The NFL has hit a lull, so we’re looking ahead to try and connect the dots on who could be on the trade block later this year:
- Plenty of big-name receivers, including names you’d expect and others you might not
- Plus quarterbacks, corners, and pass rushers…oh my!
- 43 total players to monitor as potential trade chips
Around The Trade Block: Looking Ahead
The trade block has hit a bit of a lull with the Julio Jones blockbuster done. Aaron Rodgers’ situation is in limbo and only Howie Roseman knows what the Eagles are going to do with Zach Ertz. There are a few other minor players potentially available but for the most part, the market is pretty tapped out.
That won’t last as the season gets closer. Training camp provides movement, whether it’s injuries creating a need or surprise breakout players leading to roster reshuffling. Teams have also become more and more willing to pull the trigger on trades involving notable players. Yannick Ngakoue was traded twice in less than two months last year.
Looking ahead, we can connect the dots in a few different situations to create a watch list for some of the big names who might land on the trade block next. We’re not reporting anything, we’re just making note of existing bread crumbs that have caught our eye.
Outside of quarterback, no other position drives as much trade speculation as wide receiver. The combination of flash, the explosive personalities who play the position and the real impact a bonafide No. 1 wideout can have on an offense drive tons of intrigue.
If your team needs a wideout and missed out on Julio, fear not. There could be some other options coming down the pike this season.
Jaguars WR DJ Chark
You could get a sense that new Jaguars HC Urban Meyer wasn’t that happy with the Jaguars receiving corps when he devoted significant energy to reshaping it this offseason, making a big splash with Marvin Jones in free agency and openly pining for Kadarius Toney in the first round. Then Meyer came right out and said he did not like what he saw from Chark last year and thought he was a big guy who played little.
As Chark enters the final year of his rookie contract, it’s a clear signal his status with the Jaguars is up in the air. The former second-rounder out of LSU has a tantalizing blend of size and speed at 6-3 and a 4.34 second 40-yard dash. After a quiet rookie season, he put those gifts on display in a breakout 1,000-yard 2019 season. 2020 was much rockier but Jacksonville’s instability at quarterback and injuries didn’t help the situation.
Chark has put on ten pounds of muscle in an effort to quiet Meyer’s concerns and he’s the type of long receiver new QB Trevor Lawrence has had a lot of success throwing to at Clemson. There’s still a chance for Chark to make things work in Jacksonville. If he doesn’t mesh with the new staff, though, there’s potential for this situation to blow up and for another team to swoop in with a draft pick that makes it worth the Jaguars’ while to cut ties.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup
Dallas’ offense is easily the strength of the team and will be counted on to compensate for the defense as the Cowboys look to rebound from an abysmal 2020 season. Getting back QB Dak Prescott is huge, as he was on pace to literally obliterate several passing records before breaking his ankle. Gallup is a key piece of the offense in 2021, too.
However, 2021 is also the final year of Gallup’s rookie contract. With limited cap flexibility next offseason and a significant financial or draft investment already in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to retain Gallup beyond this season.
As long as the Cowboys are in the mix, they’ll ride it out with Gallup. But if they end up falling out of contention, it might make sense to maximize their return for Gallup and get another high draft pick they can use to ease a tight cap situation in 2022.
Bears WR Allen Robinson
Last year, Robinson grew frustrated with the Bears’ unwillingness to meet his asking price and seriously mulled pushing for a trade. Ultimately, he kept his head down and played out the rest of the season. There’s clearly frustration from his camp at Chicago, though, and if the Bears continue to be unwilling to meet his asking price, they could push again for the team to trade him to a team that will.
The longer this drags out, the less likely Robinson is to return to the Bears. Next year a second franchise tag would be about $21.5 million, which is a hefty amount. If Chicago realizes they can’t sign him to a long-term deal now, it might be better to just go ahead and trade him. The Bears could probably get a first-round pick, and while it would leave their receiving corps barren, if they truly plan to redshirt Justin Fields, they have time to rebuild his weaponry.
There is some urgency to this, as after July 15 the negotiating window closes and Robinson is locked into the nearly $18 million tag for the season. That’d be a heavy burden for another team to trade for midseason
Texans WR Brandin Cooks
This one is pretty simple. Houston is going to be bad this season and everyone knows it. Texans GM Nick Caserio had little choice but to just eat the financial and draft pick hit from his predecessor’s missteps. Other teams will be eyeing their roster for spare parts at the trade deadline.
