NFL Trade Ideas to Create Elite QB-WR Duos in 2022

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2022

NFL Trade Ideas to Create Elite QB-WR Duos in 2022

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    Lon Horwedel/Associated Press

    There's a central allure that keeps people playing fantasy football or creating endless custom rosters in Madden. We see the distribution of talent across the NFL and marvel at the league's best passers and best receivers setting new records every season. But in many cases, because of the realities of the salary cap or the more than a little dumb luck that goes into drafting a future NFL superstar, those top players don't wear the same uniform. 

    We don't often see superstar trades in the modern NFL, but when we do, they're electric. The best most recent example is, of course, the Los Angeles Rams acquiring Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions and stampeding all the way into the divisional round of the playoffs. Paired with Cooper Kupp, Stafford lit up the league this season and Kupp captured the receiving triple crown. 

    There have been other trades that have brought together top passing and receiving talent. The New England Patriots committed highway robbery when they traded a fourth-round pick to the then-Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss, propelling quarterback Tom Brady to an MVP win and Moss to break Jerry Rice's single-season touchdown record, with 23, which still stands today. In 2004, a convoluted three-way trade sent Terrell Owens to the Philadelphia Eagles, who went to the Super Bowl. 

    Could another trade that would create an elite QB-WR duo be on the horizon this offseason? There are multiple candidates for such moves—both star receivers finding new homes and franchise quarterbacks playing for new teams for the first time. We break down some potential options here, including salary cap space and potential trade terms. 


    Player contract and team cap-space figures via Spotrac

    Trade terms and scenarios were run through the Fanspo NFL trade machine.

Aaron Rodgers to Denver Broncos

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Broncos cap space: $47,597,296

    Potential trade terms: Aaron Rodgers to Broncos; Drew Lock, 2022 first- and second-round picks and 2023 first- and second-round picks to Packers

    It's now common knowledge that Denver Broncos general manager George Paton was interested in pursuing a trade for Aaron Rodgers last April and that the Green Bay Packers, as trade buzz surrounding their franchise quarterback reached a steady hum, put the kibosh on all that.

    But if Rodgers and the Packers aren't able to bring home the Lombardi Trophy next month—or if they are and Rodgers does not retire—anything feels like it would be on the table. The Broncos still don't seem to have found their quarterback of the future, either.

    If the Broncos could sell Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on taking the head coaching vacancy in Denver, could Rodgers follow?

    It's a scenario a few people, including Peter King, have posited. According to King, "If Rodgers stays one more year, he would be an unrestricted free-agent in 2023 and the Packers' only compensation would be a compensatory third-round pick in 2023."

    We know the trade would require at least two first-round picks. Rodgers would probably command a better trade than the one that saw Matthew Stafford go to the Los Angeles Rams.

    If Denver could pull this off, which of its wideouts would be primed to thrive the most with Rodgers?

    In 26 games over two seasons, Jerry Jeudy had 90 receptions for 1,323 yards, three touchdowns, averaging 51 yards per game. He played only 10 games in 2021, but he failed to record a touchdown reception in that span.

    Courtland Sutton, 26, saw the most targets per game in Denver this season (5.8). He didn't have a highly productive season (58 receptions, 776 yards, two touchdowns for 45.6 yards per game), but Sutton is still Denver's best vertical threat, averaging 13.4 yards per reception in 2021 and 15.2 in his career.

    The system in 2021 wasn't working for him. But with an elite quarterback like Rodgers, Sutton could unlock the full reaches of his potential.

Russell Wilson to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Eagles cap space: $12,273,626

    Potential trade terms: Russell Wilson to Eagles; Two Eagles 2022 first-round picks (Nos. 16 and 19) and Jalen Hurts to Seahawks

    Russell Wilson has not demanded a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. But according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, "those close to Wilson say he wants to investigate other destinations to see if those would put him in a better position to win another championship and create the legacy he sees for himself."

    Wilson has a full no-trade clause in his contract, so he'll be able to choose his next destination. Last February, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported "the only teams" he'd accept a trade to were the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints.

    But in December, Schefter told 97.5 The Fanatic that he believed Wilson would waive his no-trade clause for the Philadelphia Eagles as well.

    Second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts played well enough to guide the Eagles to the playoffs, but his limitations were on full display in their blowout Wild Card Round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No. 10 overall pick DeVonta Smith didn't get his first target until late in that game.

    Despite Hurts' up-and-down play this season, Smith finished with an Eagles rookie record 916 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Since the 2022 draft class lacks a top-tier quarterback option, the Eagles might prefer to trade for an established signal-caller if they're looking to move on from Hurts.

    The Eagles would need to clear more than $20 million cap space to take on Wilson's $37 million cap hit for 2022, but they'd have plenty of ways to do so. Given that general manager Howie Roseman has publicly lamented how he missed out on drafting Wilson in 2012, he might be inclined to fix that mistake this offseason.

Russell Wilson to Carolina Panthers

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Panthers cap space: $20,408,345

    Potential trade terms: Russell Wilson to Panthers; 2022 first-round pick, 2022 third-round pick, 2023 first-round pick and Sam Darnold to Seahawks 

    Because there's been so much buzz surrounding Russell Wilson's future in Seattle, why not look at another potential landing spot should the Seahawks decide to move him?

