Some NFL veterans are going to find new homes this fall.
Trades are somewhat rare in the NFL. That's too bad because fans love them. As much as continuity is admirable, new faces add to the excitement of the blank slate that is the 2012 season.
Teams could add talent that's unavailable via free agency (usually too expensive) or the draft (impossible to get every player they target) through making a deal with another team. It's always better to trade a player who no longer fits to get one who might or a draft pick that would fill a need.
The following pages will show one player that each NFL franchise is willing to let go, for the right price.
Looks happy to be in Arizona, doesn't he?
It would seem like madness to trade a player who just received a $7 million bonus from the Arizona Cardinals. The bonus actually makes him easier to trade for salary-cap purposes. The Cardinals made a move for Peyton Manning, as any team without an All-Pro QB needed to do. Peyton went elsewhere.
Arizona was a better team with John Skelton at quarterback. In his seven starts they went 5-2, as opposed to 3-6 with Kevin Kolb behind center. The numbers show that Kolb is a better quarterback in terms of interception percentage, yards per attempt, and QB rating.
In 16 career starts, Kolb has 4,000 yards, 20 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, a 59.4-percent completion rate and 50 sacks taken. That's not a QB who is worth $8 million a year. For a team picking him up as a backup, his $1 million salary this year is palatable.
Skelton doesn't take the sacks that Kolb does. More importantly, he hasn't had an entire offseason as "the man." He's also making around $1 million in the next two years. If he totally craters this season, they can get a QB in the draft next year. In this year's draft the Cardinals selected strong-armed but erratic rookie Ryan Lindley in the sixth round.
Last year's Wild Card playoff game could be the final game for Turner as a Falcon.
It's always good to trade a player a year before, as opposed to year after he loses his value. Michael Turner has had four great years in Atlanta, with more than 5,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns every time. He turned 30 in February, which is the age when most running backs lose a step. It's true that Turner was a backup for the first four years of his career with the San Diego Chargers.
Can the Falcons survive without the workhorse who has twice led the NFL in rushing in the past four seasons? When Turner missed five games in 2009, Jason Snelling started two games and had a 100-yard performance against the Bucs. Snelling has 100 catches in the past three years, so he's a versatile player.
Second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers is going to get more touches in any case. He had 57 carries and 21 receptions as a rookie and should at least double his production in 2012.
With the epic Julio Jones trade, the Falcons have accepted that they are a passing team. Turner has $15.5 million left on his contract, and he's on the back end of his career.
Birk's done well for a Harvard man, but he's coming to the end of his career.
A lot of the trade candidates listed are there because of what the team did in the draft. The Baltimore Ravens drafted Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round. Gradkowski can play guard or center.
Matt Birk will be 36 when the 2012 season commences. It's hard to say that a player who has missed five games in the past 12 years is coming to the end of his career. The Ravens were smart to pick Birk up when they lost center Jason Brown to the St. Louis Rams in 2009. They need to pass the torch to a younger player if they're going to keep the Super Bowl window open.
The former first-round pick has fallen out of favor.
Leodis McKelvin was the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He's about to be replaced by the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Buffalo Bills envisioned the Troy product as an eventual shut-down cornerback with elite return skills. He had a great year as a kick returner and did return a punt for a touchdown in 2011, but he never found a consistent role in the secondary.
First-round pick Stephon Gilmore and second-year player Aaron Ross are going to be the starters. Fourth-round rookie Ron Brooks had experience as a third cornerback for the LSU Tigers and could fill the same role in Buffalo.
If another team is interested in taking a shot at a cornerback with four years of experience who will turn 27 a week before the regular season starts, the Bills are open to offers.
Stewart is too talented to be a part-time running back.
The Carolina Panthers were expected to lose DeAngelo Williams before the 2011 season. Instead they gave him a five-year, $43 million contract. He averaged less than 12 touches a game last year. A running back receiving that much money needs to be a full-time back or close to it.
Jonathan Stewart is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract and had more touches than Williams last year. Both running backs had a 5.4 per carry average. Both are too good for a time share.
If the Panthers let Stewart play out his rookie deal, he's going to be a free agent and all they're going to get is a compensatory draft pick in 2014. They could trade him today and get a better return. Stewart's salary-cap hit is about $2.6 million this year, a pittance for a starter-caliber running back.
The Panthers can exist without Stewart. They signed Mike Tolbert to be the fullback. Tolbert scored double-digit touchdowns the past two years and had 54 catches in 2011. Rookie free agent RB Tauren Poole is capable as well.
