Bold Trade Predictions Before the 2021 NFL Season Begins

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2021

Bold Trade Predictions Before the 2021 NFL Season Begins

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The past couple of weeks have provided a reminder that trades can come together quickly in the NFL. With roster cuts looming, the New England Patriots dealt running back Sony Michel, the Jacksonville Jaguars moved quarterback Gardner Minshew and the Cincinnati Bengals traded center Billy Price—and those are just some of the more noteworthy trades.

    With this year's trade deadline not coming until 4 p.m. ET on November 2, there is plenty of time for other blockbuster deals to come together.

    Here, you'll find six bold predictions for trades that could—and possibly should—happen before this year's trade deadline. We'll dive into the potential compensation, the hypothetical details and the reasons these moves would make sense for all parties involved.

Bears Trade Nick Foles to Dallas Cowboys for Sixth-Round Pick

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    This potential trade is heavily dependent on one player's health, but these are bold predictions, and we're starting with perhaps the boldest of them all.

    The reality is that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who is returning from a broken ankle and dealing with a throwing-shoulder injury, could be hampered for an extended period of time.

    "He's not fully back. He may not be back all season long," ESPN's Adam Schefter said during a preseason broadcast (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk).

    The problem is Dallas doesn't have an experienced veteran as insurance like it did in 2020 when, coincidentally, the Cowboys had current Chicago Bears quarterback Andy Dalton. Dallas has Cooper Rush and recently claimed Will Grier. However, they have just seven games and two starts of regular-season experience between them.

    If Prescott gets injured again or performs poorly, the Cowboys' season could be sunk.

    This brings us to Foles, who is the No. 3 quarterback on Chicago's depth chart. The Bears are open to moving Foles and may be willing to give him a voice in his destination.

    "The Bears will listen on Nick Foles, but I've also long gotten the sense they aren't going to send him somewhere he doesn't want to go," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote.

    A return to his home state and a chance to play with the likes of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup could be extremely appealing to Foles. Chicago would get something in return for a player it doesn't exactly need. Dallas would get a quarterback with Super Bowl experience to protect against the possibility that Prescott just isn't himself in 2021.

Browns Trade David Njoku to Jaguars for Fifth-Round Pick

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku wanted a trade out of the organization following last year's free-agent signing of Austin Hooper. As of May, however, Njoku was in a "good place" with the franchise, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

    Njoku's agent, Malki Kawa, told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that the 2017 first-round pick would now like a contract extension.

    "I think David would love to be in Cleveland long-term," Kawa told Cabot.

    The Browns may not be interested in keeping Njoku beyond this season, though. They have Hooper under contract through 2024 and have a promising player in second-year man Harrison Bryant.

    Bryant, a fourth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, had 238 yards and three touchdowns in limited action last season. Ellias L. Williams of Cleveland.com believes Bryant will play a significant role in 2021.

    "He'll carve out a key role as a matchup-specific weapon, a tool used as an oversized slot receiver or an in-line tight blocking sweeps," Williams wrote.

    If Bryant progresses quickly, the Browns may view Njoku as expendable before the trade deadline. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are looking to develop No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, should be thrilled to add a weapon like Njoku.

    Njoku had 639 receiving yards and four touchdowns during his best season (2018). Jacksonville's three tight ends—Chris Manhertz, Luke Farrell and James O'Shaughnessy—have just 1,006 career yards and four touchdowns between them.

    Jacksonville could get a starting-caliber tight end, while Cleveland gets late-round compensation for a player who may not be in its long-term plans.

Saints Trade Michael Thomas to Jaguars for CJ Henderson

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    It's been a strange offseason for New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas. The three-time Pro Bowler waited until June to undergo ankle surgery—a decision that will cause him to miss regular-season time. According to Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com, Thomas also ignored calls from the Saints staff during his decision-making process.

    "For unknown reasons, Thomas fell out of communication with the Saints," Duncan wrote. "He did not return multiple calls over the next three months. Then-Saints trainer Beau Lowery, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson and head coach Sean Payton all tried to reach Thomas. None of their calls were taken or returned."

