The 5 NFL Players Likeliest to Be Traded Next

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2021

The 5 NFL Players Likeliest to Be Traded Next

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for NFL trade speculation to kick into overdrive.

    While this happens every year after the regular season, this year is especially interesting with an apparent divide between a star quarterback and a franchise that is rebuilding its coaching staff.

    Add other spots of quarterback drama thanks to coaching changes and/or draft positioning, along with some familiar names in trade rumors, and this offseason could feature the most notable player movement in a long time.

    Let's look at the most likely trade candidates right now, ranking them in order of how soon they could be traded with No. 1 the most likely to move first. Team direction, player desires and timing play a role in the rankings.

5. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. has been the subject of trade speculation since he joined the team via trade in March 2019.

    It's not hard to see why given how his tenure ended with the New York Giants and how things have since gone with his new team. In 2019, Beckham needed 133 targets to break the 1,000-yard mark and scored just four times. He followed that up with 319 yards over seven games in 2020 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He's recorded only two 100-yard games over 23 attempts in Cleveland.

    Interestingly, the Browns won six of their last nine and then a playoff game while Baker Mayfield came alive without Beckham in the lineup. It's clear the offense can hum along even without him on the field.

    Beckham could be on the move and net a quality return in future draft picks. It's a little cliche to say Bill Belichick will back into star performers, but the New England Patriots indeed need to compensate for their question mark at quarterback and boast a top-four cap-space number.

4. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Things are bad between the Houston Texans and the team's star players.

    Take star defender J.J. Watt, who wasn't happy after Houston's Week 16 loss dropped the team to 4-11. He later signaled that his departure isn't out of the realm of possibility.

    "There's a whole lot of unknowns, so we'll see what happens," Watt told reporters before Week 17. "I don't have any guarantees left in my contract, so something's gotta happen one way or another."

    John P. Lopez of SportsRadio 610 reported last week that the Texans are "leaning toward accommodating" Watt's desire to get out of town.

    The three-time Defensive Player of the Year, now 31, isn't what he used to be. But he's still better than most, hence the 85.5 Pro Football Focus grade last year despite the issues around him on a four-win team.

    Plenty of teams will have interest, though chief among them should be a contender like Seattle, which ranked in the middle of the pack defensively. The Seahawks and Texans have done plenty of business in the past, like the trades of Duane Brown and Jadeveon Clowney. Even with a new regime in Houston, the teams could come to terms on Watt and give him a chance at a title.

3. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    It's hard to say if things between the Philadephia Eagles and Carson Wentz can be fixed.

    Wentz struggled mightily in 2020, completing 57.4 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over 12 appearances. He gave up the last four starts to backup rookie Jalen Hurts, and head coach Doug Pederson ended up fired.

    With Nick Sirianni aboard in Pederson's place, the new head coach could want to tie his job to somebody else, be it Hurts, a rookie or someone else.

    Even before Sirianni's arrival, Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press reported Wentz needed time to figure out his future. Eagles management told coaching candidates Wentz is fixable, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, but the alternative would have been telling them they're stuck with him because of his ridiculous contract.

    Said contract includes a $59.2 million dead-cap number this season before a potential out. Only a team with ample cap space and a need would be willing to grant the Eagles a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    The Indianapolis Colts come to mind in the wake of Philip Rivers' retirement. The team has a need, $68.7 million in cap space and an offensive guru in Frank Reich—Wentz's former offensive coordinator—as head coach. If the Colts come calling, it's hard to imagine the Eagles don't leap at the chance to get out of the contract. For the Colts, it's a one-year rental of sorts, though Wentz could agree to a restructure to assist his departure from Philadelphia.

2. Sam Darnold, New York Jets

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The New York Jets were an obvious point of trade speculation even before ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the team could move either the No. 2 pick or quarterback Sam Darnold.

    Like in Philadelphia, new Jets coach Robert Saleh could start over and tie his job to a quarterback of his choosing. Darnold, the third pick in 2018, is younger than Wentz, but he struggled all the same last season. He posted a 59.6 completion percentage with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions over 12 appearances.

    Darnold will still be an appetizing trade target for teams in need because he's on a cheap rookie deal with a fifth year available. A trade partner could be convinced Darnold has yet to tap into his top-three potential because he was stuck on a team that has gone better than .500 just once since 2010.

    If not Indianapolis, the Denver Broncos would make the most sense. The team has struggled to find a starter in recent years aside from Peyton Manning. The latest is Drew Lock, a 2019 second-rounder who hit a sophomore slump, throwing 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions despite arrivals like receiver Jerry Jeudy.

    While the return for Darnold wouldn't be as great as what the No. 2 pick would bring, keeping that selection, taking a franchise passer and shipping off the last regime's quarterback for future picks could spark the Jets into life.

1. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Deshaun Watson was the superstar hinted in the intro.

    Houston fired head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien midseason after conventional wisdom suggested it should've happened before the season. But the damage was done after trading superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins.

    Watt and Watson appear to want out, and the 25-year-old star quarterback is disenchanted with the team's approach to everything, including the GM and head coach vacancies. According to Schefter, people in the organization think he'll never suit up for the team again, and ESPN's Sarah Barshop reported decision-makers have had conversations about potential trade partners.

    The pool of trade partners will be small given the assets a team would need to give the Texans to acquire Watson.

    Still, two come to mind: Washington and Miami. The former is close to contending given its strong defense and a top-six cap number. With draft assets and players to offer, Ron Rivera could have his answer at quarterback after the failed Dwayne Haskins Jr. pick.

    While Miami used a top-five pick on Tua Tagovailoa last year, it makes sense as a win-now destination coming off a 10-win season with the eighth-most cap space. The Dolphins could offer the third overall pick, the 18th pick and some of their other five total picks in the top 82 selections.

    A four-win team can't afford to lose a top-five passer like Watson, but Houston's repeated missteps have led it to this point, which will be a boon for a team elsewhere in the league.