The 5 NFL Players Likeliest to Be Traded Next

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2022

The 5 NFL Players Likeliest to Be Traded Next

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Plenty of big names have been churning through the NFL rumor mill in recent weeks.

    From franchise quarterbacks who have played for only one team to a top-10 wide receiver and an elite pass-rusher, the NFL could be headed for some blockbuster trades this offseason.

    Trades can't be made official until the new league year begins on March 16 at 4 p.m. ET. Until then, there will be plenty of trade chatter floating around.

    The following players have been repeatedly mentioned in trade rumors, and their teams stand to considerably improve their salary-cap health by moving them. That suggests they may be some of the first dominoes to fall when the new league year begins.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Now that the Green Bay Packers have been knocked out of the playoffs, Aaron Rodgers trade rumors are bound to begin picking up steam again.

    In April, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Rodgers had grown so disgruntled with the Packers that "he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team." Trey Wingo of Pro Football Network reported Rodgers was "convinced" that he was headed to the San Francisco 49ers on the eve of the 2021 NFL draft, but the Packers opted against trading him.

    The two sides smoothed out their differences prior to training camp, but the Packers promised to "review Rodgers' situation at the end of this season" as part of those concessions, per Schefter. That gave this Packers season a "Last Dance" feel, which the Niners blew up in the divisional round.

    The Packers could save $27.5 million by trading Rodgers after June. 1. Trading him would help free up some cap space for Green Bay to re-sign star wideout Davante Adams, but Rodgers isn't likely to return without his No. 1 target in the fold.

    Meanwhile, Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had his second interview for the Denver Broncos' head-coaching job on Monday. In November 2020, Rodgers told reporters, "I hope he doesn't go anywhere... unless I do."

    Now might be a good time to turn on Twitter alerts for "Rodgers" and "Broncos."

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Rodgers wasn't the only big-name quarterback to find himself in the NFL's rumor mill last offseason.

    Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson told reporters last February that he was frustrated with his pass protection and his lack of input into personnel decisions. Later that month, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Wilson was willing to approve a trade to the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears.

    The Seahawks ran it back with Wilson last year, but they scuffled to a 7-10 finish amidst a finger injury that cost him three games. Since the season ended, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has been careful in his public comments about Wilson remaining in Seattle.

    "Whatever is there, we've gotta exhaust the opportunities for our club," he told Fox 13 Seattle's Aaron Levine earlier this month. "And right from the owner, Jody [Allen] wants us to take a look at every single opportunity to better the franchise and to help us."

    A source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that Carroll and Wilson "have philosophical differences on how to build a team and attack a defense." Carroll prefers a run-oriented scheme, while Wilson has "wanted to open things up."

    That could result in Wilson wearing a new jersey in 2022. And if Seattle trades Wilson after June 1, it would save $24 million in cap space.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Star wideout Calvin Ridley stepped away from the Atlanta Falcons in late October to focus on his "mental well-being." The Falcons supported his decision, and he ended up sitting out the rest of the season.

    As the new league year draws near, there has been little communication between Ridley's reps and the team, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. He said both sides may be amenable to a trade this offseason.

    The Falcons are already projected to be $4.7 million over next year's salary cap. Though they have four top-75 picks in the 2022 NFL draft, they have a lot of needs. They also have to figure out whether to trade, cut, restructure or extend the contracts of Matt Ryan, Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett.

    Moving Ridley could help solve a few of Atlanta's problems at once.

    ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported that several teams view Ridley as a top-10 receiver, and that his trade market would be "robust." An NFC scout told him: "Atlanta is cash-strapped and needs pieces along the offensive line, so they could use the draft capital."

    If the Falcons do move Ridley this offseason—regardless of whether it's before or after June 1—they'll save $11.1 million against the cap.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    In late November, the Carolina Panthers lost star running back Christian McCaffrey to a season-ending ankle injury. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 draft played all 16 games in each of his first three seasons, but he's missed 23 of a possible 33 games over the past two years.

    The Panthers signed McCaffrey to a record four-year, $64 million contract extension in April 2020, and he's set to count $14.3 million against the cap in 2022. But if they trade him after June 1, they would save $8.6 million against the cap.

    The Athletic's Joseph Person wrote that the Panthers "would listen to offers" for McCaffrey, but added "it's hard to imagine teams would give up much for a player who's missed 23 of the past 33 games and still has $44 million left on his contract." Teams that are flush with cap space and have a need at running back might consider it, though.

    The Miami Dolphins had one of the league's worst ground attacks this season, totaling the third-fewest rushing yards (1,568) and the seventh-fewest rushing touchdowns (12). They also gained the second-fewest yards per carry (3.5). However, they lead the league with a projected $70.2 million in cap space.

    McCaffrey could also reunite with former head coach Ron Rivera in Washington. The WFT's run game was middling in 2021, totaling 2,061 yards (12th) and 13 touchdowns (T-21st). Antonio Gibson is set to count only $1.3 million against Washington's cap in 2022, which could allow the team to invest more heavily in a supplemental ground weapon.

Za’Darius Smith, OLB, Green Bay Packers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers finished the regular season ranked ninth in total defense, and the unit generated 39 sacks (tied for 15th) and 18 interceptions (tied for sixth). It did so even though standout pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith missed 16 games.

    Smith has played a crucial role in transforming the Packers' defense since signing a four-year, $66 million contract in March 2019. He returned from his injury to register a sack and a hit on San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo as well as a tackle for loss during the divisional round, but the Packers still lost.

    If Aaron Rodgers doesn't return next season, Green Bay may be forced to dismantle some of its core in the beginning stages of a rebuild. The Packers are currently $40 million over next year's cap, and they have a laundry list of impending free agents, including star wideout Davante Adams.

    The rise of Rashan Gary likely means the cash-strapped Packers won't keep him and both Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the roster in 2022. If the Packers trade Za'Darius Smith either before or after June 1, they'd save $15.3 million against the cap.

    The only position valued more than an elite pass-rusher in the NFL as quarterback. There should be a robust market for Smith if the Packers decide to move on.

                 

    All salary-cap and contract figures from Over the Cap.

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