NFL Players Who Could Survive the Trade Deadline and Be Moved in 2021 Offseason
Every year before the NFL trade deadline, we hear a lot of chatter about who's available and potential destinations. The talk often doesn't lead to action, but a couple of teams have already moved starting edge-rushers.
Last week, the Minnesota Vikings sent Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens. On Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys moved Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions.
Perhaps we'll see more teams at the bottom of the standings sell before next Tuesday's deadline, with the salary cap potentially taking a hit because of COVID-19.
On the other hand, some teams may keep roster assets until the league provides more clarity on the 2021 offseason and campaign. As a result, front-office executives could revisit trade possibilities from the deadline during the offseason.
Looking at the biggest names in the trade-rumor mill, we'll break down roster situations for players who will likely remain with their teams this year but probably go elsewhere in the spring. Each veteran is under contract with his club through at least the 2021 season.
With every selection below, the potential sellers could make a deal because of roster fit, salary-cap limitations, durability concerns or an opportunity to upgrade at the position.
QB Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Coming out of USC, Sam Darnold had a bright NFL outlook. Several analysts projected him as the No. 1 overall selection for 2018, and as the third pick, he went to the New York Jets and started immediately.
During two-plus mediocre seasons under two coaching regimes, Darnold has thrown for 39 touchdowns and 34 interceptions with a 59.6 percent completion rate.
At 0-7, the Jets could land 2021's No. 1 overall pick. That scenario would create a quarterback controversy if Clemson's Trevor Lawrence or another top QB prospect heads to town. It doesn't help that general manager Joe Douglas didn't select Darnold two years ago—former front-office executive Mike Maccagnan made the pick.
Barring a late-season surge, the Jets will have a top-five selection, and teams would inquire about Darnold's availability leading up to the draft.
As for 2020, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport doesn't think the QB will go anywhere.
"The Jets have been open for business over the past few weeks, but don't expect that to include QB Sam Darnold," Rapoport wrote. "At least, not this year. The organization may face a decision on Darnold this offseason depending on where it drafts, but a source says he won't be traded during the season."
The Jets don't have a reason to move Darnold until they know their 2021 draft spot, though Bleacher Report's Connor Rogers has heard the Indianapolis Colts would be the "most obvious" destination.
Darnold, who has one guaranteed season left on his deal—which sports a fifth-year club option—would replace 38-year-old Philip Rivers, who'll be a free agent this offseason.
WR Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
In one of his final moves as the Houston Texans general manager, Bill O'Brien acquired receiver Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams last offseason.
Ironically, Cooks didn't see much action until the Texans fired O'Brien as head coach and GM on Oct. 5. In Weeks 1-4, Cooks converted 21 targets into 10 catches for 138 yards. Over the last three outings, the seventh-year pro hauled in 24 of his 30 targets for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
Cooks isn't a stranger to new uniforms, as three teams have traded him. While the Texans may want to see his connection with quarterback Deshaun Watson blossom in 2020, clubs around the league expect some movement out of Houston, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
"The Texans are devoid of draft assets and carrying several big contracts moving forward, limiting the flexibility of the next front office," La Canfora wrote. "Rival executives expect the Texans will trade at least one receiver by the deadline—Will Fuller V and Brandin Cooks are the most talked about at this point."
Fuller has an expiring contract, but if Houston likes the 26-year-old's potential more, the front office may explore offers for Cooks, 27, whose deal runs through 2023 but carries a potential out after this season. Keep in mind, Houston signed wideout Randall Cobb to a three-year, $27 million deal last offseason, so it makes sense for the team reallocate some of its cash to another position.
TE Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz made it clear he'd prefer to play in an Eagles uniform for his entire career, but the three-time Pro Bowler said he didn't know "if that feeling was mutual."
This season, Ertz suited up for six contests, averaging just 29.7 yards per game before going down with a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for four to six weeks, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Before Ertz's injury, he had suitors, per Ed Kracz of Sports Illustrated.
