7 NFL Trades That Should Happen Before the 2021 NFL Season
With the 2021 NFL draft in the rearview, teams are looking to the free-agent and trade markets to round out rosters before training camp. Some quality free agents remain—like Richard Sherman, Justin Houston and Trai Turner—but trade activity can also pick up late in the offseason.
Over the past few years, we've seen players like Jadeveon Clowney, Laremy Tunsil and Jamal Adams dealt between the draft and the regular season.
Here, we'll examine seven trades that would make sense ahead of the 2021 season. Though there is a fantasy element to any list like this, we'll keep ideas grounded in reality—and based on recent buzz where possible.
Factors like scheme fit and cap space will be considered, along with team needs and a bit of dot-connecting.
David Njoku to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku asked to be traded last offseason and then again before the trade deadline, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. While Njoku later denied he said that directly to her and remains with the Browns—with his fifth-year option guaranteed—moving him for the right return could make sense.
With tight ends Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant on the roster, Njoku may not be in Cleveland's long-term plans.
The Jacksonville Jaguars should have an interest in Njoku. New franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence will most likely be asked to start from day one, but Jacksonville does not have a reliable pass-catching tight end to be his security blanket.
Jacksonville is reportedly willing to give former quarterback Tim Tebow an opportunity to help fill the void.
"Nothing done yet. But he'll have a chance to make the team to reunite with his mentor and college head coach Urban Meyer," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted Monday.
Tebow, however, has never been a tight end. Njoku has had an up-and-down pro career but is an experienced tight end who had 639 receiving yards in 2018. The 2017 first-rounder has the upside Jacksonville lacks at tight end. If he won't have a major role in Cleveland, an early Day 3 pick may be enough to pry him away from the Browns.
Jaguars Get: TE David Njoku
Browns Get: 2022 fourth-round pick
Julio Jones to the Indianapolis Colts
"A few things would not surprise me. Most notably, the Falcons putting the framework of a trade together for star wideout Julio Jones, and making the trade effective June 2," King wrote. "That way, Atlanta could split Jones' cap charge between 2021 and 2022 instead of getting bashed with it all this year."
The framework for a trade is not in place, but one could still be coming. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, trade talks are ongoing.
"I'm told that this is actually still going on. The Falcons are open for business to trade Julio Jones," Russini said Thursday on Get Up! (h/t Riley Gates of 247Sports).
The Indianapolis Colts should be in on Jones. They're looking to reestablish Carson Wentz as a quality NFL starter while also trying to remain in the AFC playoff field. Jones could be a big contributor for both goals, as Indianapolis' receiver depth is questionable.
Michael Pittman Jr. appears to be a budding star, but Parris Campbell has struggled to stay healthy, and T.Y. Hilton is set to play on a one-year deal. Affording Jones shouldn't be a significant issue, as Indianapolis has $22.9 million in cap space.
Colts GM Chris Ballard has shown he's willing to be aggressive on the trade market, giving up a first-round pick for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner last offseason.
Indianapolis owes the Philadelphia Eagles a conditional second-round pick that would become a first-rounder if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps this season—or 70 percent with a playoff berth. Trading a third-round pick plus a future second might be enough to land Jones, as teams are valuing 2022 selections "like gold," according to Rapoport.
Colts Get: WR Julio Jones
Falcons Get: 2022 third-round pick, 2023 second-round pick
Anthony Miller to the New England Patriots
The New England Patriots got their quarterback of the future in Mac Jones. They also used free agency to upgrade their receiving corps, signing tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith while adding wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
But to set up Jones for early success—and/or support year two of the Cam Newton experiment—it would make sense for New England to continue trying to upgrade its receiving corps. A group headlined by Agholor, Bourne and Jakobi Meyers leaves plenty to be desired.
Taking a flier on Chicago Bears receiver Anthony Miller would give the Patriots another young receiver to develop. The 26-year-old Memphis product was a second-round pick of the Bears in 2018 but appears to be expendable in Chicago's eyes.
"It's not going to be a need-base, you know—we don't need you," Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey said of Miller, per Adam Hoge of NBC 5 Chicago. “We've got guys that are going to be able to produce."
The Bears discussed trading Miller ahead of the draft, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
While the Bears seem to be growing impatient with Miller's development, he has flashed the sort of potential that could intrigue New England. He's had 134 receptions and 1,564 receiving yards in three seasons.
Since Chicago doesn't appear high on Miller anymore, Bill Belichick and Co. shouldn't have to surrender much to acquire him. The Patriots would be adding another pass-catching option to try out in camp, while the Bears could get a return for a player who may not be in their future plans anyway.
