NFL Trade Speculation: Assessing the Asking Price for the NFL's Top 25 Players

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJuly 1, 2011

NFL Trade Speculation: Assessing the Asking Price for the NFL's Top 25 Players

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    For an offseason that creeps by fatally slowly, a fan of the NFL can do only one thing to keep his or her mind sane: speculate.  And because of the now-infamous NFL lockout, speculation has become a necessity rather than a luxury.

    So as dreams of the 2011 season continue, we will take a look at the NFL's top 25 players and the trades other teams would have to offer to obtain their elite services.

    This top 25 list is loosely based on's current in-progress rankings, with a lot of debatable changes based on my personal perceptions.  

    Debate all you want, but what cannot be debated is that the asking prices for these players would be incredibly high.

    But just how high?  Let's find out.

    Note: 2011-12 free agents were included in ranking considerations; for the purposes of speculation, they will not be considered free agents.


25. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

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    Arian Foster was a breakout offensive star in 2010 for the Houston Texans.

    Foster ripped through defenses for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns over 16 games.  The Texans should probably switch his number to 16.

    In all seriousness, Foster was a bright spot for a disappointing Houston team.  Now that the organization has seemingly found its groove in the ground game, all it needs is an adequate defense to be a complete playoff team.  Wade Phillips should be able to make that happen.

    Two positions the Texans are in dire need of, however, are cornerback and safety.

    To obtain Foster, a team would probably have to offer the Texans one of the league's best defensive backs along with a solid complementary cover man.

    One possible fit is Green Bay, who could use a top running back.  With one of the league's best secondaries, the Packers could probably offer rising star Tramon Williams at cornerback and Atari Bigby at safety and still be fine in pass defense.

    With running backs a dime a dozen in the NFL, Houston would have to consider such an offer. 

24. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens boast one of the best run defenses in the league, and a big reason for that is defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.

    Technically a 3-4 defensive end, Ngata is as big as a 3-4 nose tackle and yet produces like a 4-3 defensive end.  His 63 tackles and 5.5 sacks were some of the best stats in the league at his position.

    Ngata's services would not be easily traded by Baltimore, but one way a team could force the Ravens to consider dealing him is by offering them a top wide receiver.

    Quarterback Joe Flacco's two best receivers, Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason, seem to be past their prime, and the passing game seems to be the only thing holding this team back.

    An organization such as the Dallas Cowboys could instantly and exponentially improve an already good defensive line by adding Ngata, and they have enough talent at receiver that they could afford a trade.

    Baltimore might be enticed by a trade that included Miles Austin, who would help inject some speed and youth into their receiving corps.  The Cowboys have Dez Bryant to pick up the slack at receiver. 

23. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

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    For any team to trade for the league's best offensive tackle would require a blockbuster trade for the ages, and Joe Thomas is that guy.

    The Cleveland Browns drafted Thomas out of Wisconsin in the first round of the 2007 draft, and he's been to four Pro Bowls since.  Widely considered the best tackle in the league, the Browns would require a great deal to even entertain the possibility of trading him away.

    With as many needs as the Browns have, however, such a trade might not be impossible.  The Browns are hurting badly at receiver, and quarterback Colt McCoy would welcome the thought of having one of the league's best pass-catchers.

    Players of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson's caliber would likely have to be involved, but it isn't likely any team would be willing to give up that much.

    Besides, I'm sure McCoy doesn't mind having the league's best tackle protecting his blind side.

22. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Roddy White has steadily become a mainstay as one of the NFL's best wide receivers, racking up over 80 catches and 1,100 yards in each of his past four seasons.

    He had his best year yet in 2010, racking up an astonishing 115 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Seeing as how quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons rely heavily upon White as the team's top offensive threat, it would be highly unlikely that they'd be willing to let him go.  For anybody to obtain his services, they would have to offer a solid receiver in his place along with a stud at another position.

    Secondary would be the most likely when the Falcons' 22nd-ranked pass defense is considered.

    Someone like the Raiders might consider offering elite cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for White to give quarterback Jason Campbell an instant top target.

21. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

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    Philip Rivers may be a somewhat embattled individual, but the fact remains: He is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

    The San Diego Chargers were a mediocre 9-7 in 2010, but it wasn't by any fault of Rivers, who threw for 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns on a 101.8 rating.  And those numbers were recorded without his top receiver, Vincent Jackson.

    While most teams who are in dire need of a quarterback don't happen to have much else to offer, the Chargers would require a whole lot for Rivers.

    Unfortunately, for that reason, there really aren't any good examples of possibilities for a Rivers trade.  But perhaps a team like San Francisco, who has been hurting at quarterback for some time now, would be willing to consider trading star linebacker Patrick Willis.