Earl Bennett's going to miss his Vanderbilt connection.
Last year, the Chicago Bears had a lot of wide receivers, but they lacked elite options. After coming back from a chest injury, Earl Bennett had 14 catches in his first three games. His connection with Jay Cutler, going back to their Vanderbilt days, appeared to be working fine. Bennett had seven catches the rest of the year.
In the offseason the Bears added Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery. Those are the starters. Bennett may be locked into the slot position, but Devin Hester's still in the rotation. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice has already made the bold proclamation of, "If he's not on the field, then they should fire me."
Hester has been more of a weapon on special teams with 17 career return touchdowns and 13 career receiving touchdowns. In any case, there might not be a role for Bennett. He's 25 and can be a consistent slot presence. It just doesn't look like it's going to be with the Bears.
Clements may be changing addresses.
A year after losing Johnathan Joseph to the Houston Texans, the Bengals have a surplus at cornerback. Nate Clements, Jason Allen, Terence Newman and Adam Jones all will vie to start opposite Leon Hall. Then there's rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
Clements was a free-agent prize when the 49ers picked him up in 2007 for a then-record six years and $80 million. He was released last summer. The Bengals signed him to a two-year deal, so any team wanting to trade for Clements won't be burdened by a huge contract. He has a couple of good years left, even at age 32.
Evan Moore is the classic move tight end.
Colt McCoy seems like the obvious trade bait on the Browns. He knows the system, and it's impossible to tell yet if Brandon Weeden will be the opening day starter. A player who made an impact last year but is somewhat without a position is Evan Moore.
Evan Moore is the new version of a tight end. He doesn't block. He runs routes. Last year he scored four touchdowns on 34 receptions. That's a nice ratio. At 6'7", he's a matchup nightmare. At 232 pounds, he's getting creamed if he tries to block.
The Browns continue to start Ben Watson. Last year's rookie Jordan Cameron looks like the tight end of the future. Brad Smelley of Alabama, the seventh-round rookie, will get a shot to be the new move tight end or even a fullback.
Dallas fans have seen enough of Felix Jones on the sidelines.
Cowboys fans think they have their franchise running back of the future, and his name is not Felix Jones. He has been with the team for four years and has not started more than eight games in a season.
DeMarco Murray is the man. Philip Tanner can back up and start in a pinch. Undrafted rookies Darrell Scott and Lance Dunbar could make the team. Felix Jones is an extra piece.
Jones is not without talent. His career yards per carry is 5.1, and he has caught 100 passes in the past three years. He has a kickoff return touchdown. Most NFL teams aren't giving one running back 300 carries anymore. Jones was miscast as an every-down guy. On his second team, he can be a fantastic complementary player.
Knowshon reached the end zone less often than the Broncos would have liked.
When a former first-round pick is tested against another former first-round pick and fails, he wasn't worth the pick. The Denver Broncos added Willis McGahee in the shortened 2011 offseason, and he was the lead back for most of the season. Knowshon Moreno dropped from an under-performing but promising player to out of the picture. His ACL tear in early November means that even in the best of circumstances he's probably not going to be ready for full-time action by opening day.
How do the Broncos feel about Moreno? They drafted Ronnie Hillman in the second round. Hillman was a workhorse at San Diego State and could displace the 30-year-old McGahee by the end of this season.
On another franchise, Moreno could get the fresh start that he needs to continue as an NFL running back.
Burleson could be out of the Motor City.
Any team with a clear-cut No. 1 receiver like the Lions have with Calvin Johnson is always looking for a No. 2 who can take away some of the pressure. When the Lions signed Nate Burleson, he was penciled in as that complementary role.
Burleson had his one and only 1,000-yard season in 2004. Last season with Calvin getting double teams on almost every play, he had a career-low 10.4 yards per reception. His 73 catches were a career high.
The Lions already have a player ready to step into Burleson's role. Titus Young had 48 catches as a rookie and scored twice as many touchdowns as Burleson (six to three). Young finished the season with four touchdowns in the final four games.
As the Lions try to sign some of their defensive stars like Cliff Avril to long-term deals, they're going to need to get out of bad cap situations like Burleson's nearly $6 million and $7 million cap numbers in 2013 and 2014. Now's the time to get that contract off the books and let a younger player produce.
Thanks for the memories, James.
From 2008 to 2010, it was hard to tell whether Jordy Nelson or James Jones would become the Green Bay Packers' eventual No. 2 wideout to line up opposite Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson won that battle fairly decisively.
