. It puts the trade for Ngakoue in a whole new light.

Nickels & Dimes

I outlined a nightmare scenario regarding the Jets and Sam Darnold earlier this year where between inconsistent play, poor supporting cast and injuries, the Jets leave 2020 still not knowing if he’s a franchise quarterback

Well, it’s here

This was tweeted before last Thursday’s game…

During the pre-draft process, Panthers LB Jeremy Chinn was dubbed a discount version of Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons. Both were uber-athletic, versatile defensive chess pieces, the biggest difference was Simmons did his work under the bright lights at Clemson while Chinn toiled in relative anonymity at Southern Illinois. Chinn was selected at the end of the second round with the 64th overall pick, Simmons went with the eighth pick. So far, Chinn leads all rookies with 35 tackles while Simmons has played in just 45 snaps with six tackles. Four games is obviously a tiny sample size but so far the Panthers look like they got a steal…

In many ways, Brian Hoyer is the prototypical NFL backup quarterback. He has years of experience, particularly in New England’s system, and he’s not a threat to take the starter’s job or cause drama. And on Monday night, Hoyer showed why the NFL’s prototype for backups is flawed, as the “wily veteran backup” took a sack without a timeout to cost New England a field goal at the end of the first half, then showed a stunning lack of pocket awareness on a sack-fumble on the second drive of the second half to take at least another three points off the board…

While we’re on the topic of Patriots quarterbacks, we got a taste of what New England’s offense would have looked like had they really turned the keys over to Jarrett Stidham like they claimed all offseason. And it was not pretty. Stidham now has three interceptions on 17 career passing attempts…

Thought-provoking thread and the latest addition to the “running backs don’t matter” discourse. There’s definitely room to quibble with some of the examples and sample size here. And I think we’re finding better metrics that do distinguish the talent levels between running backs. That said, there are more talented players at running back than arguably any other position…

Texans fans aren’t the only ones happy O’Brien is gone. His former front office colleagues on other teams are likely relieved he’s not negotiating contracts in Houston anymore. His deal for Tunsil blew $4 million past the existing high mark for the position and dramatically raised the price for the Packers and Ravens in their negotiations for LTs David Bakhtiari and Ronnie Stanley. Now there’s a solid chance both end up receiving the franchise tag in 2021…

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