    The Chargers aren't exactly stacked at middle linebacker, so it's a thought.

20. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

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    Ndamukong Suh was the NFL's breakout defensive player in 2010, earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award as well as a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection.  His 66 tackles, 10 sacks, forced fumble, interception and fumble return for a touchdown were strong reasons for his accolades.

    As unlikely as it would be for Detroit to trade away the league's best defensive tackle, the recent inclusion of Nick Fairley to the defensive line could potentially open up a small window of opportunity for those willing to offer enough.

    However, because of Detroit's shortcomings in the secondary, more than one elite defensive back would have to be involved in this trade.  Perhaps the Arizona Cardinals would consider offering safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Suh's services.

    A two-for-one such as this might be the only chance anyone has at prying the House of Spears from the Lions

19. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

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    As the league's best tight end since the prime days of Tony Gonzalez, San Diego's Antonio Gates is the epitome of an elite NFL tight end.

    The Charger has it all—from athleticism, to soft hands, to route running ability and great blocking ability.

    Gates has piled up 529 catches for 7,005 yards and 69 touchdowns in his nine-year career.  When you throw out his rookie year, he has averaged 63 catches for 827 yards and eight touchdowns per season.  In 2010, Gates had 782 yards and 10 touchdowns on 50 receptions in just 10 games.

    To receive Gates, a team would likely have to offer an above-average tight end to replace Gates in addition to good depth, perhaps at linebacker or running back.

18. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews has racked up 23.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons.

    What more needs to be said?  The kid is a stud.  Matthews is a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker and any team running a 3-4 would kill to get him.

    Okay, so that's a little dramatic, but a lot of those teams would most certainly be willing to give up a lot for the USC product.

    While there is most likely nobody that would be able to entice the Packers enough to get Matthews, a hypothetical trade for him would probably consist of an elite running back.  

    Arian Foster of the Texans, perhaps?

    This was never mentioned in Foster's slide, but some deal involving these two could be possible with the Texans switching over to the 3-4 under Wade Phillips. 

17. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Introducing DeMarcus Ware, the reason why the Dallas Cowboys wouldn't trade for Clay Matthews.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Big D wouldn't mind having a Ware/Matthews combo.  But because of Ware, they don't really need Matthews.

    Ware has racked up an unbelievable 80 sacks in 96 career games, never recording less than eight sacks in a single season.  And not to be forgotten are his 25 career forced fumbles.


    Dallas is hurting in the secondary, so DeMarcus Ware could be used in a trade for someone like Darrelle Revis.  The Jets certainly wouldn't mind having an extra pass-rusher-and-a-half.

    But even for a package including Revis, the 'Boys would not easily be rid of Ware.

16. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

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    Speaking of Darrelle Revis, I'm not sure the New York Jets would be keen on giving up their star cornerback, even for DeMarcus Ware.

    Regarded almost unanimously as the league's top shutdown cornerback in 2009, Revis lsland took a big step back in terms of production a season later.  However, he remains one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.

    Teams such as the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions would be greatly interested in Revis, and players such as Mario Williams or Calvin Johnson (yeah, right) could potentially be trading pieces.

15. James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Love him or hate him, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the league's best outside linebacker, bar none.

    If you don't believe me, just look at the stats.

    Harrison has racked up 378 tackles and 25 (!) forced fumbles over the past four seasons, while recording 8.5, 16, 10 and 10.5 sacks in each of those respective seasons.

    As good as Harrison is, the Steelers might be willing to trade him for a couple of different reasons.

    First of all, the Steelers seemingly grow great linebackers on trees (LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, just to name a couple).  Second, Harrison has come under fire recently for reckless play that has resulted in head injuries to other players.

    Any team that runs a 3-4 would be interested in Harrison.  The Chargers, for example, would love to replace departed star Shawne Merriman with Harrison, and they have a lot of talent that the Steelers could be interested in.

    Antonio Gates for James Harrison would be a possibility in this situation. 

14. Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Troy Polamalu had an outstanding season for the Steelers in 2010, racking up 63 tackles and seven interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

    The former USC Trojan has been a star for Pittsburgh since 2004, and he hasn't played for anybody else.

    I doubt anybody would ever even consider asking for a trade involving Polamalu, but if someone did, it would have to be an eye-popping offer.  The Steelers have very few holes, so they would likely require an adequate replacement at safety as well as a strong receiving option.

    Going with the San Diego-to-Pittsburgh trend, a good example might be Eric Weddle and Vincent Jackson for Polamalu and someone like Emmanuel Sanders.

13. Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens

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    Now that we've looked at the NFL's best strong safety, let's go back to the Baltimore Ravens and check out the best free safety.

