1 Player Each NFL Team Should Consider Trading Before the 2021 Season
Most of the NFL offseason trade action is likely complete, but 15 trades went down last year in July, August and September and some of the most notable deals in recent years have taken place on the brink of the regular season.
Teams are still trying to make critical tweaks between now and Week 1, and we'll inevitably see several more high-impact trades this summer.
Based on fit, crowds at certain positions, trajectory and/or finances, here's one player each team should consider trading before opening day.
Arizona Cardinals: LB Jordan Hicks
This could become a little more complicated by rookie Zaven Collins' recent arrest for excessive speed and reckless driving, but the fact is the Arizona Cardinals still have two 22-year-old recent first-round picks at the linebacker position.
With Collins and Isaiah Simmons on board, the 28-year-old Hicks is likely expendable after starting all 32 games for the Cards the last two seasons. The team would save $3 million by moving on before the start of the regular season, so it makes perfect sense that—according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport—Hicks was given permission last month to seek a trade.
They wouldn't likely get much in return at this point, but the versatile former Philadelphia Eagle has enough playmaking ability, versatility and durability to start elsewhere.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan
Yeah, I know this won't happen. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't.
With the Julio Jones era over, the Atlanta Falcons should strongly consider any potential inquiries regarding the 36-year-old quarterback who has led them to exactly zero winning seasons since 2018.
Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts will likely need some time to get acclimated, and it's hard to argue the Falcons are better off now than they were during a poor 2020 season. Why not rebuild now and aim for a breakout season in 2022?
A Matt Ryan trade wouldn't save the Falcons much money at all ($2 million), but they'd likely get plenty of capital back and it's even possible a quarterback-starved team would be willing to pay a large chunk of his dead-cap costs.
It shouldn't be ruled out.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Miles Boykin
Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman have joined the Baltimore Ravens receiving corps, which could leave 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin in a tough spot.
Sure, Willie Snead IV is gone, but he was primarily a slot target, and Marquise Brown, Devin Duvernay and even Watkins and Bateman might all be better suited for slot snaps than Boykin. If all of those guys remain healthy this summer, rookie fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace could knock Boykin right off the roster.
So in the meantime, the Ravens should actively shop the Notre Dame product. Someone in need of pass-catching help might be willing to pay up for an inexpensive 24-year-old with a good combination of size and speed.
Buffalo Bills: Edge Jerry Hughes
This was a tossup between veteran Buffalo Bills edge defenders Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. Either should be on the block if the team gets a good vibe from any or all of their three young pass-rushers: rookies Gregory Rousseau (first round) and Carlos Basham Jr. (second round) and sophomore A.J. Epenesa (second round).
Hughes and Addison are a combined 65 years old and coming off a season in which they tallied just 9.5 sacks in 30 games. They'd save $6.4 million by trading Hughes and $5.4 million by dealing Addison, who is a year older and likely less attractive on the trade market.
They wouldn't likely fetch too much for either considering their age and finances at play, but freeing up more reps for those young guys could make a deal worth it.
Carolina Panthers: OT Greg Little
By all indications, the Carolina Panthers will have a battle for the starting left tackle job this summer, with 2019 second-round pick Greg Little, rookie third-round selection Brady Christensen, veteran journeyman Cameron Erving and third-year sixth-round pick Dennis Daley all potentially vying to replace unsigned veteran Russell Okung.
Of course, it's also possible Okung returns as well, which means Little is likely fighting an uphill battle. And if it quickly becomes apparent the former first-team All-SEC offensive lineman from Ole Miss isn't going to play a major role in Carolina in his third season, the front office oughta find out if someone else in a more desperate situation might want to see if they can get more out of the 23-year-old.
Again, we're not talking about a king's ransom here. But Little was viewed as a potential first-round pick just two years ago, he's quite young and he's damn cheap. If he might be released anyway, a trade for a bit of capital would be nice.
