NFL Trades That Need to Happen After Early Free-Agent Moves

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 27, 2019

NFL Trades That Need to Happen After Early Free-Agent Moves

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Right when free agency had quieted down and we entered what seemed like a lull between the heart of the signing period and the draft last spring, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams shocked the football world with a trade that sent receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to L.A. in exchange for a first-round pick, as well as a sixth-round selection. 

    So don't fall asleep, and don't let March Madness, the NBA playoff race or the start of the Major League Baseball season distract you. The NFL never takes naps, and we're likely to see another big move or two between now and the opening round of the draft on April 25. 

    What should we expect? 

    With peak free agency past us, here are eight potential spring trades that would make a hell of a lot of sense. 


Minnesota Vikings Trade Trae Waynes to New Orleans Saints for Andrus Peat

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    It's been 15 years since the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints last conducted trade business together, but an opportunity might present itself this offseason. 

    Trae Waynes is one of four relatively young, highly touted Vikings cornerbacks, and the Saints could use another outside corner along with Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple. Meanwhile, New Orleans guard Andrus Peat is entering an expensive option year, and the Vikings could really use a talented left guard to team up with recent addition Josh Kline. 

    Waynes and Peat were actually selected two spots apart in the top half of the first round of the 2015 draft. And while both have flashed at times, neither has consistently lived up to expectations. 

    Could new environments do the trick?

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported last month that the Vikings were shopping Waynes, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported earlier this month that teams have called Minnesota about the 26-year-old cover man. Meanwhile, there's been plenty of chatter about why a Peat trade might make sense for New Orleans. 

    This would be a fairly simple, straight-up deal that would suit both sides and give two young players fresh settings for a critical season. 

New England Patriots Trade Devin McCourty to Indianapolis Colts for Jack Doyle

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    When the New England Patriots needed a tight end two years ago, they connected with the Indianapolis Colts and landed Dwayne Allen in exchange for a pick that gave Indy more draft capital that offseason. 

    Not only is Allen now gone, but more urgently, so is four-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski, who announced his retirement this week. That leaves the Pats dangerously thin at tight end, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if New England again made a deal with the Colts to address that need. 

    Jack Doyle is a reliable player with great hands and a strong resume, but the Colts already have Pro Bowler Eric Ebron, who is coming off a 13-touchdown season. With Mo Alie-Cox also on the roster and Erik Swoope available to be re-signed, Indy could part with Doyle ahead of a contract year and address another weak spot. 

    In return, the Colts might be able to add an accomplished veteran to a so-so secondary. Devin McCourty would cost $9.5 million for the 2019 season, but they'd save more than half of that by dealing Doyle. 

    The Pats like to cut bait before players begin to decline and/or become too expensive, and McCourty's entering a contract year at the age of 31. New England might figure it can get by with Patrick Chung, Duron Harman and 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson, while the fiscally conservative Colts might appreciate that they don't have to make a long-term financial commitment to McCourty. 

Indianapolis Colts Acquire Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Yeah, we've got a feeling the Colts are serious about making the defense better right now without sacrificing their long-term financial future. That would explain why they waited out the market before signing veteran Justin Houston to a short-term deal, and it could be an indication they'll be active on the trade market between now and the draft. 

    If so, they'd be silly not to inquire with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. 

    The 31-year-old McCoy is no longer the player he was half a decade ago, but he's still a force who would provide an immediate upgrade over projected starter Denico Autry and team up with Houston, Jabaal Sheard, Darius Leonard (and Devin McCourty?) to form quite the defensive core. 

    Critically, he'd free up $13 million in salary-cap space for the retooling Bucs without costing the Colts anything beyond this season if they decide to move on. There's no guaranteed money left on McCoy's contract, but Indy would possess his rights at about $13 million a season through 2021. 

    Since those savings would be less useful to the Bucs now that free agency is over, this deal would probably cost the Colts one of their three Day 2 draft picks. But it would also improve their chances of making a run in 2019 without crippling them financially in 2020 or beyond. 

Jacksonville Jaguars Acquire Larry Fitzgerald from Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have their quarterback. Now it's time to find Nick Foles a reliable veteran target. And thus we present to you a proposal for the first-ever trade between the Jaguars and the Arizona Cardinals. 

    It won't likely happen, because there are no indications the Cardinals plan to trade future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the 35-year-old doesn't appear to be itching to leave. But that doesn't mean this shouldn't happen. Fitzgerald is running out of time, the Cardinals aren't on the verge of contending and the Jaguars have Super Bowl-caliber talent at practically every position except wide receiver. 

    Why not give the 11-time Pro Bowler a much greater shot at finally winning a Super Bowl? A trade would free up $11.3 million in cap space for the rebuilding Cardinals, while the Jags probably have just enough cap space to make it work on their end.

    They'd also probably have to part with one of their three Day 2 draft picks, but that'd probably be worth it for a player like Fitzgerald in the slot during Foles' crucial maiden season in Northeast Florida. 

