NFL Players Teams Should Be Trying to Trade Before Roster Cuts
The end of the NFL preseason is bittersweet.
For fans, there is joy in knowing opening kickoff for the regular season is right around the corner. Teams and players are less joyous in the aftermath of the third preseason contest since rosters must be cut down to their final 53 total by midday Tuesday, August 30.
There will be solid players who will hit the open market as rosters are squeezed to their 53-man limit. The realities of NFL contract structuring and draft pick investments make it difficult for more than a few newcomers to work their way onto a final roster.
It's not entirely uncommon to see free agents added earlier in the year or late-round draft picks released as they had an uphill battle from the start.
After scrubbing through preseason snap counts and training camp reports, we've identified seven NFL players teams should be trying to trade for before cut day arrives. Each of these players has shown a baseline of NFL talent but has fallen out of the rotation for one reason or another.
A fresh situation can be all the difference for these individuals to flourish.
Darius Slayton, WR, New York Giants
Best fits: Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Washington Commanders, Denver Broncos
Throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, Darius Slayton proved to be one of the best value players across the league. He totaled 98 receptions, 1,491 yards and 11 touchdowns as a fifth-round pick.
Unfortunately, his momentum after 2020 came to a screeching halt as the New York Giants offense struggled to find consistency in 2021. Slayton, 25 years old, produced only 26 catches for 339 yards and two scores in 13 games.
He's struggled to find his footing in a deep receiving room under new head coach Brian Daboll. According to Dan Duggan of The Athletic, Slayton was spending more time with the second and third teams early in training camp. Slayton didn't play in the Giants' final preseason game because of an undisclosed injury.
With a $2.6 million cap hit in the final year of his contract and an unlikely pathway to playing time, the speedster should get a fresh start elsewhere. His ability to get downfield in a hurry and make sideline catches would be good for strong vertical passers who aren't afraid of taking chances.
At his best, Slayton could be a solid third receiver who produces chunk plays.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Best fits: Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions
The backup quarterback position is one of the most difficult to project across the NFL. In theory, teams would want the most talent possible within the quarterback room. Instead, many teams opt for veteran presences who are less physically gifted and operate more like an extra coach.
Pittsburgh's recent investments into Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett have brought promising results this preseason, leaving fourth-year passer Mason Rudolph clearly third on the depth chart. Rudolph is a unique passer, not boasting a strong arm but able to throw deep balls effectively thanks to his touch and arc.
With a career completion rate of 61.5 percent, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 384 attempts, Rudolph is statistically more effective than several current veteran backups. He's helped the Steelers win five of his 10 career starts. While he's not a special playmaker, he can stabilize an offense for a few games in 2022 if a starter misses time with a significant injury.
With a $4 million cap hit in the final year of his contract, Rudolph is a relatively affordable insurance policy for playoff contenders.
Malik Reed, Edge, Denver Broncos
Best fits: New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons
Pass-rushers rarely come available cheaply, but the Denver Broncos appear to have a surplus on their hands. Are they willing to hold on to Malik Reed because of his talent despite their depth?
Reed looks like a prime trade candidate as the Broncos open a roster spot for a position of bigger need. The 26-year-old has totaled 13 sacks over the last two seasons. The former undrafted free agent can be a helpful rotational rusher on a contender or benefit from a bigger role on a rebuilding team.
Meanwhile, Denver will be just fine with Bradley Chubb, Randy Gregory, Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto. Gregory just signed with the Broncos for $70 million, and Bonitto was selected as a second-round pick. Browning converted from off-ball linebacker to the edge.
Denver would benefit more from getting an asset for its sixth pass-rusher over keeping him in case of injury. Considering the Broncos' need at receiver after injuries struck, it's possible they could swap Reed for one of the other playmakers on this list.
Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Best fits: Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons
Despite early reports of performing well in training camp, Jalen Reagor's roster spot appears shaky at best. After a poor start to his career that includes just 24.8 yards per game and a 57.7 percent catch rate, Reagor needed to show progress this preseason.