Jones did average a career-high 16.7 yards per reception and had seven touchdowns in 2011. He is signed with the team for two more years, but it would benefit both sides if he were moved to a team that needs a starter. The Packers drafted Randall Cobb in the second round in 2011, and he's going to earn more playing time as a receiver in 2012.
The Texans are getting younger on defense.
The Houston Texans made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year. The defensive turnaround was the main reason. In the 2012 NFL draft, the Texans surprised a lot of people by taking an outside linebacker in Whitney Mercilus as opposed to helping their offense.
Smart teams keep adding bodies to positions of strength. The Texans are getting younger in their entire defense. Antonio Smith was signed to a five-year, $35.5 million contract in 2009. He's going to hit the cap for $16.5 million in the next two years. He's a flexible player who can play defensive end and defensive tackle. Smith was a team captain in 2011, but he can be replaced.
Rookie Jared Crick dropped below projections in the draft after a torn pectoral muscle cut short his senior season at Nebraska. He'll be the long-term answer opposite J.J. Watt at defensive end. Mercilus played DE in college and could slide into a three-point stance on passing downs. The Texans are built to survive without Smith.
The Colts are making a major transition on defense.
The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of work to do. Every returning player in the front seven will have to adjust to new coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme. Some players aren't equipped to do it.
The focus of their 2012 draft was mainly on offense. One player they picked up on defense who could step in immediately is Josh Chapman, a nose tackle out of Alabama. Chapman played most of 2011 after tearing his ACL. He should be fine to open the 2012 season.
Antonio Johnson has been a 4-3 defensive tackle for his entire career. It's going to be a tough transition. A trade to a team that runs a 4-3 would be best for him. If Chapman's not ready to start the season at the nose tackle position, free-agent defensive tackle Brandon McKinney can play the spot.
Thomas has lost favor in Jacksonville.
Mike Thomas entered 2011 as Jacksonville's No. 1 wideout. He led the team in receptions with a paltry 44. It's what the team did in free agency and the draft that let the fan base know that Thomas as the team's WR1 is unacceptable.
First the team signed Laurent Robinson. Robinson thrived as the third receiver in Dallas last year and will start for the Jaguars. The team added Lee Evans, who has reached the journeyman stage of his career but still can contribute. The final step in rebuilding the wide receiver corps was moving up in the draft to select Justin Blackmon.
Thomas will be 25 on opening day. In 2010 he was an excellent slot receiver and punt returner. Plenty of teams are in need of those skill sets. The Jaguars are going to look for their younger players like Cecil Shorts and Chastin West to take those roles.
Lilja could lose his job to a rookie.
In the last four years, Lilja has started 62 out of 64 games. He has played right and left guard. To carve out a long NFL career, players need that position versatility. Lilja's not going to want to be a backup after starting for most of his eight-year career. The best move for the Chiefs would be to trade him to a team in need of interior lineman help.
Reggie Bush played the lead back role for the first time in his career.
The Miami Dolphins had a rough offseason. They made a strong bid for Peyton Manning that was rebuffed. They traded troubled wideout Brandon Marshall to the Bears for two third-round picks after trading two second-rounders for him just two years ago. Every attempt to upgrade at quarterback was thwarted.
The Dolphins did get lucky on draft day. Lamar Miller dropped to the fourth round, and the Dolphins moved up to select him. Miller has the potential to be an every-down back. So does 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas.
While Reggie Bush had his best year as a professional with almost 1,400 yards, it's hard to expect that the seventh-year back can repeat a 259-touch season. Bush has been one of the most dynamic punt returners in the league with four career scores. He has had 20 carries in a game four times in his career, and three of them were in the final four weeks of his 2011 season.
The best move for the Dolphins would be to trade him now while his value is highest and continue the rebuilding process with their young running backs.
Antoine Winfield has been a Pro Bowl mainstay and wants to win a ring.
The Minnesota Vikings are another team in transition. Last year was a flop as the team finished in last place in the NFC North for the second consecutive year. The Packers, Lions and Bears all improved during the offseason.
Enter Antoine Winfield. He lost time due to a neck injury and a broken collarbone that ended a three-year streak of Pro Bowl seasons. Winfield's on the hook for nearly $7 million against the cap in the next two years. He's 35 years old, which is ancient in the NFL. To give Winfield the proper send-off, the Vikings should find a trade partner that would give him an opportunity to get a ring. Selfishly, Minnesota needs to get anything of value for one of the team's defensive leaders.
The Patriots get a lot out of their offensive line.
