A 2021 Draft-Day Trade That Makes Sense for Every NFL Team
If the early moves are any indication, the 2021 NFL draft should feature some blockbuster trades.
Several major deals have already sent shockwaves across the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers jumped from No. 12 to No. 3 by sending a trio of first-rounders to the Miami Dolphins, only for Miami to jump back up to No. 6. The quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets, which all but guarantees the first three picks will be quarterbacks.
And that feels like a mere preview of what's to come.
The big trade speculation starts with the fourth pick, but players will be on the move, too. Baltimore just shipped star tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs, after all.
These are the draft-day trades that make sense for every team. It doesn't mean they will happen, but there's a deal out there somewhere that every team could make to improve.
Arizona trades Round 1 pick (No. 16) to Pittsburgh for Round 1 pick (No. 24) and Round 3 pick (No. 87)
The Arizona Cardinals have already made major upgrades this offseason between adding J.J. Watt in free agency and trading for Rodney Hudson.
Why stop there?
Arizona has made a series of win-now moves to build the roster around quarterback Kyler Murray. Balancing that out with a small trade back to acquire more picks would make plenty of sense.
Without a third-, fourth- or sixth-round pick in this year's draft, floating the No. 16 pick to a team like Pittsburgh could net back a nice asset in the process.
A small slide would still allow the Cardinals to attack a position of need like cornerback while building some strong depth for the future with the newly acquired pick.
Atlanta trades Round 1 pick (No. 4) to Denver for Round 1 pick (No. 9), Round 3 pick (No. 71), 2022 Round 1 pick, 2022 Round 2 pick
The Atlanta Falcons could stand pat at No. 4 and grab their quarterback of the future behind Matt Ryan. But given the constraints of his massive contract and the idea that he seems to have plenty left in the tank, a move down could be in the works.
The fourth pick could command a massive bidding war with three quarterbacks likely to come off the board over the first three picks.
Atlanta could engage quarterback-needy teams like Denver and New England, settling on a great price and still sticking in the top 10. The cost San Francisco set to move up is mind-boggling, so the Falcons could still get a premium player this year, another pick this year and premium assets in 2022.
That would be one way to reload while trying to contend with an aging core.
Baltimore trades Round 1 (No. 27) to Cincinnati for Round 2 (No. 38), 2022 Round 2 pick
The Baltimore Ravens are in the sweet spot toward the end the first round. Teams picking early in the second will be desperate to trade back up into the first because of falling talent or sheer desperation.
The Ravens might be wise to pull the trigger, even if the trade partner is an AFC North rival like the Cincinnati Bengals, who are desperate to rebuild their offensive line in front of Joe Burrow.
By shifting down a few spots, the Ravens can net a future premium asset while still acquiring a big-time talent this year. Since they're reportedly planning to sign Alejandro Villanueva to replace Orlando Brown Jr., according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, they don't have any major roster holes, so a move down would work from multiple angles.
Buffalo trades Round 1 pick (No. 30) to Philadelphia for Round 2 pick (No. 37) and Round 4 pick (No. 123)
The Buffalo Bills kept much of their free-agent class together this offseason, spending to keep Matt Milano and others.
Now it's time for them to invest in some depth.
Like Baltimore, the Bills sit in a sweet spot near the end of the first round. They have little need for instant impact, and moving down a few spots won't hurt too much, but it would net at least one additional pick that allows the front office to flesh out roster depth.
A team like the Philadelphia Eagles may want to leapfrog the teams in front of them at the top of Round 2, potentially for a quarterback or merely the best player available.
Carolina trades Round 3 pick (No. 73) and 2022 Round 3 pick to Cleveland for TE David Njoku
The Carolina Panthers have their possible long-term starter at quarterback after acquiring Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. Now they just needs to surround him with weapons.
With the No. 8 pick, they could either do that or massively upgrade their shaky offensive line. But later in the draft, they could bolster their offense by combing the trade block for talent such as Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku.
Njoku has been a staple of trade speculation for years after not having a role that lived up to draft hype. He's now second fiddle to Austin Hooper in an offense that has been doing just fine without him in a major role.
A talented tight end is key to a quarterback's development. If this trade didn't work out, the price isn't too high for the Panthers, and Njoku has only one year left on his deal.
Chicago trades Round 1 pick (No. 20), Round 3 pick (No. 83) and 2022 Round 1 pick to Carolina for Round 1 pick (No. 8)
If the Chicago Bears are going to make a leap up for a quarterback, they might as well go big.