Chicago Bears: QB Nick Foles
A Nick Foles trade probably isn't something the Chicago Bears are "considering." It's likely something they're begging for.
They insist veteran free-agent acquisition Andy Dalton is their starting quarterback for now, and obviously rookie first-round pick Justin Fields is the future, which leaves the 32-year-old Foles collecting dust at an obscene rate of $14.3 million.
They can save $4 million by trading him, and it's possible a team in worse quarterback shape will be willing to fork over some cash and minimal capital for a former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP.
The Indianapolis Colts come to mind if Frank Reich really wants to get the 2017 band back together.
Cincinnati Bengals: C Billy Price
Same idea here as with the Carolina Panthers and Greg Little. Center Billy Price just hasn't panned out as a 2018 first-round pick for the Cincinnati Bengals, and if the Ohio State product can't claim a starting job ahead of the final year of his rookie contract, Cincinnati might be ready to cut bait.
Finding a trade partner could be tough considering the 26-year-old's struggles the last few years, but he'd represent an inexpensive one-year trial for a team looking for help within the interior offensive line and Cincinnati might be able to at least salvage a late-round pick in exchange for him.
Of course, this would probably also depend on Trey Hopkins, Michael Jordan and rookie second-round pick Jackson Carman excelling in training camp for Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns: LB Mack Wilson
Veteran safety Ronnie Harrison was also a consideration here for the Cleveland Browns, but defensive coordinator Joe Woods loves his three-safety looks so Harrison might not become totally expendable even if sophomore second-round pick Grant Delpit emerges alongside newcomer John Johnson III.
Instead, we'll throw out intriguing but inconsistent young linebacker Mack Wilson, who might be the odd man out this summer.
The Browns added Anthony Walker in free agency, second-year Day 2 selection Jacob Phillips is ascending, 2019 third-rounder Sione Takitaki outperformed Wilson last year and don't forget that both Johnson and rookie second-round steal Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah can spend plenty of time in the box.
So Wilson could be expendable, and somebody could jump at a chance to see if a new environment could help him rediscover the magic that he flashed on and off as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys: LB Jaylon Smith
Ezekiel Elliott should totally be on the market as well for the Dallas Cowboys, but linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are much more realistic trade options for Jerry Jones.
Why? For starters, nobody's going to want to inherit Elliott's six-year, $90 million contract. That's a sunk cost for this season if you're Dallas, and backup Tony Pollard isn't a lock to replace him successfully anyway.
But Dallas did spend a first-round draft pick on linebacker Micah Parsons, and the team also brought in the solid Keanu Neal at that position after he switched from safety.
Vander Esch is inexpensive and they've exercised his fifth-year option. The 25-year-old still has a pretty high ceiling. Smith, though, will become increasingly expensive in the years to come, and they can save $7.2 million by trading him now to make room for Parsons, Vander Esch and Neal at that level.
He was a Pro Bowler in 2019 but he just hasn't taken off the way many expected when he signed that lucrative deal. Time to see if somebody else wants to give him a shot.
Denver Broncos: RB Melvin Gordon III
The Denver Broncos already traded away running back Phillip Lindsay this offseason, but they've since added Javonte Williams in the second round of the draft and 2018 third-rounder Royce Freeman quietly averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2020.
If Freeman and Williams look good in the early parts of training camp, there's not much point in holding on to expensive 28-year-old Melvin Gordon.
Gordon makes too many mistakes for a veteran running back with an $8 million average annual salary. They can save $6.9 million by trading him, which should be a no-brainer if those other backs can emerge and they can find a willing partner.
That, however, is a huge question mark.
Detroit Lions: Edge Trey Flowers
Just two years ago, the Detroit Lions made edge defender Trey Flowers one of the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history. Now, they should already be looking for a way to move on.
Now on the verge of 28, Flowers has just nine sacks in two seasons with the Lions. They've also just handed a shiny new contract to fellow pass-rusher Romeo Okwara, and Okwara's younger brother Julian showed glimpses as a rookie third-round pick in 2020 as well.
