2021 NFL Draft: 1 Realistic Trade Every Team with a Top-5 Pick Should Consider
A trade down serves as a tantalizing option for any team during the NFL draft, especially for those sitting atop the selection order.
The idea of minimizing risk by maximizing value and adding extra picks remains a possibility until a team submits its card when it's on the clock.
Every general manager must consider what's best for his team's particular situation. The New York Jets' Joe Douglas, whose franchise owns this year's second overall pick, told reporters how he views the myriad of possibilities for the organization:
"Obviously we have a lot of different scenarios and a lot of different rabbit holes we can go down. Not to get so much into a hypothetical question, but I just go back to the same thing I said before about our philosophy. Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft. It's the most team-friendly market in sports. For us to really be that team that's consistently competing for Super Bowls, we have to hit on our draft picks."
The Jets have to receive the right compensation to pass on the elite talents in the 2021 class, though. This year, quarterbacks will drive the market. Five signal-callers could hear their names called in the top 10, which would be an NFL record. Because of positional demand, multiple squads could become aggressive in potential trade-up scenarios to land their quarterback of choice.
Not everyone sitting in the top five will trade down once the first round begins April 29, but each should consider moving its selection for the right price.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Return: Three first-round picks plus a starting-caliber player.
An interested suitor may have to move heaven and earth for the Jacksonville Jaguars to relinquish this year's No. 1 overall pick.
The odds of the Jaguars trading their selection are slim to none. Although, the evaluation process isn't complete, so Jacksonville could end up liking another quarterback prospect more than Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence is a deserving top pick, but no prospect is a guaranteed slam dunk, even those considered generational talents by some. In a top-heavy quarterback class, head coach and de facto franchise czar Urban Meyer could start leaning in another direction depending on what happens during the predraft process.
Some may view this hypothetical as far-fetched, but nothing about the draft is done with absolute certainty.
If the Jags aren't 100 percent set on Lawrence, they must move off the pick. At that point, a bidding war should ensue. Jacksonville could easily net multiple first-round picks plus at least another starting-caliber player to jump-start the rebuild.
If they don't trade too far down, the Jaguars can still land a quality quarterback prospect while accumulating assets to build toward long-term competitiveness.
2. New York Jets
Return: Two first-round picks and two second-round selections.
The New York Jets are open for business on all fronts. What they do with this year's second overall pick is linked to their belief about Sam Darnold's future in the Big Apple.
If the franchise comes to the realization that Darnold has been placed in an untenable situation yet still presents enough upside to build around, the bidding for the second overall pick can begin.
"Do we really know who Darnold is yet?" a personnel executive told ESPN's Rich Cimini. "The teams looking at him are looking at him in that vein. He was in a very dysfunctional situation, and I think his best football is ahead of him. He's a good kid, no character issues."
The Jets should expect a similar return for what they spent to move up and select Sam Darnold three years ago. New York traded a first-round pick, plus three second-round selections, to move up three slots to No. 3.
Quarterback prospects require a premium. As such, one of those second-round picks should be a first-round choice, especially if New York slides down more than three spots.
Douglas said Wednesday that the team will answer calls from suitors interested in Darnold. That might indicate which way the Jets are leaning. Still, Darnold is only 23 years old and has had one of the league's worst supporting casts. Obtaining extra draft picks to address the skill positions and offensive line is a far more prudent plan of action.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston)
Return: Two first-round selections, plus third- and fourth-round picks.
In November, the Miami Dolphins started fifth overall pick Tua Tagovailoa with an eye on evaluating the rookie quarterback before the 2021 draft, when they have the Houston Texans' first- and second-round selections.
"That's definitely a part of it," a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. "Whoever told you that is right."
Ultimately, the Dolphins landed this year's third overall pick because of the Texans' organizational incompetence, though it seems unlikely they'll go in another direction under center. Tagovailoa showed enough in his nine starts (6-3, 1,805 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions) for the organization to emphasize other positions of need.
There's no need for Miami to trade out of the three-hole unless a team scrambling to draft one of the top remaining quarterbacks extends an excellent offer. It's realistic to expect two signal-callers to be off the board in the first two selections.
From there, another franchise may want to leapfrog the Atlanta Falcons, who select fourth. Matt Ryan is expected to be on their roster for 2021, but he's 35. The team is likely thinking about its long-term future.
Something along the lines of what the Philadelphia Eagles spent to acquire Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in 2016 makes sense. Like the Eagles, whichever interested party moves up will know it's not landing the class' top-rated quarterback yet will still like the prospect enough to trade a couple of first-round picks in the package.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Return: Two first-round picks and a fourth-round selection.
The Atlanta Falcons organization sits at a crossroads. The franchise already underwent a renovation this offseason with the hires of general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. Now they must determine whether they should move forward with the team's older stars or start fresh.
This year's draft is the perfect time to select Matt Ryan's eventual replacement. Atlanta can stand pat at No. 4 and select a quality prospect.
Two scenarios could change that.
Either Fontenot and Smith deem Ryan worthy of sticking around for the rest of his career—however long that is for the soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback, who has a cap hit of over $40 million in each of the next two seasons—or the front office's preferred quarterback prospect is not available.
In either situation, the Falcons should trade out of the fourth pick.
Ryan is a capable starter. He may not be the league MVP anymore, but Smith should maximize the veteran's remaining years. The rest of the roster needs improvement, though. Atlanta can allow another squad to move up, add a future first-round pick and still draft an instant contributor at defensive end, defensive back or the offensive interior.
The Buffalo Bills traded up five spots to the fourth overall pick in 2014 to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins. A team may have to give up a little more than two first-round picks and a mid-round selection depending on how far they're trading up and if a quarterback is its preferred target.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Return: First-round pick, second-round selection and a starting-caliber offensive lineman.
The Cincinnati Bengals already have their franchise quarterback on the roster after last year's acquisition of Joe Burrow, which changes the importance of this particular slotting.
If four quarterbacks come off the board within the first four selections—another potential first in NFL history—the fifth could become the draft's most sought-after target. In that scenario, Cincinnati will have an opportunity to take the class' top-rated non-quarterback or leverage its selection into a significant return.
The team desperately requires offensive line help. Fortunately, the class is rather deep with quality blockers. Oregon's Penei Sewell is an elite prospect worthy of being the No. 1 overall talent in some classes. His selection here would make sense.
He may not be available, though, if the run on QBs doesn't start as early as expected. The Jets or Dolphins are candidates to select Sewell.
In that case, the Bengals should be looking to move out of their slotting and allow another franchise to get a quarterback. They could add a quality lineman as part of any deal. The Bengals took this path three years ago, when they swapped first-round picks with the Bills. Cincinnati acquired Cordy Glenn as part of the package. He didn't work out, but the idea was sound.
With a wild offseason about to commence because of new market realities, franchises in desperate need of a quarterback should consider the possibility of flipping a first-round pick, another selection and a solid lineman to land a top-shelf signal-caller.