Big would mean trading up just ahead of needy teams like Denver or Philadelphia to secure what could be the fourth passer off the board. The Panthers would need to be content with their free-agent additions to the offensive line, but a haul like this would be hard for a rebuilding team to ignore.
While a deal like this would be risky given this team's last trade up for a quarterback, the Bears might not be much higher in the order next year to find their signal-caller of the future.
Cincinnati trades Round 1 pick (No. 5) to Denver for Round 1 pick (No. 9), Round 2 pick (No. 40)
The Cincinnati Bengals are the biggest winners of the trades to date. At fifth overall, they could have their choice of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell or LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase.
They could also leverage that flexibility and move down.
The Bengals could engage a quarterback-needy team like Denver, which might not be sold on Drew Lock as the future and may be afraid it won't be in range again to make such a move.
Remaining in the top 10 for a premier talent at wideout or along the offensive line and adding another top-40 selection would be a huge win for the Bengals.
Cleveland trades Round 2 pick (No. 59) and Round 3 pick (No. 89) to New England for CB Stephon Gilmore
After a fun sprint to the playoffs, the Cleveland Browns could be looking at an all-in draft where they add a win-now piece such as New England Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore has been a fixture of trade speculation for more than a year now, in part because Bill Belichick has a habit of trading away notable veterans.
With Jadeveon Clowney already boosting the pass rush, Cleveland could opt for a similar veteran approach at another needy area like corner instead of throwing a rookie to the wolves. The Browns would keep their first-round pick in this deal and trade away only one of their two third-rounders.
Gilmore might be a one-year rental given his contract, but he could perhaps provide the push Cleveland needs to become a Super Bowl contender.
Dallas trades Round 1 pick (No. 10), Round 3 pick (No. 75) and WR Michael Gallup to Miami for Round 1 (No. 6)
Leave it to Dallas to go all-in on the offense when the defense is the big need.
Jerry Jones likes his big offensive splashes and apparently loves Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, so let's make it happen here by moving the Cowboys four spots up the board.
Pitts won't make it to No. 10, so Miami would make sense as a trade partner because the Dolphins will want a weapon to pair with Tua Tagovailoa. They get that in the upstart Gallup, plus whoever falls to No. 10.
As for the Cowboys, Jones gets to put Pitts, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliott around the returning Dak Prescott.
Denver trades Round 1 pick (No. 9) and Round 2 pick (No. 40) to Cincinnati for Round 1 (No. 5)
If the Denver Broncos want to move up for a quarterback, the fourth or fifth spot is as good as it will get.
And given how important the position is—something Denver should know after repeated failures over the years—the Broncos need to take a now-or-never approach.
Drew Lock completed only 57.3 percent of his passes last year with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions despite the additions of Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. That should be enough to encourage the Broncos to move up, sacrificing a couple of premium assets to get the fourth or fifth quarterback off the board.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati shouldn't blink at moving down if it means sticking in the top 10 and acquiring another big-time asset.
Detroit trades Round 1 pick (No. 7) to New England for Round 1 pick (No. 15), Round 2 pick (No. 46), 2022 Round 2 pick
The Detroit Lions aren't trying to hide the fact the seventh pick can be had for the right price.
Trading down is one of the best moves any team outside of the top five can make, especially if that team is comfortable at quarterback.
The Lions might not view Jared Goff as their long-term option under center, but they're more set at that spot than the New England Patriots. In this hypothetical trade, the Lions would still stick in the top 15 while adding another top-50 pick and a second-round pick in 2022.
That's an incredible way to fuel the rebuild around new head coach Dan Campbell, as well as add more ammunition should the Lions want to trade up next year for a passer if Goff stumbles in his new surroundings.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay trades Round 1 pick (No. 29) and two Round 4 picks (Nos. 135 and 142) to Indianapolis for Round 1 (No. 21)
After trading up to draft Aaron Rodgers' potential successor last year, they could make amends by getting aggressive to add a new weapon for him.
Although Rodgers didn't show any signs of slowing last year, he'd likely prefer to have a viable wideout target outside of Davante Adams.
Moving up for a prospect such as Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman could be just what the Packers need to keep the offense humming.
Trading a pair of fourth-round selections to make the offense that much more dynamic should be a no-brainer for the Packers. The Colts couldn't complain too much about stockpiling picks with a small trade down, either.
Houston trades Round 4 pick (No. 109) to Philadelphia for TE Zach Ertz
The Houston Texans need as much talent as possible, but they don't have a selection this year until the third round. That explains the laundry list of ho-hum names they added in free agency just to flesh out the roster.