The key, though, is that the Lions look like a project right now. Nobody expects them to contend considering the current state of transition offensively, defensively and within the coaching staff. Why keep an underachiever around if you can save $14.4 million by trading him?
It's possible nobody will want to pay Flowers, and the return would be minuscule if it happened, but it's still something the Lions should explore considering how desperate teams get for quality pass-rushers.
Green Bay Packers: QB Jordan Love
The Green Bay Packers were silly to trade up for a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft, and that point was made clearer when they fell short of the Super Bowl without utilizing Jordan Love whatsoever last season.
Now, Aaron Rodgers has stayed away while reportedly refusing to play for the team any longer. That's a problem, because Rodgers is the reigning MVP and there's little reason to believe he can't continue to dominate for years to come.
The best route the Packers can take now? Admit that drafting Love was a mistake, trade him away to a rebuilding team in need of a long-term quarterback option and hand Rodgers a new contract to come back with the support of whoever they land in exchange for the Utah State product.
It's that simple!
Houston Texans: Edge Whitney Mercilus
Obviously, Houston Texans trade talk is dominated right now by quarterback Deshaun Watson, who asked for a trade in January and is now facing 22 lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.
But the Texans might want to or might have to wait there, and it's easy to understand why they might want to take that slow. However, Houston is likely entering a rebuilding season regardless, so it's probably time to move on from expensive 30-year-old edge defender Whitney Mercilus.
Mercilus is a solid veteran, but he's never been special and he's beyond his prime. A contender might figure it can get more use out of him, and the Texans can at least pocket $4.5 million by moving on with a trade this summer.
Indianapolis Colts: RB Jordan Wilkins
It was quite difficult finding obvious trade candidates on the Indianapolis Colts roster, but any running back not named Jonathan Taylor makes sense.
Taylor emerged in a big way as a rookie in 2020, and there should be little doubt about his status as the lead back entering 2021. That being the case, it might not be necessary for the Colts to continue to carry 2018 fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines, 2018 fifth-rounder Jordan Wilkins and 2017 fourth-round selection Marlon Mack on the same depth chart.
Mack is still being eased back from an Achilles injury and is back on a cheap prove-it deal, so the Colts should put both Wilkins and Hines on the block. Hines has a higher ceiling and is a better complement to Taylor, but he'd also likely fetch them more in a trade.
We'll roll with Wilkins here as it's a less risky move.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB James Robinson
James Robinson was a surprise star as an undrafted rookie running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, but the team just used a first-round draft pick on potential superstar Travis Etienne and when you invest that heavily in a back these days, he's gotta be the focal point.
So while we wouldn't fault the Jags for keeping the extremely inexpensive Robinson around as an insurance policy for Etienne, a team still lacking depth and overall talent would be wise to shop him following a 1,000-yard, double-digit-touchdown maiden NFL campaign at age 22.
Robinson will likely only lose value moving forward simply because he won't get as many opportunities to shine. Dealing him now would be an example of selling high, even if the return wouldn't be epic because he's got just one strong year under his belt at a devalued position.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Anthony Hitchens
Veteran guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is actually an intriguing trade candidate for the Kansas City Chiefs, because Kansas City has plenty of new options within the interior offensive line. That said, you'd have to think the Chiefs would prefer not to deal a player who opted out last season to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines. Plus, they might not want to take any chances with their O-line considering the mess they found themselves in last year.
Instead, let's look at the fact the Chiefs spent their first draft pick in April on linebacker Nick Bolton, who might not require much time to supplant a veteran like Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay Jr. or Ben Niemann this summer.
If Bolton and Gay (a second-round pick last year) really shine, a Chiefs team that frequently uses two or fewer linebackers could decide to gauge the market for Hitchens, who has been good but not great for seven NFL seasons and will cost $10.6 million in 2021.
They can pocket $6.4 million by trading him.