Cooks is actually a legitimate NFL starter and would compel interest from teams looking to add a weapon. The catch will be if the Texans actually consider trading him. If they can get a second-round pick back, it should be a no-brainer, but this new regime highly values Cooks’ leadership and locker room presence as they try to reset the culture in Year 1. They also have to evaluate third-round QB Davis Mills eventually and trading away his No. 1 receiver doesn’t help with that.
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster didn’t find the big money waiting for him in his first foray into free agency, so he took a one-year, $8 million deal to come back to Pittsburgh and try again next year. To make it fit on the cap, the Steelers rigged the deal with a heavy signing bonus and void years so Smith-Schuster counts a paltry $2.4 million against the cap in 2021.
That’s very tradable. Let’s say the Steelers bottom out like some people are expecting given their lack of depth in some positions like inside and outside linebacker and lack of experience in others like the offensive line and secondary. Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger ends up really being as cooked as he looked at the end of last season. If the Steelers are out of contention and Smith-Schuster is off to greener pastures in 2022 anyway, why not trade him before the deadline and get something better than a potential compensatory pick?
Smith-Schuster’s production and contract would make him very attractive to some teams, who can use the back half of the season to sell him on signing an extension. Pittsburgh also has the depth at receiver to deal someone away and can develop other players with the snaps that are freed up.
Dolphins WR DeVante Parker
For the time being, the Dolphins are building around QB Tua Tagovailoa and making an effort to ensure he has what he needs to be successful. That was reflected in the types of receivers they brought in this offseason.
Tagovailoa had a lot of success with speedy wideouts who could create separation at Alabama and Miami dipped into that well with Jaylen Waddle in the first round and Will Fuller in free agency. Add in Albert Wilson coming back from an opt-out, and Miami is all of a sudden deep at receiver.
If Tagovailoa connects better with those guys and his struggles to get on the same page with Parker continue, the big-bodied veteran could find himself on the block.
Jets WR Jamison Crowder
Crowder’s pay cut does not ensure his future with the Jets, In fact, it actually makes it easier for New York to potentially get something of value for the veteran slot receiver.
The exact details haven’t been reported but the word was the Jets wanted Crowder to take at least a 50 percent cut from his slated base salary of $10 million. Any team the Jets trade Crowder to would only be responsible for a prorated amount of at most $5 million in that case. That’s good value for a reliable veteran slot receiver.
As for the Jets, this is a shrewd move that leaves open the possibility of still getting a draft pick for Crowder if he slips down the pecking order in their receiving corps. Crowder would have had interested teams if he had been cut even if the money wasn’t there and the Jets can still potentially capitalize on that.
Other blockbuster names to monitor
Outside of receivers, quarterbacks, pass rushers and cornerbacks drive a lot of action on the trade market as premium positions, and there’s a handful of names to be aware of as training camp approaches
Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones
Things are nowhere near a red alert stage between Jones and the Cardinals, but the fact that he’s entering the final year of his deal can’t possibly sit well with someone who has been one of the most prolific sack artists in the league. Arizona has thrown a lot of money around in free agency but hasn’t rewarded their own, and Jones skipped minicamp in a potential show of displeasure.
The Cardinals are all-in on the 2021 season and maximizing their current window with QB Kyler Murray still on his rookie deal. They need Jones desperately to help their defense take a big step forward but if they balk at signing the 31-year-old to a deal that could approach $30 million a year, things could deteriorate further, which would present a potential opening for a trade.
Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
Just a year removed from being the NFL’s defensive player of the year, Gilmore and the Patriots are at a standstill as he’s slated to make just over $7 million in 2021, which is the last year of his deal. In the past, the Patriots have given Gilmore raises by borrowing from future years but the only recourse now is to give him a new contract.
Gilmore remains an incredibly talented player and someone who is in line for a key defensive role on a team eager to get back to contending for Super Bowls. But he’s set to turn 31 in September and the Patriots aren’t eager to commit too heavily to an aging defensive back. Eagles CB Darius Slay’s three-year, $50 million deal has come out as the template that Gilmore could be looking at.
The general sense on the New England beat is that the two sides will be able to work out some sort of compromise. Gilmore skipped minicamp this week but the situation doesn’t feel acrimonious yet. There is a possible chance trade talks around Gilmore heat up, however.