Instead of resting alongside five other receivers, Reagor played in the Philadelphia Eagles' third preseason game. The potential saving grace was that Greg Ward missed the preseason with a toe injury, which could put Reagor as fifth instead of sixth. Still, the Eagles should weigh whether he's worth keeping as a primary special teamer or just cut bait with the first-round bust.
We've already seen another recent receiver bust traded this offseason when N'Keal Harry was sent to Chicago for a 2024 seventh-round pick. Reagor is likely worth that type of asset for a rebuilding team simply taking a flier on his speed.
It's clear the situation in Philadelphia isn't the right one for Reagor to find success. Giving him one more opportunity to produce with a new scheme and quarterback can be beneficial to all parties.
Scotty Miller, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best fits: Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears
One of the great things about playing with Tom Brady is he's sure to maximize whatever skill set a player has. We've seen that many times, and again recently with wide receiver Scotty Miller. The speedy 5'9", 174-pounder averaged over 15 yards per catch in his first two seasons and totaled four touchdowns in his first 46 receptions.
He also caught the iconic 39-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay two seasons ago. Miller emerged open as Brady heaved a deep pass right before halftime. Of course, Brady hit Miller in stride.
But instead of building on that great moment in 2021, Miller became an afterthought as he struggled with a foot injury that caused him to miss eight games. He caught only five passes despite the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being short on receivers.
With Tyler Johnson emerging, 2021 fourth-rounder Jaelon Darden improving, and the Bucs adding Julio Jones and Russell Gage, Miller was a long shot to make the roster this season.
Other teams should pounce on the opportunity to get a versatile pass-catcher who can play inside or outside. He's quick and fast, which is not usually the case for players his size. Miller shouldn't be pigeonholed to just a slot receiver.
Several teams across the league could use someone who adds a deep element to the unit but can also win one-on-one in the red zone. He'd be the perfect addition to several playoff hopefuls. Miller is also young enough at 25 to justify bringing in for rebuilding efforts.
D'Ernest Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns
Best fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals
The Cleveland Browns have the deepest running back room in the NFL. Both Nick Chubb and D'Ernest Johnson averaged well over five yards a carry. Kareem Hunt was .1 yards away from reaching the mark as well.
Cleveland added to its depth by grabbing Jerome Ford in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft. While this team can afford to carry all four backs, it has a need at receiver. Could the Browns swap Johnson for Scotty Miller, Jalen Reagor or Darius Slayton? There seems to be a fit for both teams.
Johnson broke out behind Cleveland's pulverizing offensive line last year, totaling 534 yards on 100 carries. He also added 137 yards on 19 receptions. Most teams can't match Cleveland's quality offensive line, but Johnson proved efficient in creating opportunities on his own, ranking seventh in juke rate and 10th in yards created per touch, according to PlayerProfiler.
Playing on a modest one-year, $1.2 million qualifying offer, Johnson has value as an affordable backup with very little wear on his tires.
Ronald Jones, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Best fits: Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Houston Texans
On paper, the Kansas City Chiefs' signing of Ronald Jones made sense as the team wanted depth behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs may have viewed Jones as a quality insurance policy for Edwards-Helaire after he missed seven games last season. After all, the two have an overlapping skill set as skilled inside-zone runners.
However, the Chiefs weren't done adding backs. They re-signed Jerick McKinnon after he looked like the best ball-carrier on the roster in 2021. Kansas City also unearthed Isiah Pacheco as a seventh-rounder from Rutgers who was clearly overlooked as a prospect.
After Pacheco dominated headlines this preseason for his impact as a receiver, Jones is on the outs. He's not an explosive athlete or great on passing downs, making his fit on this team almost impossible after others have proved more valuable. But that doesn't mean he can't be a solid option elsewhere.
Still only 25 and on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Jones is a nice early-down back who takes what he is given by defenses. He has value as a primary backup for teams needing consistency.