Top 9 NFL Players Most Likely to Be Traded During 2022 Free Agency

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 8, 2022

Top 9 NFL Players Most Likely to Be Traded During 2022 Free Agency

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason is fully underway after the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine wrapped up in Indianapolis on Monday. The combine is the best place for NFL general managers and coaches to discuss their avenues to improve their roster. Some teams are in line to massively upgrade their roster via trades, while others need to trim their salary sheet and collect assets.

    The 2022 NFL draft class is considered strong at wide receiver, along the offensive line, the edge position, and in the secondary. Watch for teams to shy away from paying big contracts beyond two years in free agency and opt for rookies at those positions. The other option is to pursue a veteran who fills an immediate hole.

    Teams often overvalue draft picks when it comes to trades. We just saw the Los Angeles Rams leverage their picks for stars in order to win a Super Bowl. Savvy moves are available if general managers are willing to be bold.

    After hearing the chatter in Indianapolis at the combine, we've assembled the top nine players most likely to be traded. We'll break down the trade candidates, possible landing spots and trade compensation for each.

9. Laremy Tunsil, LT, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans would love to unload some veteran contracts in order to gain cap flexibility and replenish their draft-pick stash. The good news is they have several veterans who will be highly sought after despite their big contracts. Almost three years after acquiring tackle Laremy Tunsil from the Miami Dolphins in a deal headlined by two first-round picks and a second-round pick, the Texans will absolutely listen to offers. 

    Tunsil's $66 million contract extension ends after 2023, and the 28-year-old isn't presently making a huge impact on one of the league's worst rosters. Trading Tunsil prior to June 1 would save the Texans about $9.5 million in 2022, and that number would grow to $17.85 million if they were to wait until after June 1. Any acquiring team would pay Tunsil's $17.85 million base salary in 2022 and $18.5 million base salary in 2023. 

    The athletic blocker is one of the better left tackles in the league. He's an excellent pass blocker thanks to his immense length and sheer power. The lone wart on his resume is his penchant for penalties after he totaled 14 false starts in 2019, but he's combined for just eight penalties over his past 19 games.

    The Texans would love to get a first-round pick back for Tunsil, but they may have to settle for a conditional first-rounder based on his playing time. He played in just five games last year because of thumb surgery. There also doesn't appear to be a large market for an expensive left tackle due to the cap limitations of otherwise interested parties.

    Fits: Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers

8. Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    After speculation the Minnesota Vikings could tear down their roster with their new regime in place, the new staff seems more interested in balancing winning now and long-term. That means instead of completely selling off their expensive veterans like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Kirk Cousins, and Harrison Smith, they'll approach the market with tact.

    It's hard to blame them, because the Vikings have a solid core for 2022.

    Kendricks is especially interesting for linebacker-needy teams. The 30-year-old has been as productive as any of his peers, and he is coming off maybe his best all-around season yet. He accumulated 143 tackles, two interceptions, four pass deflections, and five sacks in 2022.

    His $13.53 million cap hit is an issue for a team that needs to clear over $15 million in cap space. The Vikings would save over $7.5 million in a trade on top of receiving a mid-round draft pick. Losing his leadership and stability are part of the tough long-term decisions that exist with each of their top veterans.

    A contending team would happily pay Kendricks his $9.15 million base salary in 2022 and 2023. The limited financial obligation to Kendricks beyond his prime is a positive selling point. Plus, the list of inside linebackers available in free agency isn't especially strong.

    Fits: Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Commanders

7. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Like the Texans, the New York Giants have a bad but expensive roster.

    New head coach Brian Daboll would surely love to deploy a fully healthy Saquon Barkley in 2022, but the franchise has seen limited production and availability from the former No. 2 pick. Trading his $7.2 million cap hit and getting a healthier body in the draft is the more prudent decision.

    Barkley, despite lacking the explosiveness he had before tearing his ACL in 2020, still has plenty of fans around the league thanks to his potential as a dual-threat back. His fifth-year option will allow a team to take a one-year flier on him regaining his form. The right team could give up a mid-round pick for Barkley and either strike gold in 2022, or walk away from the veteran if his famed burst is completely gone.

    Simply getting Barkley into a more advantageous one-cut scheme would help his production as well. He averaged 1.8 yards and 3.7 yards per touch for the Giants in 2020 and 2021, respectively, in part because he had a bad quarterback and offensive line. But putting him in a Kyle Shanahan offense or next to Kyler Murray would all but guarantee those numbers jump.

    Fits: San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

6. Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns have a relatively healthy cap sheet for now, but new deals for David Njoku, Denzel Ward and a free-agent receiver will bite into their space significantly. They also have long-term questions to be resolved at quarterback. It makes sense for the Browns to maximize their few tradable pieces in order to open extra cap space and reload with rookies.

    Two players fit that mold this offseason: Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt. Landry will either need to take less money or be released thanks to his $16.3 million cap hit and diminishing production. Hunt is a different story, since he's owed an affordable $6.25 million in the last year of his deal.

    Cleveland would save that entire amount in a trade, and it's clear this extension was structured to allow an out for the team. Hunt turns just 27 this summer and had more than 78 rushes just once in the past three years. He's stuck behind Nick Chubb, though, and the emergence of D'Ernest Johnson should make Hunt expendable despite his talent.