Dolphins CB Xavien Howard
Things feel a lot tenser in Miami with Howard’s situation. The skinny is that Howard signed a deal two years ago that at the time made him the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback at $15 million a year. He’s since been passed by five players, including teammate Byron Jones which apparently is adding some extra sting, and about $5 million per year.
Howard played like the NFL’s best cornerback in 2020 with 10 interceptions and now is trying to use that to leverage a raise even though he has four years remaining on his contract. Teams abhor touching deals with more than a year remaining in all but rare circumstances and redoing a deal with four years would be unprecedented.
Perhaps Howard would be amenable to a similar strategy the Patriots used with Gilmore, taking money from future contract years to bump up his current compensation. He skipped minicamp, though, and things could potentially escalate to the point where he holds out and demands a trade in training camp, even though the fines would be severe. It’s a situation teams are watching closely.
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Spend enough time following the NFL and you’ll realize teams lie all the time. Where they can’t lie, however, is their actions, and what the 49ers did to acquire QB Trey Lance is a clear indication they view him as the future of the position. It’s also why Garoppolo was a popular topic of trade speculation during draft week.
However, there does seem to be some level of sincerity to San Francisco’s position that Garoppolo remains the starting quarterback and will have to lose the job to be replaced. The team returns most of its core from the 2019 group that nearly won a Super Bowl with Garoppolo at quarterback. Recapturing that magic with Garoppolo at the helm might be challenging but doing it with a rookie quarterback would be unprecedented, even one as talented as Lance.
What I think will happen is this. The 49ers will hold on to Garoppolo and start him until he’s either injured, they’re out of contention or Lance proves himself too good behind the scenes to keep on the bench. However, if another starting quarterback goes down due to injury, it’s possible a trade market for Garoppolo could develop. There’s not one now, his $24 million salary ensures that. And if the 49ers’ asking price remains as high as it was in April, that’s another significant hurdle. But we’ve seen similar situations play out before with guys like Sam Bradford and it could always happen again.
Fresh starts & camp deals
Outside of the big fish, there’s always a number of smaller deals that go down during the preseason. Once the pads go on, teams find out they’re not as strong as a particular position as they thought on paper. Other times, there are previously highly-regarded players who are just in need of a fresh start.
Here’s a non-exhaustive, quick-hitting look at some possibilities in this category:
- Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew: Lawrence is the future and between C.J. Beathard and Jake Luton, there are other options for the backup position. Minshew has shown some starting potential if he lands in a better situation.
- Raiders QB Marcus Mariota: There was some trade speculation around Mariota earlier this offseason but his contract prevented any deal from getting done. He’s at a much more reasonable $3.5 million and could fetch something interesting if injury strikes elsewhere.
- Bears QB Nick Foles: His run as a starter is probably done but for a team looking for a backup and valuable mentor for a younger starter, it’s hard to do better than Foles.
- Patriots RB Sony Michel: Michel has already been supplanted by Damien Harris as the No. 1 back. Now fourth-round RB Rhamondre Stevenson has the beat buzzing with his size and soft hands. If injuries strike another backfield, Michel could be most valuable to New England as a trade chip
- Bears WR Anthony Miller: Chicago openly dangled Miller before the draft but didn’t find any takers. Perhaps the preseason will be different.
- Patriots WR N’Keal Harry: A similar boat to Chicago and Miller, Patriots beat writers noted Harry was dangerously close to falling behind Isaiah Zuber. A fresh start could be good for the former first-round pick.
- Broncos WR Tim Patrick: Pressed into duty following an injury to Courtland Sutton, Patrick flashed some legitimate potential as Denver’s starting “X” receiver last season. But he’s back to No. 3 or No. 4 on the depth chart with everyone healthy. He’s in a contract year, so perhaps the Broncos try to flip him for a pick if they get a good enough offer
- Dolphins WR Preston Williams/Jakeem Grant: Similar to what was articulated with Parker, Williams might not be the best fit with Tagovailoa and could benefit from a different style of quarterback. As for Grant, he faces a lot of competition for his role as a slot receiver/returner with the addition of Waddle and the return of Wilson.
- Cardinals WR Andy Isabella: The former second-round pick can nearly crack a 4-2 second 40-yard dash, but he hasn’t been able to turn that speed into any kind of consistent production in Arizona. He’s way down the depth chart and could use a fresh start.
- Texans TE Kahale Warring: He was drafted as a developmental project but Houston hasn’t exactly been an environment conducive to developing young players recently. Another team could take a stab at someone who had enough potential to be deemed worth a third-round pick.