Patriots Get: WR Anthony Miller
Bears Get: 2022 fifth-round pick
Aaron Rodgers to the Denver Broncos
Let's be clear: The Green Bay Packers shouldn't trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers if he's willing to play for them in 2021. Green Bay is a title contender, and Rodgers is the reigning MVP. The reality, however, is that the proverbial ship may have sailed.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Rodgers is "dug in" on his trade request—and the Denver Broncos Broncos are a potential destination.
"Many people around the league believe Aaron Rodgers is indeed 'dug in,' and there's a belief by some that he wants to be out west," Fowler said on SportsCenter (h/t Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway). "Denver is a team that's buzzing in league circles."
If the Packers have no shot at getting Rodgers on the field this season—and they have reportedly signed Blake Bortles as insurance—then it would make sense to get as much value as possible in a trade. A deal would also make sense for the Broncos, who have struggled to find a reliable starter since Peyton Manning's retirement.
While a trade would be costly for Denver, it could make the Broncos AFC contenders. They have a standout group of receivers—including Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy—plus budding tight end Noah Fant and a strong backfield headlined by Melvin Gordon III and rookie Javonte Williams.
It would be worth surrendering a load of draft capital if it means opening a three- to five-year Super Bowl window in Denver—Rodgers is under contract for three more seasons.
Broncos Get: QB Aaron Rodgers
Packers Get: 2022 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 second-round pick
Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was a fixture of the trade-rumor mill before the draft, largely due to his $12.7 million 2021 cap hit. Philadelphia has a tremendous receiving tight end in Dallas Goedert and could save about $5 million in cap space by moving Ertz.
Philadelphia is just $4.9 million under the cap.
Ertz hasn't been dealt yet, but this doesn't mean he will be on the Eagles roster this fall. According to Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia, there "still seems to be a very good chance" that the Eagles will move on from Ertz.
Mike Kaye of NJ.com suggested an intriguing trade idea: swapping Ertz for Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks.
According to Rapoport, the Cardinals have given Hicks permission to seek a trade.
As Kaye pointed out, Hicks is scheduled to earn $2 million in base salary. He can make an additional $1 million with incentives. Theoretically, the Eagles could create cap space while bringing back a valuable former member of their defense. Arizona, meanwhile, would add a dynamic tight end to their receiving corps.
While the Cardinals' receiver room—headlined by DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and A.J. Green—is impressive, they don't have an upper-echelon tight end. Adding Ertz, who was a Pro Bowler two years ago, could change that.
Eagles Get: LB Jordan Hicks
Cardinals Get: TE Zach Ertz
Jordan Hicks to the Cincinnati Bengals
Hicks should have the attention of the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals used the first two rounds of the draft to support quarterback Joe Burrow—nabbing wideout Ja'Marr Chase and offensive lineman Jackson Carman—there's work to be done with their 26th-ranked defense.
Stopping the run was a particular issue in 2020 for Cincinnati, which ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed and 31st in yards per carry allowed. The Bengals added defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in free agency but could afford to strengthen their linebacker corps.
This is where Hicks comes in. The six-year veteran is a tackling machine, racking up 268 tackles over the past two seasons with 11 tackles for loss in each of them. Hicks has also been reliably available over the past two seasons, playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019 and 92 percent in 2020.
Supporting Burrow should be Cincinnati's primary goal. However, if the Bengals have any hope of being relevant in the brutal AFC North, they need to be better on both sides of the ball. Adding Hicks would help tremendously.
For Arizona, this trade would net a return for a player who likely isn't in the team's long-term plans. Zaven Collins, the 16th overall pick, has been penciled in as the starter, according to Rapoport.
Bengals Get: LB Jordan Hicks
Cardinals Get: 2022 fourth-round pick
Deshaun Watson to the Washington Football Team
Uncertainty surrounds the future of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. He reportedly requested a trade in January and faces sexual assault and misconduct allegations.
It's unlikely a team will trade for Watson before his legal and civil cases have been resolved. According to ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, though, the recent quiet around Watson could indicate a settlement is in the works.
"The longer the silence lingers, the greater the possibility that that cases will eventually be resolved, allowing the Texans to trade Watson to a new team before the start of training camp," Florio wrote.
However, Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 22 women who are suing Watson, said Thursday there are no plans to settle the case.
If a settlement does happen, Watson could still face a suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but it could pave the way for Houston to move its disgruntled quarterback.
The Washington Football Team would be a logical landing spot given its playoff-ready roster and lack of a long-term quarterback solution. Watson's trade value has taken a hit, but he is an MVP-caliber player who could help Washington beyond the 2021 season—he's under contract through 2025.
The upside of Watson the player should warrant multiple early-round picks, though they would likely be conditional.
Washington Gets: QB Deshaun Watson
Texans Get: 2022 second-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick