The 7 Most Plausible 2021 NFL Draft-Day Trades
The 2021 NFL draft is still roughly two weeks away, and we've already seen the trade market impact the selection process.
The San Francisco 49ers traded with the Miami Dolphins to acquire the No. 3 overall pick. Miami moved down to No. 12 in that deal, then traded back up to No. 6 in a swap with the Philadelphia Eagles. The New York Jets then traded quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, potentially taking Carolina out of the quarterback market in Round 1.
It would be foolish to assume the trading fun is over, as draft-day trades can and will still occur. Here, we'll examine seven potential deals that appear entirely plausible based on team needs, draft positioning and any relevant recent buzz.
Ravens Trade Orlando Brown Jr. to Minnesota
Vikings Get: Orlando Brown Jr., No. 27 pick
Ravens Get: No. 14 pick, No. 125 pick, 2022 second-round pick
While the Baltimore Ravens have not yet pulled the trigger on a deal, they have allowed right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to gauge interest on the open market. Brown's value could be at its highest over draft weekend, which would be especially true if an early run on tackle prospects leaves teams near the bottom of Round 1 wanting.
Brown has expressed his desire to play left tackle, but the Ravens have Ronnie Stanley entrenched at that spot. The Minnesota Vikings, however, should be in the market for a left tackle after losing Riley Reiff in free agency. Unsurprisingly, Minnesota has reportedly shown interest in Brown.
"There's been dialogue with the Vikings and Orlando Brown Jr.," Darren Wolfson of KSTP reported, per SKOR North.
While Minnesota may not be willing to part with the 14th overall selection outright, it could consider swapping first-rounders with Baltimore and including other picks in the deal—the Vikings don't possess a second-round selection in 2021.
Such a move could allow the Ravens to target one of this year's top wide receiver prospects. The Ravens have lacked a legitimate No. 1 receiver for several years and could look to address the issue now.
The Vikings and Ravens also have trade history, the most recent involving pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The two franchises also exchanged picks on Day 3 of the 2020 NFL draft.
Browns Trade David Njoku to the Jets
Jets Receive: David Njoku, No. 26 pick
Browns Receive: No. 23 pick
The future of Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku is extremely uncertain. While his fifth-year option has already become guaranteed, the 2017 first-round pick hasn't had the best relationship with the Browns and has previously asked to be traded.
"It is in David's best interest to find a new team at this time," agent Drew Rosenhaus said last summer, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
With Austin Hooper and 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant on the roster, Cleveland could very well view Njoku as expendable. Using him as draft-day trade leverage would make a ton of sense if the Browns don't expect Njoku back next offseason.
One potential trade target is the Jets. After trading Darnold, New York is almost certainly in the market for a quarterback at pick No. 2. A playmaking tight end can help a young quarterback develop, and the Jets don't currently have one on their roster.
While Njoku has had an up-and-down career thus far, he did rack up 639 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his second season.
Moving up three spots in the first round might not seem like a massive return for Njoku, but it could be huge for Cleveland, especially if the Browns have an eye on one of the draft's top pass-rushers. After all, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Bud Dupree in free agency and own the 24th pick in the draft.
It could also be big if Cleveland is targeting a cornerback. The Tennessee Titans, who own the 22nd pick, ranked just 29th in pass defense last season. Cleveland, meanwhile, registered 38 sacks and ranked 22nd in pass defense in 2020.
Patriots Trade Stephon Gilmore to Cleveland
Browns Get: Stephon Gilmore
Patriots Get: No. 89 pick, 2022 third-round pick
This potential deal was proposed by Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport in a recent piece examining five trades that teams should try to execute before the draft. While it may seem like a fantasy deal for Browns fans, it's a legitimately plausible trade.
As Davenport pointed out, Cleveland has an extra third-round pick in 2021 following a 2020 draft trade with the New Orleans Saints. The Browns also have a need at cornerback, as 2019 second-round pick Greedy Williams has struggled to stay on the field in his first two seasons.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are looking at the final year of Gilmore's contract and have widely been expected to move him.
"Most GMs have considered it a foregone conclusion that the Patriots would trade top corner Stephon Gilmore this offseason and I haven't heard anything about a contract extension, so a trade still seems like an eventuality," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote back in March.
Such a move would require the Browns to clear some cap space, as the team is currently projected to be over the cap with a full roster. However, it's exactly the sort of win-now move that Cleveland could make coming off an 11-5 campaign.
While Gilmore wasn't a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this past season, he still allowed an opposing passer rating of just 75.7. He could be a major asset for a defense that ranked 22nd against the pass in 2020.
The Patriots, meanwhile, could flip Gilmore, save themselves the headache of contract negotiations and gain enough draft capital to justify moving up for a quarterback in Round 1.
New England Trades Up in Round 1
Patriots Get: No. 8 overall pick
Panthers Get: No. 15 pick, No. 122 pick, No. 197 pick, 2022 first-round pick
While New England did re-sign quarterback Cam Newton this offseason, Bill Belichick and Co. could still be interested in trading up for a signal-caller in the draft. Newton is unlikely to be a long-term answer, and next year's quarterback class isn't expected to be as deep as this one.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are among the "top candidates" to trade up for a QB in Round 1.
"I do not anticipate that the Patriots are done at the quarterback position," Rapoport said on NFL Network. "I would expect them to take one at some point in the draft."
With quarterbacks expected to go at Nos. 1, 2 and 3 overall, a trade up could be necessary if New England is sold on one of the remaining top prospects. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are widely expected to be the first two players off the board.
Presumably, the 49ers didn't trade up to No. 3 to take any position other than quarterback.
The Denver Broncos have Drew Lock but could still be a threat to take a quarterback at No. 9. Denver is another team mentioned by Rapoport as a candidate to trade up for a signal-caller.
Fortunately for New England, it may have a potential trade partner just ahead of the Broncos. With Darnold now on the roster, the Panthers are probably out of the quarterback mix at No. 8. Trading down could make a ton of sense for Carolina, especially with an early run of quarterbacks likely to increase the non-quarterback player pool at No. 15.
Broncos Trade for Teddy Bridgewater
Broncos Get: Teddy Bridgewater
Panthers Get: No. 71 pick
This is another potential pairing proposed by Davenport, and another one that seems entirely plausible—especially if a team does jump Denver for a quarterback.
The Broncos aren't completely over the Lock experiment just yet, according to ESPN's Todd McShay.
"I don't know that they've given up on Drew Lock. I think if they continue to put people around him and support him better, he can have a really successful career," McShay told reporters earlier this month (h/t Luke Patterson of Mile High Huddle).
However, Lock is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,933 yards with 16 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.4. Bringing in a veteran like Bridgewater to provide competition at the position would make a ton of sense.
Right now, Lock's competition consists of Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel.
With Darnold on the roster, Carolina could be eager to get out from underneath Bridgewater's $22.9 million 2021 salary. The caveat is that the Panthers may have to absorb at least some of the dead money remaining on his deal to make a trade with Denver.
"Either Carolina has to pay some sort of guarantee, or release him," Mike Klis of 9News Denver said on 104.3 The Fan.
If Carolina does eat some or all of the dead money on Bridgewater's deal, it could justify Denver surrendering a third-round selection.
Broncos Trade Up to No. 4
Broncos Receive: No. 4 pick
Falcons Receive: No. 9 pick, No. 40 pick, No. 114 pick, 2022 second-round pick
Both the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions are open to moving down, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. The Falcons are a particularly interesting team to watch, as the No. 4 pick could be a prime spot for a quarterback-needy team to target.
If the Broncos cannot land a veteran like Bridgewater—or aren't as eager to let Lock compete as some believe—they could be interested in getting that pick.
As Todd McShay noted, "Denver at [No. 9] is interesting."
While San Francisco made its move well ahead of the draft, a potential Denver-Falcons trade might not make sense before draft weekend. While neither Lawrence nor Wilson is likely to be available at No. 3, there's no telling who, specifically, the 49ers want.
Without knowing which quarterback is off the board at No. 3, the Broncos have little reason to trade up now. However, if they're enamored with, say, Justin Fields and he isn't San Francisco's pick, a draft-day deal becomes entirely plausible.
While Denver may not have to worry about the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, Lions or Panthers taking a quarterback, it would have to be concerned about another team trading up.
For Atlanta, this deal would be all about maximizing draft capital. The Falcons have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan but appear several pieces away from returning to title contention—they won only four games in 2020, after all.
With the rush for quarterbacks at an all-time high, Atlanta can reasonably expect a higher return than a five-spot swap might otherwise bring.
Chargers Trade Up to No. 7
Chargers Receive: No. 7 pick
Lions Receive: No. 13 pick, 2022 first-round pick
The Los Angeles Chargers appear to have found their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert. The Oregon product was sensational in his inaugural campaign, passing for 4,336 yards and a rookie-record 31 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 234 yards and five more scores.
Of course, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was also impressive as a rookie before suffering multiple torn ligaments in his knee. If the Chargers want to ensure that Herbert doesn't suffer a similar fate, they need to upgrade the left tackle position.
Trey Pipkins would probably earn the job if the season started today; he was responsible for three penalties and five sacks in 571 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. In all, Herbert was sacked 32 times as a rookie.
With the Lions reportedly open to moving down, the Chargers could consider trading up to select one of the top tackle prospects in the draft.
Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater are two of the top three tackle prospects on Bleacher Report's latest draft board. Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins is the other top prospect, though he largely projects as a right tackle or guard at the next level.
If the Chargers view Sewell and Slater as far and away better than the rest of the tackle pack, moving up could be the prudent decision. One of the two could come off the board to Cincinnati at No. 5. The Eagles, who pick 12th, also desperately need help along the offensive line.
While it may require an additional first-round pick to move from No. 13 to No. 7, that's a small price to pay if it means keeping Herbert healthy and on the field.
Cap and contract information via Spotrac.