    The Carolina Panthers have been aggressive in trying to solve their quarterback woes. Unfortunately for them, none of their options—Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Cam Newton—have worked out. 

    Neither Darnold nor Newton had a completion percentage above 60 last season, and both averaged less than seven yards per pass attempt. Darnold, with 406 attempts, had just 243 completions for 2,527 yards and nine touchdowns. Sadly, both Darnold and Newton threw more interceptions—13 and five, respectively—than touchdowns. 

    The Panthers need a starting quarterback for Week 1 in 2022, stat. Unfortunately for them, this year’s draft class is considerably weak at the position. As Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported ahead of the trade deadline, the Panthers requested to speak to Deshaun Watson but were denied by the Houston Texans. Wilson would, for many reasons, be a better fit. 

    In the Philadelphia Eagles scenario, Wilson accelerates the development of DeVonta Smith. In the Panthers scenario, he teams up with veteran DJ Moore to instantly rack up numbers.

    Moore had 93 receptions for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns last season, as Darnold often looked to Robby Anderson in the red zone. But Moore was the downfield threat, averaging 12.4 yards per reception. 

    As with the Eagles, this transaction as written fails the Fanspo trade simulator because the Panthers would need to cut $17.5 million from the incoming trade value to remain under their cap. They would have to get creative with their cap and Wilson's bonuses, but for a player who could help them contend for an NFC wild-card spot as early as this upcoming season it would be well worth it.

Calvin Ridley to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Bucs cap space: $22,459,560

    Potential trade terms: Calvin Ridley to Bucs; 2022 second- and third-round picks to Falcons

    In late October, wideout Calvin Ridley tweeted a statement saying that he was stepping away from football to focus on his "mental wellbeing." Ridley did not play another game for the Atlanta Falcons for the rest of the regular season, and though he's under contract through the 2022 season, he may have played his last. 

    NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported on Jan. 15 that although the Falcons are still "holding out hope" they will have Ridley for the upcoming season, there hasn't been a lot of communication between the team and Ridley's camp. Garafolo predicted that with both sides potentially looking for a fresh start, Ridley would be suiting up for a new team in 2022. 

    So which team could be the top contender for Ridley's services?

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are desperate for bodies in their receivers room, with Antonio Brown's very public exit and Chris Godwin hitting free agency. If the Buccaneers allow Godwin to walk away, bringing in a player of Ridley's stature, combined with Tom Brady, would be an absolute feat. 

    Brady, like Rodgers, can elevate even average receivers to elite status. But he needs some help, too. When he didn't have Godwin or Mike Evans available against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, he went 18-of-30 for 232 yards and one touchdown.

    Would the Falcons even entertain this trade offer from a division rival? Atlanta is self-aware enough to understand Tampa Bay is probably the favorite to win the division every year Brady lines up under center. But with some draft capital, the Falcons could push for a wild-card spot in 2022. They might ask the Bucs to sweeten the pot, however, given how low Tampa Bay's picks in this year's draft will fall. 

    While teams won't be able to look to Ridley's 2021 season as evidence of his productivity, in 2020, he has the best season of his career, with 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. Assuming he's healthy and ready to return in 2022, he can give Brady the firepower he needs to keep dominating the league. 

Amari Cooper to Kansas City Chiefs

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Chiefs cap space: $22,691,603

    Potential trade terms: Amari Cooper to Chiefs; 2022 first-round pick to Cowboys

    The Kansas City Chiefs are smack dab in the middle of the league when it comes to the salary cap. They have just under $23 million to play with presently. But this offseason, Kansas City will likely gain much more cap space. For instance, they have an out on Frank Clark's contract, which carries a $26.3 cap hit in 2022.

    Last offseason, the Chiefs were pushing to add a wide receiver in free agency. They missed out on JuJu Smith-Schuster, Trent Williams and Josh Reynolds. In 2021, Patrick Mahomes clearly made do with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle. But if the Chiefs are still looking for help, this offseason presents a few chances. 

    After the Dallas Cowboys' wild playoff exit to the Las Vegas Raiders, trade rumors surrounding Amari Cooper have started heating up. Those close to the team have suggested he'll be on the move this offseason.

    But the move would make sense. Cooper's 68 receptions for 865 receiving yards in 15 games was his lowest production since 2017. On the other hand, his eight touchdowns this season tie a career high. Cooper's salary will hit next year's cap to the tune of $22 million, but the Cowboys could clear $20 million of space and be left with just $2 million in dead cap by trading Cooper after June 1.

    With the Chiefs marching into Divisional Weekend, giving up a first for Cooper (who is still only 27) wouldn't hurt much given that the pick would fall into trade-back territory anyway. And he'd make this dominant offense potentially unstoppable. Mahomes to Hill is already an elite pairing, adding Cooper would provide another and give defenses fits. Having two top-tier wideouts would also allow Kansas City to use Kelce more creatively. 

    This trade keeps Cooper out of the conference and helps the Cowboys, who are currently $21.3 million over the cap, solve those woes.