NFL Players Most Likely to Be Traded Before Start of 2021 Season
The 2021 NFL offseason has seen numerous trades, with deals coming in even before the start of free agency. Quarterbacks headlined the early wave—Sam Darnold, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Teddy Bridgewater all found new homes—though deals for players like Julio Jones and Orlando Brown Jr. may be just as impactful.
While the prime trading period has ended, we're likely to see another marquee deal or two before the start of the regular season. Preseason trades have become more common, as some teams look for last-minute solutions for roster issues and others look to get value for players who might otherwise be released.
Two years ago, for example, the Houston Texans made a play for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in late August.
Which players are most likely to be on the move between now and the start of the regular season? That's what we'll focus on here. We'll examine six players who have either already been involved in trade speculation or for whom a deal would be logical—based on factors like contract status, roster makeup and potential return.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Duane Brown, OT, Seattle Seahawks
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Seattle Seahawks have two veteran players "holding in" during training camp. Safety Jamal Adams, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, has reported but isn't practicing. The same is true for left tackle Duane Brown.
Per Schefter, Brown "isn't pleased" that he hasn't received a contract extension.
While an Adams trade is unlikely—Seattle dealt two first-round picks as part of a package to acquire him—the Seahawks may be more inclined to move Brown. Adams is only 25 years old and a potential long-term building block in Seattle. Brown is 35 and, while valuable, unlikely to be a significant piece of the Seahawks' future.
If Seattle isn't willing to give Brown an extension, it would make sense to send him to a team willing to do so. This would require Seattle to find a replacement starter before Week 1—rookie sixth-round pick Stone Forsythe could be a candidate—but the Seahawks would likely net something of value in return.
Teams with unsettled left tackle spots, like the Carolina Panthers, should be interested in dealing for an experienced veteran with four Pro Bowls on his resume. Given Brown's age and contract status, Seattle may not get more than a middle-round pick in return, but that's at least something for a player who doesn't want to practice now and who may not be around in 2022.
If Brown continues to avoid practice, it won't be a shock to see him land on the trading block.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz requested a trade earlier in the offseason but remains on the roster. The Eagles appear content to keep him there heading into the regular season.
"When you talk about the guys that are here and the kind of player that he is and you think about our young skill position group and having a Pro Bowl player like that on your roster players can learn from, it's huge for us," general manager Howie Roseman said, per ESPN's Tim McManus.
However, Ertz is apparently not content to be there.
"Just being here is not a sign that everything is copacetic," NFL Network's Mike Garafolo said on Inside Training Camp Live. "He's still not happy, he didn't get that contract extension last season and nothing has changed right now."
While Ertz may not actually force a trade between now and Week 1, the Eagles have little to gain by keeping a disgruntled player on their roster. Philadelphia has a capable receiving tight end in Dallas Goedert and should view Ertz as a luxury. Trading that luxury for draft capital would make a lot of sense, especially if Philadelphia is preparing for a run at a new quarterback in 2022—a distinct possibility if Jalen Hurts doesn't pan out as the team's starter.
Philadelphia would also save nearly $5 million off the cap by moving Ertz.
There should be no shortage of teams looking to add a tight end of Ertz's caliber—the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts are two that make sense and may be willing to grant Ertz the extension he isn't getting in Philadelphia.
Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have their likely Week 1 starter in quarterback Andy Dalton. They also have their quarterback of the future in rookie first-round pick Justin Fields. This leaves No. 3 QB Nick Foles as a potentially expendable piece of trade capital.
Bears coach Matt Nagy understands that other teams could be interested in Foles.
"For all teams, as a third-string guy, teams are going to look at guys like him," Nagy said, per ESPN's Jeff Dickerson. "I don't talk to him about that; he doesn't talk to me about it. We just don't go there because, again, that's out of our control."
Should the right offer for Foles come in, Chicago would be wise to listen. There isn't really a defined role for him with the organization, aside from injury insurance. He would be far more valuable to a different franchise.
Two teams that immediately come to mind are the New York Jets and the Colts. Indianapolis is unlikely to have Carson Wentz to start the season—he is recovering from foot surgery—and has a coach in Frank Reich who won a Super Bowl with Foles. Foles would welcome a reunion.
"Frank Reich is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, coaches of all time. He understands me as a player," Foles said, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
The Jets, meanwhile, lack a quarterback with regular-season experience to back up/mentor rookie Zach Wilson. Injuries during the preseason could potentially grow Foles' trade market even further.
N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry formally requested a trade in early July.
"Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it's time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N'Keal moves on before the start of training camp," Harry's agent, Jamal Tooson, said in a statement (h/t Garafolo).
The question entering camp was whether Harry would have any actual trade value. The 2019 first-round pick has just 45 receptions and 414 receiving yards in 21 games. However, Harry has since been a pleasant highlight of Patriots camp.
While a strong camp may improve Harry's standing with the Patriots, it could also increase his value on the trade market. If the Patriots are able to showcase Harry during the preseason, they may be able to get something of value in return.
Former first-round draft picks often get multiple chances in the NFL, and there's likely a receiver-needy team out there willing to take a flier on Harry. New England isn't going to recoup a first-round pick by moving Harry, but a middle-round selection is possible if he stands out during exhibition play.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks has been a trade candidate ever since the Cardinals took Zaven Collins in the first round in April.
"The [Cardinals] picked LB Zaven Collins 16th overall, and he is now the starting MIKE backer," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted. "The team has given Jordan Hicks permission to find a new home via trade, source said. Hicks is a respected leader & AZ wants to do right by him."
According to ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, Hicks has been told that he can't compete for a starting job in Arizona—which clearly doesn't sit well with the six-year veteran.
"I think at this point, I think I've proven that I'm a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field," Hicks said, per Weinfuss.
While a Hicks trade hasn't come down the pike just yet, that could change before the start of the regular season. Hicks is a starting-caliber linebacker, one who racked up 118 tackles, an interception and 11 tackles for loss last season.
Virtually any team looking to bolster its linebacker corps—specifically with an off-ball run defender—should be interested in giving Arizona a call. Arizona is willing to move Hicks for the right price, and it would be a mild surprise if he isn't dealt at some point between now and the start of the season.
Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets
A little more than a year ago, the New York Jets used a second-round draft pick on former Baylor wideout Denzel Mims. Now, the speedy pass-catcher appears to be on the roster bubble.
"After some promising moments in an abbreviated rookie season, Denzel Mims is sixth, maybe seventh in the New York Jets' pecking order at wide receiver," ESPN's Rich Cimini wrote. "Leapfrogged on the depth chart by three offseason additions, Mims is finding his way in an offensive system that might not be suited to his skill set."
The Jets added wideouts Corey Davis, Keelan Cole and rookie Elijah Moore this offseason. They're also changing offenses under new coordinator Mike LaFleur. This could lead to a situation where playing time would be sparse, if even obtainable, for Mims.
However, second-year second-round picks rarely get released for performance issues. General manager Joe Douglas drafted Mims and isn't likely to let him go for nothing. Therefore, a trade would make a ton of sense for New York.
Mims did show some flashes as a rookie, finishing with 23 catches for 357 yards in nine games. The Jets aren't likely to recoup a second-round pick by moving him, but they could likely land a middle-round pick or depth player in return.
The 6'3", 207-pound pass-catcher is raw but has loads of physical potential. There's probably a receiver-needy team out there that would be willing to take a flier on him at a discounted price. If it looks like Mims will be a long shot to even have a role in 2021, the Jets may be willing to take anything they can get in return.