NFL Trade Ideas to Create Elite QB-WR Duos
The Buffalo Bills have been nothing short of impressive this season. They've won their first playoff game since 1995, they have a viable MVP candidate in quarterback Josh Allen, and they have a legitimate chance to reach and win Super Bowl LV.
Buffalo was a playoff team last season, but things are different this year, as the Bills won the AFC East handily and finished the regular season as one of the league's hottest teams. Arguably the biggest reason for the transformation has been the arrival of wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
The Bills traded for Diggs in the offseason, and the former Minnesota Vikings star quickly formed a bond with Allen. While he was great in Minnesota, he has been elite in Buffalo, leading the NFL with 127 receptions and 1,535 yards.
The Arizona Cardinals tried a similar approach by trading for DeAndre Hopkins in the offseason, and we could see more franchises follow this path. What sort of trades? That's what we'll examine here.
While these potential trades are purely hypothetical, we will keep them in the realm of possibility. Factors like contract values, cap space and team fit will be considered.
D.J. Moore to the Cincinnati Bengals
To be clear, wide receiver is not the biggest need for the Cincinnati Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow. However, this doesn't mean Cincinnati wouldn't be interested in adding a star to a group that includes Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.
Carolina Panthers wideout D.J. Moore—who has topped 1,100 yards in each of the last two seasons—has shown himself to be a No. 1 target. While Carolina may not be particularly excited about the idea of trading Moore, it could pull the trigger if it means landing a new franchise quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater has not shown himself to be the answer this season.
"Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said, per ESPN's David Newton.
This is where this potential trade gets interesting. The Bengals hold the fifth pick in the draft, while the Panthers select eighth. If there's a quarterback who Rhule and the Panthers love at No. 5, it could be worth moving up to secure him.
The Bengals desperately need offensive line help, and there's a reasonable chance that they could move down three spots and still land a premier tackle or guard prospect.
This hypothetical deal would likely require Cincinnati giving a mid-round pick back to the Panthers, but it could be a win-win. Carolina would have its new franchise quarterback and would still have weapons in Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson and perhaps Curtis Samuel, a pending free agent. Burrow would have a new No. 1 receiver and an improved offensive line.
Michael Thomas to the Baltimore Ravens
It may not make sense for the New Orleans Saints to consider trading Michael Thomas on the surface. He's the sort of No. 1 receiver who most teams dream of having. However, New Orleans is in a dire cap situation—projected to be nearly $100 million over the salary cap next season—and is likely barrelling toward a full-on rebuild.
That rebuild may not include Thomas, who tried to convince another team to trade for him, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. Moving Thomas would not provide any cap relief in 2021, but it would save nearly $8 million in 2022.
Perhaps more importantly, Thomas would likely bring a first-round pick and more in a trade—valuable capital for a post-Drew Brees era.
The Baltimore Ravens could be interested in dealing a late first-round pick and additional selections for Thomas, as they have an MVP-caliber quarterback in Lamar Jackson but lack a true No. 1 wideout.
Thomas could provide immediate dividends as Jackson continues to develop as a perimeter passer. With Thomas on the outside, Marquise Brown going deep and tight end Mark Andrews working the middle, Jackson could become even more dangerous.
Odell Beckham Jr. to the Detroit Lions
Trade rumors have circled Odell Beckham Jr. pretty much since he was first traded to the Cleveland Browns in March 2019. He has struggled to develop chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield, and while it's unfair to say that Mayfield is better off without him, the Browns could still view him as expendable.
Beckham was lost for the season to a torn ACL after just seven games, and Cleveland still managed to win 11 games and advance to the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Browns could get some quality defensive talent for Beckham, a trade could make sense.
While Beckham hasn't been a natural fit in head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense, he could be a great fit for the Detroit Lions and cannon-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford. It's unclear who will be coaching the Lions offense in 2021, but the personnel suggests that Detroit will be less run-heavy than the Browns.
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. will also be free agents, so a new No. 1 receiver could be at the top of the Lions' wish list.
Beckham's trade value has taken a hit over the last couple of years, and the ACL injury certainly isn't going to help. However, Cleveland could ask for a Day 3 draft pick and a veteran defender in return. Cornerback Justin Coleman—who was in Vikings camp with Stefanski back in 2015—might be a prime target.
Adam Thielen to the Cleveland Browns
The Vikings traded Stefon Diggs last offseason, so would they really consider dealing a standout receiver two years in a row? Perhaps. They are in a tough cap situation—they're projected to be more than $17 million over the salary cap—and it's becoming clear they're not close to being a Super Bowl contender.
With rookie Justin Jefferson playing like a perennial All-Pro in 2020, Minnesota could view Adam Thielen as expendable. Moving him would also clear roughly $8 million in 2021 cap space.
The Browns, armed with more than $24 million in cap space, could afford to take on Theilen's contract, though they likely wouldn't be interested in doing so unless they traded Beckham.
In Cleveland, Thielen could reunite with Kevin Stefanski, who was Minnesota's quarterbacks coach in 2017 and offensive coordinator in 2018. During those two seasons, he racked up 2,649 receiving yards.
Pairing Thielen with Jarvis Landry would give Mayfield a pair of savvy route-runners and reliable options perfectly suited for Stefanski's play-action-based scheme. Mayfield took strides as a passer in 2020 and could potentially approach the ranks of the elite with Thielen on the roster.
Given the cap savings involved, Minnesota may consider a mid-round pick as fair compensation.
Deshaun Watson to the San Francisco 49ers
For this trade, we're going to flip the formula. The San Francisco 49ers already have a trio of high-end targets in George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. They need a top-tier QB.
That would change if the 49ers could pry Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans, and some around the league expect at least an attempt from San Francisco.
"Had a few execs text me a similar trade concept regarding Texans should the situation with Watson go nuclear: Jimmy G plus several high picks for Watson. [Nick] Caserio/Jimmy reunion. Gets Watson out of the AFC kinda like how Belichick wouldn't trade Jimmy within the AFC," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted.
Would it cost a lot to acquire Watson? Absolutely, but it could be worth it, as San Francisco has a Super Bowl-caliber roster in place. The 49ers could afford to offer multiple high draft picks and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, all pieces that could intrigue Houston.
The Texans are without a first-round pick in 2021 because of the Laremy Tunsil trade. They recently hired Nick Caserio as general manager. And Caserio was the New England Patriots' director of player personnel when the team used a second-round pick on Garoppolo in 2014.
This would lead to a drastic restructuring of the Texans, but if Watson is completely fed up with the franchise, Houston may have little choice but to consider offers. For the 49ers, adding Watson would instantly put them among the favorites in the NFC.
Contract and cap information via Spotrac.