"Interest in Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was percolating, and a source indicated that at least two teams, the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, made offers right before he was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 22," Kracz wrote.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, team executives thought the Eagles would've moved Ertz before the deadline. But because of the tight end's trip to IR, the Packers and Ravens will likely shelve their proposals until the spring.
Ertz turns 30 years old in November. With his push for a new deal, the Eagles could turn to Dallas Goedert as a younger, cheaper starting tight end next season.
Before Goedert fractured his ankle in Week 3, he hauled in 13 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. In 2019, the 25-year-old listed second on the team behind Ertz in receptions (58), yards (607) and receiving touchdowns (five).
DT Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
This season, the Cincinnati Bengals have featured younger players across the roster, which frustrated defensive line mainstays Carlos Dunlap, 31, and Geno Atkins, 32.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the disgruntled Dunlap has already been traded to Seattle. But according to Rapoport, Atkins could remain in Cincinnati for the year: "Atkins and A.J. Green seem to be at peace with where they are, and neither are likely to be traded. For Atkins, he's battling through a shoulder injury that may require surgery at some point, making a trade a virtual impossibility."
Head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo have talked to Atkins about his role and quelled tensions from their perspective.
As Rapoport notes, Atkins' shoulder ailment may scare away suitors in need of immediate D-line help. Perhaps the Bengals would prefer to keep him happy until he's healthy to turn him into a more attractive trade asset heading into the final two years of his deal. Despite his age, he's earned Pro Bowl honors every season since 2014, including one All-Pro nod in that span.
The Bengals signed defensive tackle D.J. Reader to a four-year, $53 million contract last offseason, so the team can move on from the aging Atkins.
CB Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
In Pro Bowlers Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, the Miami Dolphins have one of the league's top cornerback tandems. Yet, teams have made pitches to pry away the latter, per Barry Jackson and Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.
Miami has resisted offers despite a report from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that suggested the team explored trade proposals. The Dolphins also issued a statement on the matter (h/t Beasley): "The report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is factually inaccurate and based on rumors. The paper practiced poor journalism by not reaching out to the team for comment or the chance to respond prior to publishing the story."
The Dolphins may think differently about their cornerback situation in the offseason. As Jackson and Beasley pointed out, the front office can move Howard for salary-cap relief: "If the Dolphins were to part ways with him next spring, Miami in 2021 would carry $4.2 million in dead money from Howard's deal but would save $9.3 million, under one potential cap scenario."
According to Spotrac, Jones and Howard will have the second- and seventh-highest cap hits among cornerbacks, respectively, in 2021. Miami selected Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of the 2020 draft. During Weeks 3 and 4, he replaced Jones (Achilles/groin) on the boundary.
Although Igbinoghene has struggled, a few glimpses of promise from a first-round pick could make one of the highly paid starters expendable. The Dolphins just signed Jones to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in March, so Howard could come up in trade talks next year.
CB Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
Although Stephon Gilmore was the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, he's not exempt from deadline trade chatter.
The MMQB's Albert Breer thinks the New England Patriots would consider offers for Gilmore if they're not convinced about their potential to compete for a Super Bowl this year. The NFL insider believes the team can acquire a second- or third-round pick for the 30-year-old. In that instance, New England could use the selection to add a replacement on the boundary opposite J.C. Jackson.
In addition, Breer points out the Patriots moved some of Gilmore's money from 2021 to 2020 as a possible acknowledgment the cornerback may not be in town next year, the final season of his deal.
Despite that, the Patriots should hold on to him while they're still in contention for an AFC East title. Even though it has lost three consecutive games, New England (2-4) hasn't played the division-leading Buffalo Bills yet. If the Patriots sweep the season series, they can claw back into the playoff hunt.
This week's matchup with the Bills could change Gilmore's 2020 outlook. If New England loses, the front office may sell assets. On the flip side, a victory and a trade for a wide receiver could give this team hope for a strong second-half run.