    Ed Reed has racked up 54 interceptions over his 10 seasons, establishing himself as arguably the biggest ball hawk in the league.  

    He has never had less than five interceptions in a season in which he played a full 16-game slate, and he had eight picks in just 10 games last season.  Reed is a veteran, but he's still playing at a very high level.

    Teams hurting in pass coverage would do themselves very, very well to get Reed in their last line of defense, but it would probably take a trade involving an elite receiver or cornerback to pry him away from Baltimore.

12. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    Speaking of aging veterans still playing at a high level, introducing Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers.

    Chances are you've already heard this name too many times to count if you have been an NFL fan for much time.

    Woodson completed his 13th season in 2010 and has recorded 809 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 27 forced fumbles, 47 interceptions, 160 pass deflections and 10 touchdowns over his career.

    Ever the playmaker, Woodson has been either considered for or actually won Defensive Player of the Year almost every year since he entered the league.

    The former Heisman Trophy winner would get a lot of interest from any team that needs help at cornerback, but the Packers would not be keen on letting anybody near.

    They do have a loaded secondary, however, so if someone like the Oakland Raiders came calling (they may need to replace Nnamdi Asomugha this coming season), a trade that involved Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson for Woodson might be tempting for the Pack.

11. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Despite Larry Fitzgerald's "down" year in 2010, he is still regarded as a future Hall of Fame receiver.

    In fact, the only reason his year was considered somewhat subpar is because of his incredible stats in past seasons.  And considering he had very little to work with at quarterback, Fitzgerald's year was actually remarkably good.

    The Arizona Cardinals would hang on to Fitzgerald to the bitter end, and even if they were to consider a trade, they'd milk it to its breaking point, squeezing every possible benefit out of losing their star receiver.

    More than likely, a trade for a franchise quarterback would be the only selling point, as great receivers are much easier to come by than great quarterbacks.  An elite quarterback without a great receiver can make a team a lot better than an elite receiver without a great quarterback.

    Who would be willing to make such a trade? Probably no one. 

10. Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Patrick Willis is undoubtedly the top linebacker in the NFL.

    He has been an exceptionally productive force for San Francisco in every single one of his seasons, racking up an astonishing 595 tackles, 15 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four interceptions and two touchdowns in just four seasons.

    On top of that, Willis has been the 49ers' unquestioned defensive leader and a steady force through some tumultuous seasons.  He is a once-a-generation type of talent at linebacker.

    It's unlikely San Francisco would ever let Willis go elsewhere, but for it to be at all possible, interested parties would have to present a solid starting quarterback as well as a difference-making receiver to complement Michael Crabtree.

9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Many will think this is too high a ranking for Calvin Johnson.  In reality, it's too low if anything.

    Johnson is the most physically gifted receiver in the NFL, and has all the tools you would want in an elite No. 1 wideout.

    The Lions' star offensive player has racked up 4,191 yards and 33 touchdowns in just four seasons.  And if that isn't impressive enough, he has done it with a lot of different quarterbacks, all who were average at best.

    In an otherwise shaky offense, Johnson is both a solid cornerstone and an explosive playmaker.

    Anybody would love to have this guy in their offense, but to do so, the Lions would probably have to be offered the whole Green Bay Packers secondary.

    In all seriousness, Detroit simply would not consider letting go of Calvin Johnson unless a trade package that included guys like Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes was offered. 

8. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders

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    If there is a guy out there that can cover Calvin Johnson, his name is Nnamdi Asomugha.

    Although he doesn't have eye-popping stats, he's anything but ordinary.  In fact, the only reason he's not racking up huge numbers is because quarterbacks prefer to avoid his side of the field completely.

    Although the Raiders were forced to release their star corner as a result of a contract snag, they desperately want him back, and if they get him back, anyone that wants him won't get him easily.

    Oakland surprisingly doesn't have too many needs and could be a breakout team in 2011.  However, with one of the deepest and best secondaries, they might be willing to deal Asomugha for a star receiver.

    The Dallas Cowboys, for example, have a plethora of talent at receiver, but need a lot of help in the secondary.

    A trade involving Asomugha for such players as Miles Austin and Terence Newman could be a possibility.

7. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    If you want speed, Chris Johnson is your guy.  The Tennessee Titans star has the fastest official 40 time in NFL combine history, clocking in at a blazing 4.24 seconds.

    But there's much more to Johnson than his 40-yard dash.  His legend began seven games into the 2009 season, when he claimed his 0-6 Titans would finish 10-6 behind his own 2,000 rushing yards.

    Absurd, right?

    Hardly.  The Titans finished with an 8-8 record, behind Johnson's 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns.  With 2,509 total yards from scrimmage, Johnson finished the season holding the NFL record for total yards in a season.