- Panthers TE Ian Thomas: He got the dreaded kiss of death when HC Matt Rhule praised him for having a tremendous offseason and has struggled in OTAs since then. With Dan Arnold and third-round rookie Tommy Tremble on board, there might not be room for Thomas.
- Panthers OT Greg Little: He’s already fallen behind Cameron Erving and Trenton Scott at left tackle. He’s barely hanging onto a roster spot at this point. Perhaps another team deals a conditional pick to see if they can get him on track.
- Jets OT George Fant: If the Jets close the deal with RT Morgan Moses, that’ll push Fant to the bench, where he’d still have some value as a swing tackle, albeit as an expensive one with an $8.5 million base salary. That probably hurts Fant’s trade value too but if injuries strike, he does have a lot of starting experience compared to most other options that would be available.
- Dolphins OL Jesse Davis: The versatile veteran keeps having to compete with the waves of reinforcements the Dolphins are throwing at their offensive line in an attempt to solidify it. Davis can play guard or right tackle but there are younger options who are currently favored to start over him. Perhaps the pick-conscious Dolphins would be interested in a flip.
- Eagles LT Andre Dillard: An injury cost Dillard what was supposed to be a transition year from Jason Peters to him on the blindside in 2020. Instead, Jordan Mailata impressed after Peters went down and put himself in the conversation, if not the outright lead, to start at left tackle in 2021. If Dillard loses the starting job, it’s very possible the Eagles cut bait and trade him for what they can, as Mailata is entering a contract year and would presumably be the future of the position.
- Vikings OL Oli Udoh: The former Elon Phoenix is massive and has both guard and tackle flexibility. The Vikings wouldn’t necessarily be dealing from a position of strength on the offensive line but they do have enough depth they could stand to deal away Udoh if another team comes with a high enough offer.
- Lions OT Tyrell Crosby: Pushed to the bench by the selection of first-round OT Penei Sewell, Crosby is a competent starter who could be more valuable to another team if injury strikes.
- Eagles DE Derek Barnett: The former first-round pick is playing on the fifth-year option in 2021 at $10 million, which is steep for a player who has a career-high of 6.5 sacks. That contract is also a major obstacle to a trade but if Barnett isn’t in the Eagles’ future plans, it behooves them to shop him, perhaps if he’s playing well before the trade deadline.
- Bills DE Efe Obada: One of the biggest success stories of the NFL’s international program, Obada landed with former coaches in Buffalo after Carolina declined to re-sign him. The Bills used their first two picks on edge rushers, though, which could have Obada hard-pressed to make the team. He’s good enough that the Bills could flip him, especially if he has a strong preseason.
- Panthers DE Christian Miller/Marquis Haynes: Both players have shown promise but might not be clean scheme fits. Miller is almost a complete unknown after opting out of 2020 and playing just seven games as a rookie, though one of those was a two-sack game. Haynes had four sacks in 2020 but is small, light and a little one-dimensional. There might only be room for one.
- Texans OLB Jacob Martin: If new Texans DC Lovie Smith runs as conventional a Tampa 2 defense as he did the last time he was in the NFL, there are going to be some scheme miscasts from Houston’s previous 3-4 personnel, including Martin, who’s a little light to be an every-down 4-3 end.
- Bills DT Harrison Phillips: Similar story to Obada, the Bills’ defensive line is deep and there may not be space for Phillips in Buffalo. Someone else might have a bigger need for a nose tackle, though.
- Browns DT Andrew Billings: The returning opt-outs present some challenges for teams, and a bunch have already been cut. The burden is on them to prove they haven’t fallen behind and are still in shape, and for Billings, he has the extra challenge of a deep defensive tackle group in Cleveland.
- Jets DL Nathan Shepherd: Some guys can get lost in the shuffle when a new coaching staff that emphasizes different things comes in. That could be the unfortunate reality for Shepherd, a former third-round pick in 2019.
- Jaguars DL Taven Bryan: Meyer devoted a lot of resources to address the defensive line and declined Bryan’s fifth-year option. The writing is on the wall.
- Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith: Dallas is bringing in a new defensive coaching staff and made a number of additions to its linebacking corps, including Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox in the draft and Keanu Neal in free agency. There’s no margin for Smith to continue to underperform, and trading him if he does would free up some cap space that is about to become a scarce and precious resource for Dallas.