The New England Patriots have a reputation of being a bargain hunter in terms of free-agent signings. Last summer the Patriots picked up five-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters from the Chiefs when he was too expensive for Kansas City. Waters signed a one-year deal with the Patriots and renewed this offseason.
In the last 10 seasons, Waters has missed just three games. He moved from left guard to right guard without missing a thing. Even at age 35, he can be a quality starter for a couple more seasons.
The Patriots signed another former starter on the cheap when the picked up Robert Gallery. Gallery has been a left guard for the past five years, but he could play the right side.
Henderson has been a mainstay for the Saints for eight seasons.
One of the reasons why the New Orleans Saints have maintained one of the top passing offenses in the league for years is the consistency of the receivers. The team had to say farewell to Robert Meachem this offseason as he signed with the San Diego Chargers.
In eight seasons with the Saints, Devery Henderson has an incredible 18.2 yards per reception. He is the master of the go route. His career high in receptions is 51. Drew Brees looks to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and the team's endless supply of running backs before going to Henderson.
For all of Henderson's speed, he doesn't help on punt or kickoff returns. The Saints would be smart to unload Henderson before he's no longer able to perform his one trick: getting open deep.
Umenyiora's a two-time champ.
The New York Giants won two Super Bowls with a deep and talented defensive line. That can be a problem when individual players want more money than the team's willing to give.
It's probably best that the Giants and Umenyiora part ways since the Giants need to lock down receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz long-term along with Jason Pierre-Paul. All three are going to get expensive really quick. Umenyiora can help a 4-3 team looking for an elite pass rusher.
Wayne Hunter doesn't have a lot of fans in Jersey.
When the New York Jets gave journeyman Wayne Hunter a four-year contract extension to be their right tackle before the 2011 season, it was a shock. Before 2011, Hunter had started five games in his career.
The Jets were much worse in every rushing category in 2011. Hunter's not the only problem with the line, but it's troubling that the team went from fourth in rushing yards in 2010 to 22nd in rushing yards in 2011. The Jets gave up 40 sacks in 2011 as opposed to 28 in 2010.
It's possible that Hunter struggled simply due to a shortened offseason and it being his first full season as an NFL starter at age 30. In either case, the Jets should trade him before his low perceived value falls completely through the floor.
The Raiders have options at right tackle.
The Oakland Raiders were going to be really bored on NFL draft weekend until they received compensatory picks. Their first draft pick, in the compensatory portion of the third round, was Utah tackle Tony Bergstrom.
Khalif Barnes is going to start looking over his shoulder. The right tackle started all 16 games for the Raiders last year, which was the first time he accomplished that feat since the 2008 season. 2011 third-round pick Joe Barksdale has the tools to take over, if not Bergstrom.
The Eagles may not need as deep a DE rotation as they currently have.
The Philadelphia Eagles are imitating their rivals the New York Giants, and that's a good thing. They're getting deep on the defensive line. After drafting Fletcher Cox in the first round and Vinny Curry in the second, the Eagles are letting their veterans know that a new crop is on the way.
Brandon Graham's first two years in the NFL have been a medical nightmare. He tore his ACL in December of 2010 and only played in three games last year. Jason Babin and Trent Cole are the entrenched starters while Darryl Tapp is a quality backup. Curry's going to play a lot as well.
If Graham is finally healthy, the Eagles might want to test the waters and see if they can use his first-round pedigree to get a return in trade. This is a team that wants nothing more than to win a championship, so they can't wait on a player to develop slowly.
Is Lawrence Timmons a key member of the Steeler linebacker corps?
It would be nothing short of sacrilege for the Pittsburgh Steelers to consider trading one of their linebackers. The Steelers have a linebacker tradition that few teams can contemplate, let alone match. They also have major salary-cap issues if they continue to have three linebackers on their roster who are making eight figures.
Lamar Woodley's going to be on the books for eight figures starting in 2013 through 2016. James Harrison's deal will cost the cap $10 million-plus starting in 2013. He will be 35 years old at that point, but his multiple fines and suspensions would make his trade value low.
Their youngest linebacker is Lawrence Timmons.He signed a six-year, $50 million contract prior to the 2011 season. While his cap hit in 2012 is relatively modest at a little less than $4 million, that number jumps in 2013. The Steelers had major salary cap issues this offseason and had to restructure some contracts to have enough money left over to sign their rookies. Timmons is one of the highest value players on the team.
While it would be initially tough to trade the inside linebacker, the team's always prepared for the future. Third-year player Stevenson Sylvester could take the role. Rookie Sean Spence might be the long-term solution at Larry Foote's spot. He's a candidate for that position as well.
