Bold Trade Predictions Before the 2022 NFL Season Kicks off
The NFL salary cap is a significant leverage point for teams and players alike. While certain workarounds can help maximize every dollar, there's a limit to that.
The New Orleans Saints are wizards when it comes to working the numbers, but they're already deep into the red based on 2023 projections. That might explain why they traded standout defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday.
Gardner-Johnson is due a massive new deal next offseason, so the Saints got ahead of the situation while they could. Others teams are in similar predicaments with certain players.
The 2022 campaign kicks into gear Thursday with the Los Angeles Rams hosting the Buffalo Bills for Thursday Night Football. Before teams begin their regular game-week routines, they should consider the following handful of deals.
Cleveland Browns Trade RB Kareem Hunt to Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons Receive: RB Kareem Hunt and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick (if later than Atlanta's selection)
Cleveland Browns Receive: '23 fourth- and seventh-round selections
The Cleveland Browns own the league's best backfield. However, having five active running backs on the roster—Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Earnest Johnson, Demetric Felton Jr. and rookie Jerome Ford—seems like overkill. The Browns could easily move forward with one or two fewer ball-carriers.
The 27-year-old is heading into the last year of his current deal. Hunt's base salary is $1.4 million, but the Browns can save as much as $6.25 million trading him before the start of the regular season, according to Over the Cap.
The one-time NFL rushing leader is one-half of the game's best running back tandem. Chubb is clearly the top guy in Cleveland, though. Hunt can be a featured back in another offense, while the Browns have ample depth in their backfield to trade him for a quality return.
The Atlanta Falcons current lack a lead back on their roster. Cordarrelle Patterson, who serves in the role by default, finished tied for 27th leaguewide last season with only 153 carries, while Atlanta ranked 31st in rushing offense.
Hunt could be the Falcons' RB1 for two or three years while the front office builds up the rest of the roster.
Dallas Cowboys Trade TE Dalton Schultz to the Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers Receive: TE Dalton Schultz
Dallas Cowboys Receive: a conditional 2023 fourth-round draft pick that can increase to a second-round selection depending on performance escalators, and a seventh-round draft pick (originally acquired from the Buffalo Bills)
The Dallas Cowboys and tight end Dalton Schultz couldn't reach a long-term extension before this year's franchise-tag deadline. The team's second-leading receiver last season will thus play out this season on his $10.9 million tag.
Dallas' inability to strike a deal with Schultz may actually work out in its favor. Rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot stood out throughout training camp and the preseason.
"(Ferguson) has been everything and more we could’ve hoped for," executive vice president Stephen Jones said during a radio interview. "(Hendershot) has really stepped up. I feel like those TEs have earned their way to being a big part of this season."
Head coach Mike McCarthy added, "I love the way those guys play. You talk about two rookies who have come in and have done an excellent job. You can see the way they picked it up, the practice tempo, the discipline, the extra hours, all the little things. And I think it definitely carries over in the way they play."
Schultz is an integral part of the Cowboys offense, but they're already paying top dollar at four different offensive positions (quarterback, running back, right guard and left tackle). Can they realistically afford to give Schultz a major deal as well?
If Dallas is comfortable with the two rookie tight ends—while elevating veteran Sean McKeon to the active roster—Schultz could be a surprise trade candidate.
The Carolina Panthers are doing everything in their power to compete this season. They already acquired quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Rashard Higgins, left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Austin Corbett. Adding a legitimate receiving threat at tight end could give them a genuinely good offense if they all come together.
Jacksonville Jaguars Trade RT Jawaan Taylor to Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders receive: RT Jawaan Taylor
Jacksonville Jaguars receive: a 2023 third-round draft pick
The Jacksonville Jaguars conducted a competition this summer to see who would be their starting right tackle. While the organization has yet to name an official starter, the competition appeared to be close throughout the process.
Last week, head coach Doug Pederson told reporters that incumbent Jawaan Taylor has "played consistent, played well," but Walker Little "is right there with him."
If the competition truly is that close, the Jaguars have two starting-caliber tackles for one spot. Cam Robinson will continue to man the blind side after signing a three-year, $54 million contract extension back in April.
NFL teams are always looking for quality big bodies to fill the trenches.
The Jaguars might prefer not to part with a 49-game starter like Taylor as they continue to build around quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but he'll be a free agent after this season and they're currently over next year's projected salary cap. Besides, Little is nearly a year-and-a-half younger than Taylor and has two more remaining years on his rookie contract after this season.
The Las Vegas Raiders already ripped the Band-Aid off at right tackle by releasing Alex Leatherwood only one year after selecting him with a first-round pick. The 24-year-old Taylor could give them Raiders a long-term bookend to left tackle Kolton Miller.