    Thomas recently met with head coach Sean Payton to "air out" any lingering issues between him and the organization, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports. However, if those issues aren't completely resolved and the Saints want to get out from under the potential headache—and Thomas' $24.7 million cap hit in 2022—the Jaguars would be an ideal trade partner.

    Jacksonville must do everything it can to ensure Lawrence succeeds as an NFL quarterback, and adding a premier receiver like Thomas could be a great step toward that goal. Head coach Urban Meyer oversaw Thomas at Ohio State, and the two should be able to form a good working relationship.

    Jacksonville also has a potential trade chip in cornerback CJ Henderson. The Florida product was the ninth pick in last year's draft. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, though, "multiple team execs" believe Henderson is already available via trade.

    This deal would give New Orleans a promising young cornerback to pair with Marshon Lattimore while giving Lawrence the elite No. 1 receiver he currently lacks.

Eagles Trade Andre Dillard to Bears for Fourth-Round Pick

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Henderson is not the only former first-round pick who could be on the move soon. According to Breer, the Philadelphia Eagles are "taking calls" on offensive linemen. If so, 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard would be an optimal trade chip. He carries the allure of a former first-rounder but is stuck behind left tackle Jordan Mailata on the Eagles depth chart.

    The Bears could be a perfect landing spot for Dillard. Chicago had planned on starting rookie second-round pick Teven Jenkins at left tackle—which led to the release of Charles Leno Jr.—but Jenkins underwent back surgery to address a preexisting condition.

    "Without getting into details, he started having some pain down his leg—I think just from the nerve," general manager Ryan Pace said, per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. "The good thing? As soon as we did [the surgery], those symptoms went away."

    While the surgery may have improved Jenkins' long-term outlook, he will begin the season on injured reserve.

    Adding Dillard would give Chicago another early option at left tackle to go with Jason Peters and Elijah Wilkinson. Philadelphia, meanwhile, would get something in return for a player who simply hasn't lived up to expectations as the No. 22 pick.

Patriots Trade Stephon Gilmore to Cardinals for Third-Round Pick

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots didn't trade cornerback Stephon Gilmore during the offseason, even with him entering the final year of his contract and looking for a new deal.

    New England is now going to get a good idea of what its defense can be without Gilmore. According to ESPN's Mike Reiss, Gilmore will open the season on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list and will miss at least the first six weeks of 2021. 

    If the Patriots are satisfied with how things operate without Gilmore, they could look to move him before the deadline. The Patriots are "still open to the idea of trading" Gilmore, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano.

    While several teams would be interested in acquiring the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, the Arizona Cardinals should be among the most eager. They parted with No. 1 cornerback Patrick Peterson this offseason and recently placed Malcolm Butler on the reserve/retired list—he is dealing with a personal issue and is mulling retirement.

    "I would say it was a surprise," coach Kliff Kingsbury said, per Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic.

    Giving up a high pick would almost certainly be dependent on Gilmore agreeing to an extension with Arizona, but the Cardinals would get their new No. 1 corner. The Patriots, meanwhile, would get something valuable in return for a player who may not be around in 2022 anyway.

Colts Trade Marlon Mack to Dolphins for Preston Williams

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Assuming Jonathan Taylor is the same workhorse back he was as a rookie, the Indianapolis Colts are going to have an embarrassment of running-back riches this year. Taylor, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins are all capable players, and there may not be room for all of them.

    At the same time, the Colts lack quality receiver depth behind T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and second-year man Michael Pittman Jr.—and Hilton is headed to injured reserve following neck surgery. No other wideout topped 500 receiving yards in 2020.

    The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, don't have a workhorse running back on their roster. They're looking at a committee comprised of Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin. However, they may have a surplus of receivers once Will Fuller V comes off suspension.

    A swap of Mack and promising but often-injured receiver Preston Williams would make sense for both teams.

    Miami would get a running back who rushed for 1,999 yards between 2018 and 2019. Indianapolis would get a 24-year-old wideout who had 716 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games over the past two seasons, but who also finished both campaigns on injured reserve (torn ACL, foot injury). There's some risk in acquiring Williams, but also plenty of upside.

    It's a win-win scenario that could make perfect sense after the Dolphins and Colts face each other in Week 4.

          

    *Contract information via Spotrac.

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