Predicting the Biggest NFL Trades of the 2021 Offseason
There was a time when some hypothetical NFL trade ideas were too outlandish.
But the league has ended such a notion over the last few years as names like Jamal Adams went on the trade block and assets were exchanged. No big name seems safe, and that seems especially true heading into another offseason of league-altering scenarios, starting with a draft class again loaded at quarterback.
Some major trade candidates have had rumors around them in the past. Others make sense based on player and current team direction, monetary numbers and the likely number of suitors.
Here are predictions for the offseason's biggest trades, taking into account the name recognition of players and teams involved.
Eagles Send Zach Ertz to Steelers
The Philadelphia Eagles could be headed for an offseason of major change in a handful of ways, including dealing veteran tight end Zach Ertz.
Ertz was a point of trade speculation at the deadline, and Ed Kracz of Sports Illustrated reported two contenders had interest in making a move for him.
Ertz is only 30 years old and had 800-plus yards in each of his five seasons before 2020, scoring 28 touchdowns along the way. But he got hurt in October, so no trade materialized, and Dallas Goedert has surpassed him in a bad passing attack with a question mark under center.
Rather than use the out in Ertz's contract to cut him, though, the Eagles could look to flip him for assets. A contender like the Pittsburgh Steelers could have interest after gambling on veteran Eric Ebron in free agency, only for him to drop 8.4 percent of his targets.
The Steelers could release Ebron and flip the Eagles a middle-round pick, and Philadelphia wouldn't have to worry about dealing him to an NFC contender.
Cowboys Send Ezekiel Elliott to Jets
It's clear the Dallas Cowboys are in a hole financially after a series of bad decisions.
The Cowboys have a top-10 projected cap number in 2021, but that's before surrendering all the leverage to star quarterback Dak Prescott on a new deal. Throwing six years and $90 million at Ezekiel Elliott and not extending corner Byron Jones is a good example of why the Cowboys defense has been the worst in the NFL all year.
Elliott has only gained 832 yards on a 3.9 average this year and has five touchdowns with five lost fumbles. Promising backup Tony Pollard has managed 339 yards and two scores with a 4.5 average on 136 fewer attempts.
If the Cowboys want to unload Elliott and get some cap wiggle room, a team like the New York Jets would make plenty of sense. The winless Jets sit with the second-most projected cap space in 2021 at more than $81 million and figure to use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence.
Those Jets could send a second-rounder to the Cowboys for Elliott, who they can use to absorb workhorse punishment while a rookie learns on the fly. The front office could then use the out in Elliott's contract after the 2022 season.
Lions Send Matthew Stafford to 49ers
With Matt Patricia out as head coach, the Detroit Lions could throw in the towel and rebuild after not doing so at the end of the Jim Caldwell era.
That could mean moving veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, owner of a $34.9 million cap hit in 2021 if the team doesn't exercise an out. Given his play, the Lions will surely either look to deal him or keep him at the steep asking price.
Stafford is 32 but has still completed 63.9 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Before this latest lost season in Detroit, his name came up in trade speculation.
Stafford should have plenty of solid years left, especially if he lands in a better environment. A would-be contender like the San Francisco 49ers could have interest in taking such a gamble. Current starter Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't been able to stay healthy, nor has he been consistent.
Shedding Garoppolo's $26.4 million cap hit in 2021 would result in a dead cap number of just $2.8 million, so the money is there to make a move for a veteran passer. Stafford is a known commodity with big upside under an offensive coach like Kyle Shanahan, plus 2019 was the first season in which he missed any games since 2010. A second-rounder and future-minded picks from the 49ers might get it done.
Jets Send Sam Darnold to Washington Football Team
The winless Jets figure to move on from head coach Adam Gase, which should spur plenty of roster turnover as the team sits second in projected cap space and will likely hold the No. 1 pick.
That puts Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in 2018, directly in the crosshairs.
Darnold has flopped this season over nine games, completing just 58.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and nine interceptions. A new head coach could hope to incite competition between Darnold and the top pick (likely Trevor Lawrence). But it's more likely the coach will want to remove any doubt and pull off what Arizona did with Kyler Murray and Josh Rosen, trading Darnold.
There are enough positives with Darnold to encourage someone like the Washington Football Team to have an interest. He has an affordable two years left on his deal if the fifth-year option gets picked up, and the asking price will only be in the middle-round range. His struggles can be attributed to being stuck on one of the NFL's most dramatic rebuilders.
If Ron Rivera is done with Dwayne Haskins Jr., who made just four starts this year before getting benched and was drafted by a prior coaching staff, he could look to acquire someone like Darnold. His team is well out of the running for a top draft prospect but still needs some long-term potential at quarterback, so two franchises with big question marks at the position could make a deal.
Eagles Send Carson Wentz to Colts
Based on what the Philadelphia Eagles see from Jalen Hurts over the next three weeks or so, they might be comfortable moving on from Carson Wentz's big contract via trade.
The Eagles benched Wentz for Week 14, and if that holds up, he'll finish the 2020 season with 12 appearances, completing 57.4 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. While the Eagles have had their fair share of problems, including injuries, it seems obvious Wentz desperately misses Frank Reich, his offensive coordinator in his first two seasons.
Which is where the Indianapolis Colts come into play.
Reich is now the head coach of the Colts, who have Philip Rivers at quarterback for what is presumed to be one season. When Rivers' contract clears the books this offseason, the Colts are projected to have the fourth-most cap space at $66.9 million.
Shipping the Eagles a mid-draft pick in exchange for Wentz's 2021 cap hit of $34.7 million seems like a no-brainer. Wentz is still only 27 years old, and if reuniting him with his former coordinator doesn't work, there's an out built into his pricey contract after 2021. It'd be a big dead-cap number of $24.6 million, but by that point, the usually cap-hoarding Colts would potentially be looking at a rookie quarterback contract, anyway. At 9-4, the Colts also aren't in a position to draft a top quarterback prospect.
While this might seem like a rash decision on the part of the Eagles, they are projected at 31st in 2021 cap space at negative-$64 million. Admitting the issue and going all-in on Hurts removes any doubt at the position and helps on the financial front.