2021 NFL Trade Block Big Board Entering Week 1

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2021

2021 NFL Trade Block Big Board Entering Week 1

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The start of the 2021 NFL regular season is upon us. On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys will face off in the first contest of their new 17-game regular-season schedules.

    While the preseason is over and teams have trimmed their rosters to 53 players, that won't put an end to player movement. The San Francisco 49ers signed cornerback Josh Norman on Monday, while the Baltimore Ravens hosted running backs Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman for a workout, per ESPN's Field Yates.

    Fortunately for teams needing reinforcements, the trade market will be open until November 2. Each week until then, we'll examine the NFL's top 10 trade targets based on each team's on-field and salary-cap situations, players' roles, any relevant trade buzz and common sense.

The Selection Process

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    To reach our top 10 list, we have gathered 15 names likely to be on the trade block based on prior reports and logic.

    Although the New England Patriots didn't foreshadow their recent trade of Sony Michel, their logjam at running back—they still have six backs on their depth chart—made trading one runner logical.

    Once the top 15 was established, we ranked players on talent level, positional value and their likelihood of being dealt.

    The initial list is as follows, in no particular order:

    • N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
    • Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
    • Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
    • Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals
    • David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
    • O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    • Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
    • James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
    • Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
    • CJ Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
    • Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
    • Chandler Jones, Edge, Arizona Cardinals
    • Duane Brown, OT, Seattle Seahawks
    • Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

10. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif kicks off the list for one main reason. If he's willing to play elsewhere, he'll probably be on the move before the deadline.

    The Chiefs reached the Super Bowl last year without Duvernay-Tardif, a physician who opted out of the 2020 season to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Kansas City also rebuilt its offensive line in the offseason, adding tackle Orlando Brown Jr., guard Joe Thuney, interior lineman Austin Blythe, rookie center Creed Humphrey and rookie guard Trey Smith.

    Duvernay-Tardiff, who missed the preseason with a broken hand, may be expendable. According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, his name "has come up in talks."

    However, Duvernay-Tardiff has a no-trade clause in his contract, as Breer pointed out. Any deal will hinge on him being unhappy with his role and being offered an enticing opportunity elsewhere.

    With 60 games, 57 starts and one Super Bowl ring on his resume, the offers should come.

9. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard has shown promising flashes during his four-year NFL career. His best season came in 2018, when he caught 34 passes for 565 yards and five touchdowns.

    Unfortunately, Howard missed all but four games last season with a torn Achilles and is still returning to form.

    "He's still catching up to the speed of it and the physicality of it," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said in August, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. "He's been out a long time, so he needs this camp."

    The Bucs aren't publicly shopping Howard, but he would be a sensible trade chip if they want to fill a need in-season. They already have Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at tight end, and they also signed tight ends Codey McElroy and Deon Yelder to their practice squad following final cuts.

    The Buccaneers proved last year that they can win a Super Bowl without Howard. If a tight end-needy team comes calling, the 2017 first-round pick could be on the move.

8. N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    In early July, New England Patriots wideout N'Keal Harry formally requested a trade. However, he attacked training camp like a player hoping to stay put.

    "He came into camp with a great attitude, ready to go, in shape," assistant receivers coach Troy Brown said, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "He's fighting for a spot and done everything that we've asked him to do."

    Harry may finally be ready to live up to the expectations of being the 32nd pick in the 2019 draft. He caught only 45 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns across his first two NFL seasons. 

    Unfortunately, the Patriots aren't going to see results from Harry soon. New England placed him on injured reserve with a shoulder injury to start the season.

    While the Pats may want to see what they have in Harry, they'd likely be open to moving him for the right offer, too. After all, they dealt Michel and released quarterback Cam Newton to make way for other players.

    If New England's offense is humming without Harry, he should be obtainable once he comes off IR.

7. Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts don't appear to be shopping Marlon Mack. However, the veteran running back would be a valuable trade chip if the demand for runners skyrockets.

    After Mack suffered a torn Achilles in Week 1 of the 2020 season, Indianapolis went on to have the league's 11th-ranked rushing attack without him. Then-rookie Jonathan Taylor became a star with 1,169 rushing yards, 299 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns, and the Colts made the postseason.

    Indianapolis returns Taylor along with Mack, Jordan Wilkins and receiving back Nyheim Hines. Having all four is a luxury, and Mack might be more valuable as a trade chip than a backup. As Zak Keefer of The Athletic noted Tuesday, he has fallen below Hines on the depth chart.

    Just two years ago, Mack rushed for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns. He's a starting-caliber back whom a running-back-needy team should be happy to land.