Surrendering one of their eight picks this year to get a veteran offensive weapon like Zach Ertz could take pressure off whomever lines up under center in 2021.
Zach Ertz has been an obvious trade candidate all offseason, and Philadelphia likely won't get much for him. If nothing else, the Texans would get an instant starter at tight end as a short-term solution to help their quarterback.
Houston will have a full repertoire of picks again in 2022, so for now, stopgap solutions for the league's most dramatic rebuild makes sense.
Indianapolis trades Round 1 pick (No. 21) to New York Jets for Round 2 pick (No. 34), Round 3 pick (No. 86) and 2022 Round 3 pick
The Indianapolis Colts enter the 2021 draft with six picks, but some recent moves might encourage them to stockpile assets.
They shipped away a first-rounder last year for DeForest Buckner and traded a third-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick that can become a first-rounder for quarterback Carson Wentz this offseason. They may thus prefer to move down while picking up more selections this year and next.
A team that hopes to quicken the pace of a rebuild with premium prospects such as the New York Jets might have interest in leveraging lower picks to make it happen.
Slipping out of the first round isn't ideal, but a deep offensive line class could still help the Colts mitigate the loss of Anthony Castonzo.
Jacksonville trades Round 1 pick (No. 25), Round 3 pick (No. 65) and Round 5 pick (No. 170) to Miami for Round 1 pick (No. 18)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have so many assets that they can afford to get aggressive in pursuing prospects they to spur the rebuild around Urban Meyer.
There's zero chance that they'll throw away their shot at Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. But leaping up from No. 25 to the middle of the first round for a falling best-player-available target could make a ton of sense.
Sitting on two second-round picks and the first pick in each of the first five rounds, the Jaguars can afford to sacrifice a little to move up for a premium talent.
A move like this could land the Jaguars a corner like Patrick Surtain II or wideout like Jaylen Waddle. Either way, they have a ton of flexibility to go get who they want.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City trades Round 2 picks (Nos. 58 and 63) to Buffalo for Round 1 pick (No. 30)
With Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr. in the fold, the Kansas City Chiefs can rest more easily about the offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes.
But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't remain aggressive in the draft.
The Chiefs could leverage their pair of second-round picks to move up near the end of the first round should a prospect they like fall down the board. A team like Buffalo that is comfortable with its roster might not mind a trade back to pick up an additional asset.
Either way, the Chiefs could make a big leap and aim for the best offensive lineman or defensive back available and not regret the cost.
Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas trades Round 1 pick (No. 17), Round 3 pick (No. 79) and Round 5 pick (No. 162) to Dallas for Round 1 pick (No. 10)
Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders seem to love throwing out surprises during the draft, such as when they took Damon Arnette at No. 19 last year or taking Lynn Bowden Jr. at No. 80 only to trade him four months later.
So why not pull off another surprise with an aggressive move up the draft order?
The Raiders have extra picks in the third and fifth rounds that they could leverage into a leap up in Round 1. A sweet spot like 10th overall would make sense, especially if Dallas wants to accumulate assets.
Las Vegas could benefit here by grabbing some offensive line help such as Rashawn Slater or even another wideout like DeVonta Smith. Looking at the cost, it would be a brilliant bit of draft chess.
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers trade Round 3 pick (No. 77) to Philadelphia for G Brandon Brooks
It's no secret that the Los Angeles Chargers needed to remake the offensive line in front of Justin Herbert this offseason, hence their high-profile additions of Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler.
During the draft, the Chargers could peruse the trade market if a lineman doesn't fall to them at No. 13. The Philadelphia Eagles are hungry to free up cap space, and Brooks missed all of last year with a torn Achilles.
There's huge upside in putting Brooks in front of Herbert and minimal risk considering the Chargers have two picks in the third round.
Since the Chargers can't fix all five spots on the line in one offseason, Brooks would be an interesting low-buy target if nothing else.
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams trade Round 2 pick (No. 57), Round 3 pick (No. 103) and 2022 Round 2 pick to Baltimore for Round 1 pick (No. 27)
The Los Angeles Rams have only six picks in this year's draft, so they might make sense as a trade-down candidate. They don't pick until No. 57, and they won't have a first-round selection until 2024 after trades for Jalen Ramsey and Matthew Stafford.
Unless they trade back up this year, that is.
Clearly all-in on winning now, the Rams could always get impatient in a deep offensive line class and want to leap up near the end of the first round for Alex Leatherwood or Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Since they plan to build around Matthew Stafford for the foreseeable future, they'll need an eventual successor for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is entering his age-40 season this year.