Las Vegas Raiders: Edge Clelin Ferrell
Might someone else want to try to see if they can get something out of Clelin Ferrell? The Las Vegas Raiders might not be willing to admit they erred in drafting the edge defender fourth overall in 2019, but he's been an utter disappointment and now it looks like the Raiders are set with Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby on the edge.
They're paying big bucks to the veteran Ngakoue, while Crosby is coming off 17 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. Ferrell, meanwhile, has just 6.5 sacks in 26 career starts. It's time to stop letting him start, and with Carl Nassib and rookie Day 2 selection Malcolm Koonce also on the roster, it might simply be time to move on.
The question is whether anyone will pay for him, but there's nothing unusual about an NFL general manager or coach believing they can fix a talented draft bust and this could represent an intriguing redemption project.
Los Angeles Chargers: DL Justin Jones
The Los Angeles Chargers are hoping 2019 first-round selection Jerry Tillery breaks out in his third season as part of the defensive line in 2021. And if Tillery can show signs of that this summer, a Bolts team that also has Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu and Linval Joseph up front would be smart to consider dealing incumbent defensive tackle starter Justin Jones ahead of a contract year.
Jones isn't expensive, but he's not as accomplished as Joseph or as talented as Tillery and there's a decent chance the Chargers lose him next offseason anyway. Might as well see if anyone is willing to pay for the 24-year-old's combination of experience and upside, especially if his workload is expected to drop off in L.A. anyway.
It'd be a cheap one-year experiment for a team in more desperate need of defensive line help than the Chargers, but there's also little reason for Los Angeles to pull the trigger unless the front office gets a solid return for a key player like Jones.
Los Angeles Rams: S Taylor Rapp
The Los Angeles Rams have become so dangerously thin that it's extremely difficult to find a clearly tradable asset on their roster. But even with John Johnson III gone, there's quite a crowd at the safety position, and it would make sense for the Rams to shop the odd man (or men) out once Taylor Rapp, Jordan Fuller, Terrell Burgess, Juju Hughes and Nick Scott are done battling it out.
Rapp stands out because he's the biggest name and the highest draft pick of the batch, and he might not be guaranteed a significant role because Fuller stood out as a rookie sixth-round pick last year and there's a lot to like about Burgess as a sophomore third-round pick.
Rapp's sophomore slump might have had a lot to do with the knee injury that cost him action, but if he can't bounce back and recapture a starting role, the Rams should see what they can get for him in order to bolster a thinner position elsewhere.
Miami Dolphins: CB Xavien Howard
Xavien Howard and the Miami Dolphins are locked in a contract dispute, which naturally makes the first-team All-Pro a trade candidate.
Throw in that they already have the expensive Byron Jones and first-round sophomore Noah Igbinoghene on the cornerback depth chart, and it would actually make a lot of sense for Miami to sacrifice Howard in order to address a position with less talent and depth.
What if he could help them bolster the inexperienced offensive line for young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? What if he could help them land Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson at quarterback? It should all be taken into consideration, but it's also tough to justify trading a guy coming off a 10-interception season.
Another potential issue is that the Dolphins are ready to win now, and they might not be down with accepting future draft capital rather than 2021 assets in a trade. That could make this tricky unless we really are talking about a deal for a star quarterback, although that's not out of the realm of possibility on this wild league.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Jeff Gladney
Will anyone take Jeff Gladney right now?
It's entirely possible the 2020 first-round pick is untradable considering that he faces charges of third-degree felony family violence assault, but the Minnesota Vikings sure as hell should try to get him off their roster.
Gladney is absolutely innocent until proven guilty, but the fact is he struggled immensely as a rookie anyway, surrendering six touchdown passes and a 118.1 passer rating on throws into his coverage. Third-round rookie Cameron Dantzler was better, fifth-rounder Harrison Hand has shined this offseason and the Vikes have also added veterans Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander to the roster.