    Unless the Colts suffer another significant injury in the backfield, Mack will be the top running back to follow on the trade market this year.

6. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    When he's at 100 percent, New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas is one of the NFL's top wideouts. He'd be an easy choice for our No. 1 slot if he were fully healthy and openly available via trade.

    However, Thomas is expected to miss a significant portion of the season as he continues to recover from the ankle surgery he underwent in June. The Saints haven't placed him directly on the trade block, either, though a strained relationship with the franchise could get him there.

    According to Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com, Thomas ignored calls from the Saints staff while weighing his recovery options.

    "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 "clear the air" about any lingering issues between him and the organization, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports. However, if the Saints want to get out from under the potential headache—and his $24.7 million cap hit in 2022—he'll be a prime trade candidate once healthy.

    There should be no shortage of teams calling about Thomas' availability as the trade deadline approaches.

5. Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    While Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard can't sniff the proven production of Michael Thomas, it's far more likely that he'll be moved in the coming months.

    According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, the Eagles have been "taking calls" on offensive linemen. If that's accurate, Dillard is likely at the top of their trade list. 

    The 2019 first-round pick has made only four starts in two years and is now stuck behind left tackle Jordan Mailata on Philadelphia's depth chart. Having a quality backup is important, but if the Eagles can flip Dillard for a contributing player or a Day 2 draft pick, they'd likely pull the trigger.

    Dillard still carries the allure of being the 22nd overall pick two years ago. He also plays one of the most important positions in football. That combination is likely to earn him suitors on the trade market.

4. James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh Steelers wideout James Washington approached the team to request a trade early in the preseason, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. However, he has been coy about that reported request.

    "That's a private conversation," Washington said, per ESPN's Brooke Pryor. "As far as me being happy in Pittsburgh, I love it here. Who wouldn't be happy playing football as their job?"

    Washington's discontent may grow as the season wears on, particularly if he doesn't see much playing time. The Steelers could also begin to view him as expendable.

    With JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and Ray-Ray McCloud also on the depth chart, Washington might not have much of a role in Pittsburgh this season. He'd be a welcome addition to a receiver-needy team, though.

    While Washington played only 44 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps in 2020, he compiled 44 receptions, 735 yards and three touchdowns the previous season. He finds himself at the intersection of valuable role player and viable trade option.

3. CJ Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    We haven't heard much on the CJ Henderson trade front since early August. However, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported back then that "multiple team execs" believed that Henderson was available via trade.

    Henderson, the ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft, started eight games as a rookie before landing on injured reserve with a groin injury. He logged 36 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble, six passes defended and an opposing quarterback rating of 110.2

    While Henderson's numbers as a rookie weren't overly impressive, he's still a recent top-10 selection and a starting-caliber cornerback. That should get the attention of teams looking for immediate help and those seeking future production.

    New head coach Urban Meyer had nothing to do with the selection of Henderson, though new general manager Trent Baalke was then Jacksonville's director of player personnel and likely did. For Meyer, sentiment shouldn't play a factor in trade discussions.

    Henderson is largely unproven but is loaded with upside. If a team desperate for a corner comes calling, he can likely be had.

2. Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots did not trade cornerback Stephon Gilmore during the offseason even though he's entering the final year of his contract and looking for a new deal. However, they'll be forced to play without him for at least the first six weeks, as he's opening the season on the physically unable to perform list.

    While a deal won't happen until Gilmore is healthy, the Patriots are "still open to the idea of trading" him, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano.

    A lot will come down to how New England's defense performs with Gilmore sidelined. If it's a disaster, then the Patriots may change their stance. However, if the defense is functional and they're winning games, a Gilmore trade will be a foregone conclusion.

    In terms of proven production, there may not be a better player on the trade block. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year is an elite cover man when healthy and has started 122 games during his nine-year NFL career.

1. Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    While many contenders should be more interested in acquiring Stephon Gilmore, Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles is our top option on the trade market entering Week 1. He plays the game's most important position, was the MVP of Super Bowl 52, has made 55 regular-season starts and is clearly available.

    Foles is Chicago's No. 3 quarterback behind starter Andy Dalton and rookie first-round pick Justin Fields. However, he will have some say in his next 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.

    It's only a matter of time before Foles finds his way out of Chicago, whether it's to a preferred destination or not. Teams in need of a high-end backup are may already be eyeing him, and there's almost no chance that at least one starter doesn't go down in 2021.

    If Foles disappears from our big board this year, it's because he's already been dealt.

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