Miami trades CB Xavien Howard to Dallas for Round 2 (No. 44)
The Miami Dolphins once again sit in a great position entering the draft. They boast four top-50 picks, including two in the first round.
The Dolphins don't have much reason to move out of the No. 6 slot because adding a weapon like Kyle Pitts to the offense or nabbing a lineman such as Penei Sewell in front of Tua Tagovailoa makes a ton of sense.
But offloading cornerback Xavien Howard, who has recently popped up in trade rumors, could work. That's especially the case if it results in another top-50 pick from a Dallas Cowboys team that had a horrific defense last year.
This would be an aggressive thing to do with a veteran, but so was cutting Kyle Van Noy one year after signing him.
Minnesota trades Round 1 pick (No. 14), Round 3 pick (No. 78) and 2022 Round 2 pick to Carolina for Round 1 pick (No. 8)
One of the worst-kept secrets in the state of Minnesota is the dire condition of the Vikings offensive line in front of Kirk Cousins, which let up 39 sacks last year and lost talent this offseason.
The Vikings can't afford to sit around and hope one of the draft's top two tackles falls into their laps.
With Carolina having already traded for Sam Darnold, perhaps the Vikings could coax the Panthers into a trade that nets them the eighth pick, where they could likely land one of Rashawn Slater or Penei Sewell.
That's the ideal range to make something happen from the Vikings' perspective, assuming an NFC North deal with the Lions at No. 7 is off the table.
New England Patriots
New England sends Round 2 (No. 46) to San Francisco for QB Jimmy Garoppolo
One of the sillier notions leading up to the draft is the idea the San Francisco 49ers won't trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a rookie passer clearly inbound after the trade up from No. 12 to No. 3.
Besides poor performances and his lengthy injury history, Garoppolo has a dead cap hit of only $2.8 million this season. Everyone knows his future isn't in San Francisco, so the Patriots shouldn't have to pay too much to get their former draft pick back.
The Patriots did re-sign Cam Newton in free agency, but it doesn't hurt to have more experience and insurance at the position. Right now, Bill Belichick and Co. have a sense of desperation around them after some uncharacteristic major free-agency spending following a disappointing 2020 campaign.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans sends Round 1 pick (No. 28), Round 3 pick (No. 98) and Round 6 pick (No. 218) to Miami for Round 1 pick (No. 18)
The New Orleans Saints are keeping both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill under center to kickstart their post-Drew Brees era.
New Orleans is well out of range for a top-tier quarterback at No. 28. And even if a passer doesn't fall, jumping up by trading away an extra third-rounder and a late-rounder to get the best player available would be a smart way to start planning for the future while also seeking out some immediate impact.
Since the Dolphins are currently sitting on two first-round picks, they might be amenable to moving down the board. Such a jump could open up the Saints not only to a falling passer, but an edge-rusher like Azeez Ojulari or an offensive lineman like Christian Darrisaw.
New York Giants
New York Giants send TE Evan Engram and Round 1 pick (No. 11) to Carolina for Round 1 pick (No. 8)
The New York Giants are a fun sleeper trade-up team to consider after they drafted offensive tackle Andrew Thomas at No. 4 last year and paid up big for wideout Kenny Golladay in free agency this offseason.
The only major spot left to upgrade on offense is tight end with a player like Kyle Pitts.
Maybe that's the move here as the Giants send Evan Engram to a Carolina team that needs help at the position for Sam Darnold. The Panthers shouldn't take issue with moving back three spots if it means picking up an instant starter.
Meanwhile, the Giants move a player in the last year of his deal and get to jump up for a guy they like more.
New York Jets
New York Jets send Round 3 pick (No. 66) to Philadelphia for DE Derek Barnett
Rebuilders with droves of cap space can throw around a ton of weight during the draft while adding productive veterans at a fair price.
Look at the New York Jets, who have two first-round picks this year and extra premium picks next year after offloading Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold. Throwing a third-round pick at Philadelphia for an edge player like Derek Barnett should be a no-brainer.
Barnett, a first-round pick in 2017, turns 25 in June and has had problems staying healthy, meaning the Eagles can't demand much more while trying to reset their roster a bit.
The Jets just need more talent across the board, so this would be a buy-low option with first-round upside.
Philadelphia sends Round 2 pick (No. 37), Round 3 pick (No. 70) and Round 6 pick (No. 188) to Buffalo for Round 1 pick (No. 30)
The Philadelphia Eagles have come up frequently here as a team offloading talent, and for good reason. They're punching the reset button after the Carson Wentz era, and they have serious financial constraints.