It'll be hard for Gladney to catch up even if he is cleared off the field, so now might be the time for a Minnesota team in win-now mode to cut bait and see what it can get for him on the trade market. The answer could be nothing, but we're still talking about a 24-year-old with the tools to become a great corner.
New England Patriots: CB Stephon Gilmore
Just 16 months after being crowned Defensive Player of the Year, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore sat out the team's mandatory minicamp. Presumably, that was to make a statement regarding his contract, which is set to expire once he's paid a base salary of $7 million in 2021, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.
With Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills and third-year second-round pick Joejuan Williams on the depth chart at that position, the Patriots, who have always excelled at making smart business decisions before paying for declining players, would be silly not to listen to offers for Gilmore.
The four-time Pro Bowler is on the wrong side of 30 now, and although he was still a standout in a Pro Bowl 2020 campaign, his play dropped off significantly.
That said, the Pats should drive a hard bargain because he's so inexpensive this year, they appear to be going all-in on 2021 and we know they love compensatory draft picks.
New Orleans Saints: Edge Marcus Davenport
It looks as though the New Orleans Saints are giving disappointing 2018 first-round edge defender Marcus Davenport at least one more shot at becoming an elite pass-rusher opposite star veteran Cameron Jordan. They lost 2020 sack leader Trey Hendrickson in free agency before surprisingly exercising Davenport's fifth-year option for 2022, but that doesn't mean he'll stick around.
If Davenport can't excel this summer, the Saints could give more reps to free-agent addition Tanoh Kpassagnon and first-round rookie Payton Turner, and they could in turn put Davenport on the trading block.
He's unlikely to fetch them much because he's now guaranteed $9.5 million in 2022, but a team acquiring Davenport would owe him $11.9 million total over the course of the next two seasons. That's not outlandish if you believe you can get a talented 24-year-old on the right track.
New York Giants: WR Sterling Shepard
Someone needs to replace the departed Golden Tate as the New York Giants' primary slot receiver in 2021, and the natural assumption might have been that veteran Sterling Shepard would step into that role with a larger workload.
But then the Giants signed John Ross III in March and used a first-round draft pick on Kadarius Toney, and both should get plenty of action in the slot while new arrival Kenny Golladay holds things down with Darius Slayton outside.
Where does that leave Shepard? Potentially in another uniform.
The steady 28-year-old is slated to cost the Giants $9 million this year, but they can save $7 million by dealing him. It seems like a no-brainer if the right deal is on the table.
New York Jets: LB C.J. Mosley
C.J. Mosley has played in two NFL games in the last two years. He's 29 years old coming off an opt-out season, he missed all but two games due to a groin injury in 2019, and he's stuck on a New York Jets team that does not appear to be on the verge of contending for the AFC East in 2021.
It's surprising the four-time Pro Bowler hasn't asked for a trade, although NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported in March that the team had been "receiving trade calls" regarding Mosley.
The Jets remain quite thin at linebacker, but in a rebuilding year, they might be better off dealing Mosley and seeing what incoming former Lion Jarrad Davis can do alongside third-year fifth-round pick Blake Cashman and late-round rookies Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen in the box.
Philadelphia Eagles: OT Andre Dillard
Speaking of rebuilds, the Philadelphia Eagles are at least reloading as they go with Jalen Hurts at quarterback following the collapse of the Carson Wentz era. As part of that process, they might even be curious to see what they could get on the trade market for key veteran trench players Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
The problem is those guys are so damn expensive that trading any of them would cost the Eagles dearly in terms of dead-cap hits.
Instead, the best trade possibility in Philadelphia might come out of the anticipated battle between Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle job.
Dillard was a first-round pick in 2019, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy (he missed the entire 2020 season because of a torn biceps) and Mailata excelled in that starting role in 2020. If he keeps the job this summer, the Eagles should look to see if someone else believes they can have better luck with Dillard.
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Mason Rudolph
There's a chance that neither Mason Rudolph nor Dwayne Haskins will successfully take over for Ben Roethlisberger as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback down the line, but Rudolph has done almost nothing to inspire confidence during his first three seasons.