    Hunt is an excellent rusher and receiver, capable of attaining an elite stat line. He's so comfortable as a receiver that it's surprising the Browns didn't use him in the slot more often when their receiving room was decimated. He would be worth a Day 3 pick for running back-needy teams wanting a potential star for the short term.

    Fits: Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons

5. Carson Wentz, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Colts general manager Chris Ballard's lack of public backing for quarterback Carson Wentz was as loud of a statement as we see in the NFL. The Colts are clearly shopping Wentz despite not having a clear replacement lined up yet. He's expected to be released or traded before his $6.29 million bonus triggers on March 18.

    It's not shocking the Colts would give up on Wentz so quickly just in terms of on-field production. He wasn't a disaster for much of 2021, and his raw stats jumped to a more respectable level. But his impact was milquetoast when the Colts needed him the most, and the first-round pick they surrendered for him in this draft class is a tough pill to swallow. 

    This regime is fortunate the decision to trade for Wentz didn't cost anyone their jobs.

    Wentz will be on his third franchise in as many years if he gets moved. He's still a strong-armed, gifted athlete, but he struggles with the same issues that have existed since college. The 29-year-old is stuck in the mediocre tier of starters despite his appealing gifts and size.

    He'll be a fallback option for the bevy of teams needing a starter. The lack of veteran and rookie options means Wentz is all but assured to start somewhere in 2022. Teams need to see what will happen with Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Jimmy Garoppolo first, then Wentz, Mitch Trubisky, and Jameis Winston will be called.

    The timing here is tricky. Wentz is slated to make $22 million this season, but the Colts may eat some of that money to encourage a trade. They'd save $15 million in dead money this year in a trade over a release. 

    Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Washington Commanders, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4. Cole Beasley, WR, Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills gave veteran slot receiver Cole Beasley permission to seek a trade, likely numbering Beasley's days in Western New York regardless of whether a deal is made. Buffalo wants to make a splash this offseason and needs the $6.1 million in cap relief they'd gain by trading or releasing Beasley. His new team would owe him $4.9 million.

    Beasley and the Bills are in an interesting position. He'd be an excellent fit on many AFC teams, but the Super Bowl contender surely doesn't want to strengthen its direct foes. Sending him to the NFC for slightly less compensation would make sense.

    However, Beasley is also turning 33 in April, and his salary isn't comparable to what a rookie costs. He may only fetch a late-round pick, but the Bills would surely rather control his destination than for Beasley to sign in Miami, Kansas City, Cleveland, or Tennessee. He'd immediately upgrade each of those offenses.

    My prediction is he'll go to a team with limited cap space but a good enough roster to spare the Day 3 pick. Beasley is a phenomenal one-on-one threat, and the Bills need to ensure they maximize what they do with the money they'll save by trading him. Their offense will miss his presence.

    Fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks

3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's NFL future remains uncertain amid 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints by women alleging sexual assault and misconduct. No team figures to trade for him until the legal process plays out.

    However, there will be plenty of bidders if Watson is cleared to play for 2022 and beyond. The Texans would much rather have the $24 million in cap space gained in a trade and a bevy of first-round picks than to continue dealing with the malcontent quarterback. The difficult part of projecting any trade is the timeline for when more information will be available.

    Watson is a supremely talented and productive 26-year-old passer. He will change expectations for how his new team will fare, especially if his new situation was only a quarterback away from contending. Just in terms of on-field talent, all but a small handful of teams should be interested in upgrading their quarterback position with Watson.

    The unknowns are massive, of course. Washington, Carolina, and Philadelphia have still been linked to Watson as the free agency period nears. The list of teams could easily swell or diminish depending on his legal process.

    Fits: Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles

2. James Bradberry, CB, New York Giants

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    It's not only a good cornerback draft class, but there's also notable veterans available in free agency. The New York Giants would rather not lose their top cornerback, but James Bradberry has a $21.86 million cap hit with a $13.4 million base salary.

    The Giants will lose a good player because of poor financial decisions in prior years.

    Bradberry is a stud press corner and turns just 29 in August. He'd be an excellent acquisition for playoff-ready teams not willing to spend more in free agency or use a high draft pick on the position. The controlled-cost factor with his contract is attractive compared to what the open market may bring.

    Moving a Day 3 pick would clear $12 million in space for the Giants. He'll be a free agent after 2022, though, so he may be a rental instead of a long-term solution. That's not a problem for contenders wanting to avoid big contracts in future seasons.

    Fits: Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos

1. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    There's little question we'll see Jimmy Garoppolo traded after the new league year begins. The 49ers must clear his $26.95 million cap hit off their books, and several teams have a dramatic need for a quarterback. The question is whether the 49ers can pry a first-round pick out of suitors or if they have to settle for a second-rounder.

    Garoppolo is a high-level game manager who can steady an offense. The 30-year-old is accurate and makes quick decisions. He's not effective under pressure, though, and he has a history of injuries that limit his availability.

    It's hard to fathom Garoppolo being worth a first-round pick because of his inconsistency reading defenses post-snap and creating big plays out of structure. However, the lack of star rookies in the 2022 draft and viable other starters in free agency create urgency. We saw a worse quarterback in Carson Wentz get traded for more last year in a much deeper draft class.

    Garoppolo would be a major upgrade for a few teams that could barely put together a competent offense last year. He may not be a standout starter for the next five years wherever he lands, but he's a better bridge option than any other available name.

    Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Commanders, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers

    All salary-cap information was provided by Over the Cap.

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