New Orleans Saints Trade Edge Marcus Davenport to Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions receive: Edge Marcus Davenport and New Orleans' 2023 third-round draft pick (if it's later than Detroit's)
New Orleans Saints receive: '23 third- and fourth-round selections
The New Orleans Saints are likely to lose one of their edge defenders relatively soon. Even though Cameron Johnson is now 33 years old, Marcus Davenport might be gone first.
Unlike Jordan, one of the NFL's most consistently good defensive linemen, Davenport's play and availability have been erratic. The soon-to-be 26-year-old set a career high with nine sacks last season, but he's never played a full campaign. In fact, he's missed at least three games every year. Last season, he dealt with a shoulder injury that cost him six games.
Davenport's potential remains tantalizing, but the Saints are running out of time. The fifth-year defensive lineman is a free agent after this season, and the team must once again work miracles with its salary cap next offseason.
Payton Turner is another first-round draft pick waiting in the wings. Along with Tanoh Kpassagnon and Carl Granderson, the Saints have plenty of depth on the edge.
The Detroit Lions' coaching staff knows exactly what Davenport brings since head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn previously worked with the Saints. Davenport would provide flexibility with a front now consisting of Charles Harris and 2022 No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. The latter could reduce over the guard in sub-packages with both Harris and Davenport working the edge.
After years of being unable to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, the Lions need to load up on talented defensive linemen.
Chicago Bears Trade LB Roquan Smith to Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys receive: LB Roquan Smith
Chicago Bears receive: a 2023 second-round draft pick or TE Dalton Schultz straight up
Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith sat out of training camp and the preseason in hopes of receiving a contract extension, but he didn't get one before returning to the team. The two sides are now acting like none of it matters.
"I'm not focused on [extension talks], if I’m being completely honest,” Smith said, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley. "My focus is on making this year the best year I can and then go from there. I don’t want to look forward too much to the future or anything like that.
"I'm just focused on having the best year I can with my teammates and playing the game I love. That’s what means the most to me."
General manager Ryan Poles said: "[Smith is] a good player. That's never changed. ... I have faith that he's going to have a good year. ... You have disagreements and then you've gotta come back together and be teammates. That's what I expect."
The truth likely likes somewhere between those comments. Smith was adamant about getting a new contract and didn't get one, while Poles and the new Bears regime aren't tied to the 25-year-old since they didn't draft him.
If the rift runs deeper than either side is letting on, a handful of suitors can realistically afford the fifth-year linebacker's $9.7 million salary.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't necessarily in a position to add another major contract based on their long-term investments at multiple key positions, but they're one of the few teams that highly value the linebacker position. Smith and Micah Parsons could form a devastating duo.
Perhaps the Bears and Cowboys would consider just flipping Smith and Dalton Schultz outright. Chicago needs more weapons and the tandem of Schultz and Cole Kmet could be quite effective out of 12 personnel.
Buffalo Bills Trade S Jordan Poyer to New York Giants
New York Giants receive: S Jordan Poyer and a 2023 fifth-round draft pick (if lower than New York's)
Buffalo Bills receive: '23 fourth- and fifth-round selections
Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer is a first-team All-Pro and wants to be paid like one. The 31-year-old is also heading into the last year of his current contract.
In any contract negotiation, teams are paying for what a player will do in the future, not what he's already done. Since Poyer is about to enter the 2022 campaign without a new deal, the Bills should consider moving the versatile defender.
"Like I said, I'm just here—I want to continue play football and continue to play my best football here in Buffalo for as long as I can, for however long that may be," Poyer told reporters when asked if he remains optimistic about getting a new deal done. "But I'm here with the guys right now and ready to attack this season."
General manager Brandon Beane decided not to address the situation publicly.
The Bills fielded the league's No. 1 defense last season, and Poyer was a big part of that. He and Micah Hyde are aging veterans, though, and the transition at safety will start sooner or later. The Bills could move Jaquan Johnson into the lineup, and he can provide a physical presence along the backline.
Meanwhile, the New York Giants could use a veteran leader like Poyer. Xavier McKinney is already the on-field defensive play-caller, but he and Poyer could be interchangeable pieces to create significant flexibility for Don Martindale's defense.
New York already knows what Poyer can do since head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen both came from the Bills organization. In fact, Schoen became Buffalo's assistant general manager two months after Poyer originally signed there as a free agent.
The Giants currently have the lowest amount of salary-cap flexibility of any team. A few reworked deals coupled with a long-term extension (and low initial cap hit) for Poyer just might do the trick, though.