    Johnson has had at least 1,228 rushing yards in each of his three seasons, and the Titans would almost certainly not let go of their star for anything.

    However, with questions at receiver and quarterback, they may listen to anybody willing to offer them a top quarterback and above-average wide receiver.  Fat chance, but at the same time, Johnson would be worth it depending on the other team's situation.

6. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Drew Brees has been a revelation for the New Orleans Saints.

    After a few relatively average seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Brees took off after being traded to New Orleans.

    His five-year career with the Saints has included a 5,000-yard season, four 4,000-yard seasons, three 30-plus touchdown seasons, one season with a 70 percent completion rate, no seasons with lower than a 64 percent completion rate and a Super Bowl win.

    Now an icon for a city still rebuilding both mentally and physically from Hurricane Katrina, Drew Brees is the best player in the NFL in New Orleans' eyes.

    In that case, let's be real—the Saints would never trade Brees.  But if they did, it would have to be a deal of Manning-esque proportions.

5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings knew they were getting a top NFL back for years to come when they selected Adrian Peterson seventh overall in the 2007 draft.

    But what they didn't know is that after four years in the league he would be the top running back.

    With 5,782 yards and 52 touchdowns in just four years, he seems destined for the Hall of Fame.  He is the most complete back in the NFL and also one of the hardest working.

    Based on the struggles Minnesota has had of late, they could not afford to get rid of their far-and-away best offensive weapon.

    But if they were to trade him, they better be getting nothing less than a franchise quarterback in return.

4. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans

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    Andre Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL, bar none.

    Why?  Just watch him play.  And if you've never seen him play, all you need to see is the production.

    Those who closely follow the NFL would know that Johnson is a complete receiver with a tremendous blend of speed, power, soft hands, leaping ability and route-running ability.

    Stat hounds will assume as much from his 9,164 career yards and 50 touchdown catches in the equivalent of about seven full seasons (115 games).

    The fact of the matter is, the Houston Texans would never give up Andre Johnson.  But that would only be made possible by a trade that involved a player of approximately equal value.  That leaves about 15 to 20 total possibilities in the whole NFL. 

3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Aaron Rodgers knew it would be a tough task getting Green Bay Packers fans to forget about the legendary Brett Favre.

    After winning a Super Bowl in just his third season starting, I'd say he was successful, wouldn't you?

    Rodgers has emerged as a superstar in the NFL after throwing for no less than 3,922 yards in each of his three starting seasons, the lowest total being in 2010.  With an amazing 86 touchdowns to 31 interceptions over that span, the Cal product is one of the best players at football's most important position.

    There's not much else you can say about an accomplishment like that.

    For Green Bay to ever consider trading Aaron Rodgers would be dubbed clinically insane—unless, of course, one of the two following players were involved.  That's what it would take.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    If you haven't heard of this guy, you haven't watched the NFL.

    Tom Brady is considered the best quarterback in the NFL by many, based on his consistently dominant stats and his incredible amount of Super Bowl appearances/wins.

    It's not too often that a young player takes over for a legend and ends up exceeding the legacy of the legend.

    Brady did that when Drew Bledsoe got injured in 2001 and never looked back.

    Since then, he has racked up over 34,000 yards on a 95.2 career quarterback rating, along with 261 touchdowns to 103 interceptions. During Brady's reign, the Patriots have dominated the NFL.

    What more do you want?

    Nothing, except more Super Bowls behind Tom Brady, the Patriots say.

    But if somehow Brady was traded, the Patriots would probably demand the life savings of whomever wanted him, if not their soul.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Like it or not, Peyton Manning is the best player in the NFL.

    Not only has Manning successfully started every game of his career and never missed a full game, he has racked up 54,898 yards and 399 touchdowns on a 94.9 career quarterback rating.  On top of that, he's thrown for at least 3,739 yards in every season and only had two seasons in which he threw for less than 4,000.

    If the stats aren't enough, the manner in which he puts these numbers up is incredible.  Manning is as much a coach as he is a player, and he can get the job done no matter who he is throwing the ball to or who is taking handoffs from him.

    Manning is the epitome of leadership and consistency, and he is the best player at the most important position in the NFL.  Quite honestly, the Colts organization would be nothing without him.

    Short of a whole franchise, there isn't much you could offer Indianapolis to give up Manning.  However, because there was speculation of a deal between the Rams and Colts at one time, I'll entertain the idea.

    If St. Louis wanted Manning, they would have had to give up rising franchise quarterback Sam Bradford and stud running back Steven Jackson, who narrowly missed the top-25 cut along with dozens of other players.

    While I have to think this trade would be detrimental to both sides, the scenario clearly illustrates Peyton Manning's immense value.