Jackson could get to 10,000 career yards in another uniform.
The St. Louis Rams made the draft trade for the decade when they received three No. 1 picks and a second-rounder from the Washington Redskins. It was a savvy move for a franchise in transition. A rebuilding team with a bad offensive line is no place for a running back near the end of his career.
The Rams drafted Isaiah Pead much as they did Jackson in 2004. He's going to be the next feature back for the team. If they trade Jackson, they would need to find a veteran to help. There are plenty of cheap veteran options.
Phillips has been steady at outside linebacker.
For years the San Diego Chargers have tried to fill their outside linebacker position with free agents and through the draft. Shaun Phillips has been the constant presence at left outside linebacker for most of the past eight seasons.
They drafted Larry English, who has been a bust. They brought in Kevin Burnett, who played well for a year and moved on to the Miami Dolphins. This year they picked up Jarret Johnson from the Ravens, most likely to play right outside linebacker, and drafted Melvin Ingram in the first round. Ingram was a linebacker in college but will fit in as a rushing outside linebacker in the pros. Even Antwan Barnes, a journeyman prior to 2011, had 11 sacks last year.
Phillips is in the last year of his contract. The Chargers aren't going to give a huge extension to a linebacker who will be 32 entering the 2013 season.
Michael Crabtree isn't the elite receiver he was drafted to be.
When the San Francisco 49ers drafted Michael Crabtree 10th overall in the 2009 draft, they hoped for more. In three years he has failed to exceed 72 catches, 874 yards and six touchdowns in a season. The ceiling isn't too high in the current offense that finished 31st in the league in passing attempts last season.
Proof that the 49ers are a running team is in their offseason moves. They picked up Brandon Jacobs as a free agent and drafted LaMichael James. They also signed Randy Moss as a free agent and drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round of the draft. Moss may not make the team, but if he does he could be a stopgap No. 1 wide receiver while Jenkins develops.
Crabtree might miss a Super Bowl opportunity, but he could find an offense that's more wide receiver friendly.
Jackson's window in Seattle is closing.
When a team is not happy with its current incumbent quarterback, the signs are not subtle. The Seattle Seahawks signed Matt Flynn this offseason, and they selected Russell Wilson in the third round of the draft.
It's pretty clear that Tarvaris Jackson no longer has a role with the team. He was a mediocre starter last year, and his 7-7 record in 14 starts tells the tale.
Pete Carroll will take his chances with Matt Flynn in 2012. Flynn has two career starts, and there will be growing pains. Russell Wilson could challenge Flynn as soon as later in the year. Jackson had a year to prove himself, and that year's over.
Cody Grimm earned a starting spot, but it may not be enough.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a tough team to project a trade since they all but cleaned house in the offseason. Cody Grimm, son of Arizona Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm, pulled off a rare feat as a seventh-round rookie. He started nine games. Grimm entered 2011 as a starter but tore his ACL in September.
It's not Grimm's fault that he has suffered two season-ending injuries in two years with the Bucs. The Bucs drafted Mark Barron No. 7 overall to take over as strong safety. That leaves free safety open. General manager Mark Dominik recently stated that Ronde Barber might move to free safety. If that's going to happen, Grimm could be moved.
Will Witherspoon may not fit the Titans' defensive future.
The defense is changing for the Tennessee Titans. Drafting Zach Brown in the second round means that Will Witherspoon's days as a starting linebacker for the team are close to the end. Since signing with the team in 2010, Witherspoon has been a three-down weakside linebacker. Last year he had a career-low 39 tackles.
The latest news from Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean is that Will Witherspoon, Gerald McRath, Zach Brown and newly-signed Zac Diles are competing for one of the starting linebacker jobs. Of the four, Witherspoon is the only real trade candidate. The Titans should let the younger players compete and weigh the value of a player with 145 career starts.
Santana Moss lost weight in the offseason to maintain his position.
Any team that trades four draft picks to get a rookie QB is not on the verge of a championship. That's the kind of team that starts shedding veterans.
Santana Moss has started every game that he has played as a member of the Washington Redskins. Moss caught 47 fewer passes in 2011 than in 2010. The QB play was some of the worst in the league, but when you're getting outpaced by Jabar Gaffney who is no burner, that's bad.
The Redskins picked up Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in free agency, and they're expecting Leonard Hankerson to fully recover from 2011 hip surgery. It's time for Washington to say goodbye to the team's best receiver in a decade.