Philadelphia Eagles Acquire LeSean McCoy from Buffalo Bills

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    The Philadelphia Eagles are getting the band back together, with former Eagles DeSean Jackson and Vinny Curry both returning earlier this month following short stints with the Buccaneers. So why wouldn't the team go one step further down memory lane while also addressing a need with a trade for running back LeSean McCoy?

    The Eagles dealt McCoy to the Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso four years ago, and the two also did business together in the 2014 draft and the 2017 offseason (when Buffalo sent Ronald Darby to Philly in exchange for Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick). Now, it'd make a lot of sense for McCoy to head back to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

    After all, the Bills already had McCoy and Chris Ivory on the roster before signing the ageless Frank Gore earlier this month. How many ancient backs does one team need? Might as well get rid of the guy who is slated to take up more than $9 million in salary-cap space. 

    The Eagles actually have some breathing room under the cap right now, and they're in dire need of another body in the backfield. Jay Ajayi remains unsigned, and a group containing Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey doesn't inspire much confidence. 

    Philly had a bottom-five running game last year. That has to change in 2019, and bringing back McCoy could at least help. The Bills should be a more-than-willing trade partner, and they'd probably only be looking for a late-round pick in return. 

Oakland Raiders Acquire Jerry Hughes from Buffalo Bills

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    The Bills aren't ready to win just yet, while the Oakland Raiders suddenly seem pretty serious about it. With Derek Carr entering what should be his prime and Antonio Brown now on board, they can't afford to sit on their hands, and they desperately need pass-rushing talent on the other side of the ball.

    So, it'd make a lot of sense for Buffalo to part ways with a 30-year-old entering a walk year, especially if they can get some of Oakland's sweet draft capital in exchange for Jerry Hughes. And it would make just as much sense for a cap-rich Raiders team to pull the trigger on Hughes, who is scheduled to cost Buffalo $10.4 million in 2019. 

    Yeah, this draft is loaded with highly touted pass-rushers and the Raiders have three first-round picks, but there's something to be said for established talent and a veteran presence at that position. Right now, the most inept pass rush from last season is projected to enter 2019 with disappointing 2018 rookie Arden Key serving as the top option on the edge, but Hughes would give Paul Guenther's unit an immediate boost. 

    Hughes doesn't typically put up big sack numbers, but his 2018 pass-rushing productivity rating (10.9) from Pro Football Focus ranked tops in the NFL among all qualified edge-defenders. And while that'd make it hard for Buffalo to trade him, the reality is he might escape next year anyway, and the Bills have to realize that in the long run they'd be better off with a Day 2 draft pick this April. 

Baltimore Ravens Acquire Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta Falcons

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Some of these dots are easier than others to connect. In this case, we're talking about a Baltimore Ravens team that no longer has either of its two most targeted receivers from last season following the departures of Michael Crabtree and John Brown (neither of whom were replaced in free agency) and an Atlanta Falcons team that might not have much use for veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu as 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley emerges opposite Julio Jones

    The cap-strapped Falcons can save $4.9 million by trading Sanu, who as a result of his $2.8 million dead cap hit in Atlanta would also come relatively cheap to a Ravens team that could move on after 2019 at no cost. 

    The Ravens could prefer an outside receiver since Willie Snead IV remains in the slot, but Sanu is a more versatile and dynamic player coming off a stronger season, and the Ravens can save $6.2 million by releasing Snead ahead of a contract year. Plus, there aren't a lot of obvious trade candidates who play X or Z receiver. The Miami Dolphins would probably charge more for the younger Kenny Stills, and the Cincinnati Bengals probably wouldn't trade A.J. Green within the AFC North (if at all). 

    This would be an interesting inter-conference deal that would give young Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson an upgrade at the increasingly important slot receiver position while saving the Falcons money and giving them a chance to focus more attention on their blue-chip wideouts. In terms of compensation, a middle-round pick would probably do the trick. 

Cincinnati Bengals Trade A.J. Green to 49ers in Exchange for No. 2 Overall Pick

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Both A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton should be considered trade pieces for a Bengals team that is losing ground in the AFC North following another dull free-agency experience. Dalton has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract, while the frugal Bengals could save $12.2 million by dealing Green ahead of a contract year. 

    If you aren't likely to compete in 2019 and you're likely to lose your top receiver next offseason anyway, why not trade him out of the conference? 

    The market for Nick Foles indicates there wouldn't be much interest in Dalton at the moment, but Green is a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who should still be in his prime and appears to be making progress in his recovery from the toe surgery that ended his 2018 season in December. The Bengals should use him as bait to move up in the draft to take Dalton's successor under center, whether that's Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock. 

    The obvious dance partner is the San Francisco 49ers, who already have a franchise quarterback, need a No. 1 receiver, could use Green's experience and wisdom and have the money to lock up the 30-year-old to a long-term deal. San Francisco is also closer to contention right now, and it should be more than willing to trade down from the No. 2 spot in the draft. 

    It would probably take more than just Green for the Bengals to move up from No. 11 to No. 2, but those would be your key ingredients. You'd have to think that in a deep defensive draft, the 49ers would be thrilled to collect an extra Day 2 pick and add Green, move down nine slots and take the best player available. 

    So make it happen, Mike Brown and John Lynch.


    Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.