Just Trade Me: NFL Youngsters Who Need a Fresh Start
A handful of young players around the NFL could use fresh starts with new teams in 2021.
Plenty of youngsters will have a chance to sign somewhere else in free agency. However, for others still under contract through 2021, an offseason trade is the only chance they'll have at a fresh start next season.
Players on struggling teams going through regime changes might want to play somewhere with more stability. Younger players who are having a hard time reaching their potential can also benefit from playing elsewhere.
Let's look at a few players who are 25 or younger who would most benefit from playing for new teams next year.
Sam Darnold, Quarterback, New York Jets
The New York Jets have a difficult decision to make at quarterback this offseason. For Sam Darnold, it may be best for his career if he finds a new team to play for in 2021.
With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Jets will have the opportunity to take a top-tier quarterback like Ohio State's Justin Fields. If that happens, then Darnold could become an appealing trade target for other teams.
At 23, Darnold has already played under two head coaches and has had little stability around him during his three years in the NFL. Although he has shown flashes of his talent with the Jets, they've gone just 13-25 with him as the starter, while he has completed less than 60 percent of his passes for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions.
A fresh start on a team with a more established offense is what Darnold needs to turn his career around. The Jets will likely spend much of 2021 adjusting to a new offensive system, and that could mean more hiccups that hurt Darnold's development.
ESPN's Rich Cimini reported new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur see "untapped potential" in Darnold, suggesting that it's not a guarantee the Jets take a QB with the No. 2 pick.
However, a new team is probably what Darnold needs more than anything if he is going to find NFL success.
Isaiah Oliver, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons could make a lot of changes this offseason after hiring a new general manager and head coach. That could include trading several key contributors, such as cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
Atlanta drafted Oliver in the second round in 2018, and he seemed like a solid fit in Dan Quinn's defensive system given his length and ball skills coming out of Colorado. However, Oliver hasn't made much impact on Atlanta's defense, coming up with just one interception and two forced fumbles over the last three years.
The 24-year-old has struggled with his role in Atlanta's defense, and he was a liability in pass coverage this season. According to Pro Football Reference, opposing quarterbacks posted a 120.8 passer rating when targeting him this season, throwing for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Starting fresh on a new team could help Oliver find his footing. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and the Falcons spent a first-round pick in last year's draft on another cornerback in A.J. Terrell, who could step into a larger role in 2021.
The Falcons may not get a huge offer for Oliver, but a trade could allow new GM Terry Fontenot to acquire some additional draft capital to begin rebuilding Atlanta's roster the way he and head coach Arthur Smith want it.
N'Keal Harry, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Being a first-round pick comes with the pressure to produce immediately. Unfortunately for New England Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry, his first two seasons in the NFL have been anything but productive.
Harry started his rookie season on injured reserve and had a minimal impact once on the field. In 21 games through two seasons, he has caught 45 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns, averaging just 9.2 yards per reception.
The 23-year-old finished fourth on the Patriots in total targets this past season as former undrafted free agents Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd saw a larger workload.
The lack of production over the past two years makes Harry a top candidate to be traded this offseason. ESPN's Mike Reiss suggested earlier this month that the Arizona Cardinals could be a possible destination for Harry given their interest in the former Arizona State receiver heading into the 2019 draft.
Harry has yet to make a serious impact in New England, but an offseason trade could give him the opportunity to prove himself elsewhere.
David Njoku, Tight End, Cleveland Browns
Another first-round pick who has failed to live up to expectations, Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku could benefit from playing elsewhere next season.
Njoku had a quiet year in 2020. He was targeted 29 times in 13 games, catching 19 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. The 24-year-old was a bigger focal point in the team's playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, however, catching four passes for 59 yards.
The Browns brought in free agent Austin Hooper and rookie Harrison Bryant last offseason, adding playmakers to the tight end position. That has made it much harder for Njoku to consistently have an impact on offense.
Njoku reportedly requested a trade prior to the Nov. 3 deadline, and a move would make sense for him and the Browns. The 2017 first-rounder could join a team that gives him more playing time, while the Browns could receive assets for a player on the final year of his rookie contract.
The Browns made a great run this season, but if Njoku would like a larger role, a fresh start could do him a lot of good.
Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans
No player in the NFL has generated as many recent trade rumors as Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Texans had a tumultuous season that included a 4-12 record, a vacant general manager position and the firing of head coach Bill O'Brien. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier in January that Watson was hoping to have a say in the team's search for a new GM but was upset because he was not consulted in the hiring process.
Schefter also reported there is a growing belief that Watson has played his last game with the Texans, indicating a trade could become a reality this offseason.
Watson has been a star for the Texans since being taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft. A three-time Pro Bowler, he led the NFL in passing yards this year and has picked up 122 total touchdowns in four seasons.
However, the Texans have gone 28-25 with Watson as a starter, and despite making the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, they are trending in the wrong direction given their struggles this year. The Texans don't have a pick in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft, while Watson's top weapon, Will Fuller V, is set to enter free agency.
Watson is in a less-than-desirable situation in Houston despite his star-caliber play. A trade could allow the 25-year-old quarterback to make the most of his prime years in the NFL in hopes of a Super Bowl run, while Houston could get a massive haul of draft picks to begin another rebuild.
The Texans and Watson have plenty of time to reconcile, but given what's happened over the past month, a trade may be best for both sides.