That shouldn't stop the Eagles from being aggressive during the draft itself, though.
If they hang tight at No. 12 and take the best player available, such as an offensive tackle, they may be incentivized to move back up into the first round for a weapon like LSU wideout Terrace Marshall Jr.
Considering the Eagles have multiple picks in the third and sixth rounds and can stand pat at No. 12, climbing back up into Round 1 would be a good way to expedite their rebuild.
Pittsburgh sends Round 1 pick (No. 24), Round 4 pick (No. 128) and 2022 Round 1 pick to Philadelphia for Round 1 pick (No. 12)
The seemingly never-ending Ben Roethlisberger era will indeed end at some point, and the Steelers need to prepare accordingly.
After losing a talent like Bud Dupree, the only trade-up scenario that makes sense is if the team gets desperate enough to gamble on a falling quarterback such as Alabama's Mac Jones or North Dakota State's Trey Lance.
The 12th pick might be the sweet spot as the Eagles look to acquire as many cheap contracts as possible while wiggling out of their cap issues.
The Steelers could stand pat at No. 24 and be fine, but a trade up could help them find Roethlisberger's eventual successor.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco sends Round 2 pick (No. 43) and 2022 Round 2 pick to Tampa Bay for Round 1 pick (No. 32)
Are the San Francisco 49ers done being aggressive yet? Maybe not.
It's clear they'll take a quarterback at No. 3 after their big trade up, but a smaller jump could end up with rave reviews, too.
After losing Richard Sherman in free agency and trying to keep the rest of the roster at a playoff-contention level, the 49ers might see a prospect they like falling down the board in the first round and get right back in there via a trade.
Whether it's a corner like Jaycee Horn or one of the draft's many talented wideouts, don't discount the possibility of the 49ers pulling off another eyebrow-raising trade.
Seattle trades Round 2 pick (No. 56) and 2022 Round 2 pick to Tampa Bay for Round 1 pick (No. 32)
No, the Seattle Seahawks aren't trading Russell Wilson this week. But they do have the fewest number of picks (three) of any team in the draft, so they may still get aggressive.
The Seahawks could trade down a few time in the middle rounds to acquire more assets. They could also jump up the order and move into the first round for more win-now talent to surround Wilson.
Leveraging some future premium picks is always a risky game, but the cost to go all-in around a franchise passer is steep. Jumping up to take the best offensive lineman or pass-rusher is a no-brainer move at the right price.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay trades Round 1 (No. 32) to San Francisco for Round 2 (No. 43) and 2022 Round 2 pick
The rich-get-richer scenario seems especially likely this year for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that didn't lose any notables from its win-now core.
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, Shaquil Barrett and even Lavonte David are back for a repeat attempt in 2021, meaning the Buccaneers are free to sell the final pick of Round 1 to the highest bidder.
In past years, that has featured teams gunning up the board to grab a quarterback (think back to Baltimore and Lamar Jackson).
Here, the why for the other team isn't as important. The champions can move back a handful of spots, still get a top-50 pick and acquire an extra premium asset next year as insurance for when their Super Bowl window closes and the rebuild begins.
Tennesse sends Round 2 pick (No. 53) to Chicago for WR Anthony Miller
The Tennessee Titans could use some help around quarterback Ryan Tannehill after losing Corey Davis in free agency. A.J. Brown is a star in the making, but another big-bodied threat outside would be ideal.
And the Chicago Bears might have just the guy. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Bears have floated 2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller in trade talks.
Miller hasn't been amazing by any means after scoring seven times as a rookie, but he's also dealt with dreadful quarterback play. That would change in Tennessee, where the Titans could land a known commodity with some upside that is possibly unlockable in their system.
This is a deep wideout class, but if the Titans don't use their first-rounder on one, a trade like this could be worth a shot.
Washington Football Team
Washington trades Round 2 pick (No. 51) to Carolina for QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Washington Football Team needs a quarterback. Carolina has an extra. The end.
The Dwayne Haskins era is over, and Washington is well out of range for a top passer at No. 19. After acquiring Sam Darnold, the Panthers aren't likely to get a ton of value in return for Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater might just be a stopgap in Washington, but adding him to an offense with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Antonio Gibson could lead to some fireworks.
Carolina would be happy to end any whispers of a quarterback controversy in this scenario, though adding another second-round pick sure wouldn't hurt, either.