- Chiefs LB Anthony Hitchens: Kansas City has spent second-round picks in back-to-back years on linebackers and trading Hitchens would clear almost $6.5 million, though finding a buyer could be tricky.
- Patriots CB Joejuan Williams: Drafted to be a defensive matchup piece, Williams hasn’t been able to crack the lineup. While the Patriots’ secondary is deep, other less-heralded defensive backs have done more, so New England could cut bait like they have in the past with players like Duke Dawson.
- Ravens CB Iman Marshall: The Ravens are incredibly deep in the secondary and there just might not be room for Marshall, a 2019 fourth-round pick who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
- Eagles CB Darius Slay: This one is a little off the wall but if the Eagles are really using 2021 to reset, retool and rebuild with a more stable foundation, a 30-year-old cornerback might not fit their window. Slay’s still solid even if he’s not elite but most importantly he’s making a minimum base salary, which would make him attractive as a rental to a contending team in need of a corner. His prorated money would stay with the Eagles in any trade too, making it easier to cut or rework his deal in the future as he’s guaranteed just $2 million in 2022 and beyond. If the Eagles fall out of contention before the deadline, this is a possibility to keep in mind.
This Week In Football
- With minicamps wrapping up this week, it provided a glimpse of the holdout situations ahead of training camp, as minicamps are mandatory and teams can fine players for unexcused absences. The most serious situation brewing appears to be with the Dolphins and CB Xavien Howard, who is seeking a raise despite having four years remaining on his contract. Miami obviously doesn’t want to create that kind of precedent but Howard is their best defensive player and keeping him happy is paramount. It’ll be interesting to watch unfold later this summer.
- Miami might end up doing something similar to what the Vikings did with DE Danielle Hunter. He was also unhappy with a deal he signed that did not age well and wanted a raise with three years remaining. Minnesota guaranteed him a portion of his 2021 salary in a signing bonus and added an option that ensured Hunter will have a new deal one way or another next offseason. He reported to minicamp and things now appear to be fine.
- Other holdouts included Stephon Gilmore in New England, as the Patriots and their star cornerback remain locked in complicated negotiations for a new contract. Seahawks S Jamal Adams also wasn’t at minicamp. Although he doesn’t yet have the new contract he’s been seeking, Adams’ absence was excused for a personal issue and not a holdout. Seattle has already seen what happened the last time Adams thought a front office was stalling on negotiations, so it stands to reason a deal is their top priority in the coming months.
- Fellow Seahawks teammate, LT Duane Brown, was at minicamp and did not hold out, but it was made clear through the media that the veteran would like a new deal as he enters the final year of his current contract. Bears DT Eddie Goldman was also not at minicamp in an unexcused absence. Goldman opted out of the 2020 season but is expected back for training camp.
- Extension season has begun and the Dolphins kicked things off with a new deal for LB Jerome Baker, signing him for three years and a maximum value of $39 million. It’s a good deal for Baker who is the type of versatile linebacker HC Brian Flores craves in the middle of his defense.
- He might not be next, but at some point, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is expected to sign an enormous new deal. Ravens HC John Harbaugh called it the team’s No. 1 priority this summer and says he hopes to do it before training camp. These are sure to be interesting negotiations, as Jackson is representing himself. A deal close to or more than $40 million a year seems like it will end up happening.
- The Vikings agreed to a deal to bring DT Sheldon Richardson back to Minnesota and add a much-needed pass-rushing presence to their interior defensive line. The team has tried its best to sell that the all-nose tackle duo of Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce wouldn’t be overmatched as pass rushers, but Richardson takes some of that pressure off of Tomlinson and Pierce to be something they’re not. Richardson spurred whatever the Browns had on the table to come back after being released earlier this offseason.
- Jets WR Jamison Crowder avoided being released but he was still forced into taking a substantial pay cut of at least 50 percent of his 2021 salary. It’s a good reminder that teams will rarely pass up a chance to exert their leverage, as New York didn’t have a desperate need for an extra $5 million or so in cap space, but can now add that to any amount they roll over into 2022.
- New York could also use some of that money on an apparent multi-year deal for RT Morgan Moses, himself a cap casualty by Washington. Moses would be the latest example of how Jets GM Joe Douglas has made it his mission to ensure the organization doesn’t repeat the same mistakes with Zach Wilson as they did Sam Darnold. He gives the Jets legitimate bookend tackles in addition to Mekhi Becton.