5 NFL Vets Who Could Be Traded Before the NFL Draft
With the major NFL free-agency dominoes settled, the next big bit of roster movement ahead of the draft on April 29 will come from releases and trades.
Trades figure to take the spotlight as front offices look for any compensation for players they might end up releasing anyway. During a normal year, big trades involving players or early picks might not happen until the draft itself gets underway, but that hasn't been the case this year.
Our list includes guys who have popped up in trade speculation in the past, plus big-name players who just make sense given their respective teams' directions and projected draft plans. Contractual status is part of the equation too.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
With the Carson Wentz era sputtering to a stop, Zach Ertz has been a staple of trade speculation since last year's trade deadline.
Ertz, now 30, played in just 11 games last year, catching 36 of his 72 targets for 335 yards and one touchdown, by far the toughest year of his career. He's in the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $12.5 million.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Eagles have given the veteran tight end permission to seek a trade, with ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques reporting that Philadelphia has asked for a third-round pick.
It's not an unreasonable ask if the buying team believes it can help stabilize Ertz's production in new surroundings and get him back near the 916 yards and six scores he put up in 2019. If the Eagles want to get anything in return before the draft, though, they will likely need to settle for less.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore could also be on the move this offseason.
Near the trade deadline last year, ESPN's Dianna Russini reported teams were calling the Patriots about Gilmore, reading the tea leaves a bit about the team's sudden downswing. That report also said the Pats wanted a first-round pick and a player in a return package.
But the Patriots didn't pull the trigger, and Gilmore suffered a season-ending quad injury in December. That came after he registered a 61.0 Pro Football Focus grade in 2020, down from 82.8 the year prior.
While one could argue the Patriots are better this year and will want to keep Gilmore in an effort to win now, the flurry of spending in free agency has left the team with just $14 million in cap space. Gilmore is the top cap charge at $15 million ($7.7 million in dead cap) in the final year of his deal.
Should the Patriots get the right offer, dealing Gilmore at the age of 30 before his value tanks and before engaging in extension talks could be the move.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
It feels like David Njoku will always be brought up in trade ideas until the Cleveland Browns actually make a move.
He asked for a trade over the summer before the 2020 season and did so again late in the year near the trade deadline, according to cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot. Nothing materialized, but one would think teams with an interest would sniff around the idea.
After all, Njoku was a first-round prospect in 2017 and only turns 25 this summer. His potential has never been fully realized in Cleveland, where his top year was 639 yards and four scores in 2018—he's had just 39 targets in 17 games over the last two seasons.
With the Browns paying up for Austin Hooper last year, the writing has been on the wall, and Njoku is on the final year of his rookie deal. It seems a deal may be inevitable.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers sit eighth in the draft order, and the team seems primed to hit the reset button under center.
Carolina gave this a shot last year with veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who responded with just 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and a 4-11 record despite a 69.1 completion percentage. That came after Carolina signed Bridgewater to a three-year pact worth $63 million, with a $22.9 million cap hit in 2021.
While the Panthers might wait to make sure they get a top rookie prospect before giving away a veteran starter, the team could just as easily need to make a move to cobble together enough compensation for a trade-up in the draft.
Bridgewater, still just 28, could make for an interesting, low-risk trade target for a team like Washington, and he would at worst be a one-year rental with the out built into the contract after 2021.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
It seems a matter of when not if the San Francisco 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers traded up to the third overall pick in the draft, positioning themselves nicely for one of the top passers in the class.
Garoppolo signed a five-year deal worth $137.5 million in 2018, and he's had trouble staying on the field since. His peak came in 2019 when he threw for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns. It was no coincidence that he played 16 games that year—otherwise, he's played in six, three and six games since joining the team in 2017.
It's also no coincidence the 49ers moved up during the first year they could escape Garoppolo's contract with minimal cap issues. He's the team's biggest hit at $26.4 million, but only $2.8 million of it is dead cap. NFL Network's Michael Giardi reported the 49ers want a first-round pick for him, which isn't going to happen given the veteran's availability issues and performance, plus how obvious it is the team could just cut him.
That said, once the 49ers lower the asking price, a team like New England might swoop in before the draft so it doesn't have to enter a bidding war for him on the open market.