It's time for the Steelers to give Haskins the clearer path by moving on from the 2018 third-round pick in favor of their reclamation project from Washington.
Remember, the man was the No. 15 overall pick in the draft just two years ago.
That means making it known that Rudolph is available via trade to anyone looking for another option or more depth at the most important position in the sport. It's possible they'll get nothing for the 25-year-old, but he's got the size, toughness and vision to land somewhere else as a QB2 in 2021.
San Francisco 49ers: Edge Dee Ford
Dee Ford has just 6.5 sacks in his two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, and the emergence of Nick Bosa along with the late-bloomed arrival of Arik Armstead probably has the team regretting that signing altogether.
They're paying Armstead handsomely, and they'll soon owe Bosa big bucks as well. If both of those guys can stand out this summer, the 49ers ought to do their best to shop Ford.
It won't be easy because he's 30 now and still trying to get past neck issues that caused him to miss all but one game last year, but Ford wouldn't cost too much to the team acquiring him because the 49ers would still owe him nearly $15 million over the course of the next two seasons. That said, they'd still save $4 million overall and a pass-rusher-hungry team could give it a shot.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny
This might have been the toughest one yet. The Seattle Seahawks roster is tight, and it's hard to view anyone as expendable entering training camp. That could change, but for now, both the offense and defense are too top-heavy and thin for obvious trade candidates to emerge.
Still, with veteran back Chris Carson returning with a new contract, you wonder if Rashaad Penny's days are numbered in Seattle.
It's good to have several backs at your disposal, and the Seahawks aren't exactly loaded in the offensive backfield either. Alex Collins can be a quality second option behind Carson, who posted the best yards-per-attempt average of his career in 2020 (4.8).
Penny is a talented 25-year-old former first-round pick who should be worth something in a trade. The Seahawks should find out what exactly that is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Anthony Nelson
Let's be clear: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn't change a damn thing. We all know it and so do they. They've smartly brought back all of their key players from last year's Super Bowl campaign, and there's no reason to attempt to fix a roster that ain't broke.
But we promised one trade candidate per team so we've reached for one of the team's top reserve pass-rushers, Anthony Nelson.
The 2019 fourth-round pick isn't a bad reserve, but Tampa Bay used a first-round pick in April on Washington product Joe Tryon, who had eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss in his final season in college. Tryon might need some time, but if he can outperform Nelson quickly, the Bucs could put the latter up for sale to see what he's worth in a trade.
Tennessee Titans: LB Rashaan Evans
Greg Little, Billy Price, Clelin Ferrell, Andre Dillard, Marcus Davenport, Rashaad Penny. Now, add Rashaan Evans to the list of disappointing relatively recent high draft picks who could hit the trading block if they can't make statements this summer.
The Tennessee Titans didn't pick up Evans' fifth-year option for 2022, which means the 2018 first-round pick is slated to hit free agency next offseason. He's started all 32 games the last two seasons but has failed to stand out on a consistent basis and now the Titans have added third-round rookie Monty Rice to the fray at that position.
If they figure he's gone next year anyway, and if Rice and/or third-year linebacker David Long can prove they belong, the Titans would be smart to float potential Evans trades out to the rest of the league.
Washington Football Team: S Landon Collins
We conclude with a player who is very unlikely to be traded but nonetheless is the only semi-sensible notable potential trade candidate on the Washington Football Team's roster.
Rookie seventh-round pick Kamren Curl was completely sensational in place of an injured Landon Collins down the stretch last season. Now, it's hard to see how both can play key roles for Washington without one shifting unnaturally to free safety.
To boot, they might just have something in Jeremy Reaves over the top, and there's less room inside the box with rookie first-round pick Jamin Davis joining the linebacker group. All of those guys come extremely cheap except Collins, who is due a $16.9 million cap hit in 2021 but would save the team $12.7 million in the event of a trade.
It's worth considering.
Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.