“Nothing personal, it’s strictly business”… these words will be heard in offices across the NFL this offseason as various players are traded from one team to another. This is often done with no consultation between the player and the franchise as the players have little to no say in the transaction.
Bringing in a big name star can revitalise a franchise and sometimes it is the names a rung or two lower on the excitement ladder who end up being the difference makers.
In this article I take my best educated guess at some of the high profile trades we could possible see over the coming months.
1. A Quarterback to the Washington Football Team
a) Matt Ryan (for 2021 4th)
With Washington seemingly in the market for a new Quarterback, again, and too far down the Draft Board to have a realistic shot at one of the top three available (short of trading up for one) the veteran market may be the place for them to go shopping. There are a few good options for a team with many of the young pieces they feel they need to take the next step. The two options I have posited are there based on how Washington wants to play it.
Behind door one we have Matt Ryan, an experienced Quarterback who has seen and done pretty much all of it. He is still playing at a high level but in all likelihood his best days are behind him. This trade for what appears a fairly cheap pick represents that. Atlanta have a very high pick in the Draft this year, one that they could well parlay into a couple if they decide to trade back. The Falcons are firmly in the running for Zach Wilson, or even Fields if teams ahead of them decide to go best position available rather than potential Franchise QB with their picks, it could happen!
This is the best chance they will likely have in the near future to take a prospect who has a legitimate shot at being the Number 2 for years to come. Whilst this could encourage them to keep Ryan on for the mentorship role with them, the chance to pick up an extra pick when they are approaching a rebuild is one they would be unlikely to turn down. Washington would be getting the ultimate bridge Quarterback who would allow them to draft and develop someone like Trey Lance.
b) Sam Darnold (for 2022 2nd and 4th, they get Washington’s 2022 5th back)
Second we have Sam Darnold, the option Washington can go with if they think he can lead them for the next 3-5 years. The added bonus is his relatively cheap contract for the next two years, allowing Washington to spend elsewhere.
Darnold has not had a fair shot in New York, he has played for an awful Head Coach with mostly awful players around him. Remember as 2018 rolled around this guy was the consensus number 1 for the upcoming Draft, that Baker snaked in and took that spot shocked everyone. Those skills he displayed have not just vanished. They have just not been nurtured correctly and this guy is a diamond waiting to shine.
2. Julio Jones (for 2021 1st and 2022 3rd) to the Indianapolis Colts
The Falcons rebuild continues as Julio follows his Quarterback out of the door. Jones is due £27m over the next two years, thanks to the fact that Atlanta have already paid his signing bonus and option bonus making him an affordable 2 year rental, even if a team doesn’t intend on a long term arrangement.
This leaves us with likely destinations being contenders, those who are in the middle of their Superbowl window. I considered the Ravens here as well as Miami and the Giants however in this reality Indianapolis get their guy. The reason for this is cap space, they have $68m available, enough for Julio and other additions (Left Tackle I’m looking at you…).
With T.Y. Hilton likely not hanging around with the Colts and Michael Pittman still very raw Julio offers a fantastic opportunity for the team to improve immediately. Considering they were a loss against the Jags away from taking their Division this year Julio offers the goods to push them over the top.
3. Preston Smith (for 2021 2nd and 2022 4th) to the Arizona Cardinals
With Markus Golden and Haason Reddick both approaching Free Agency the Cardinals are going to have a need off the Edge. The savings if they both leave come to approximately $7m and the Cardinals have a current projected cap space of $7.7m which increases to $18m with the exit of Larry Fitzgerald. With a cap hit of $16m the Cardinals will have room to add a player who only 1 season ago lit up the league as one part of the Smith Brothers in Green Bay.
This year has been a down year by comparison but Smith would represent an upgrade at an area of need for the Cardinals and one that they can afford. I think that they will be active in Free Agency to address other needs. If Smith can bring the same form that got him 12 sacks in 2019 then this can another step towards taking the Cardinals to the playoffs and possibly further.
3. Stephon Gilmore (for a 2021 2nd) to the Buffalo Bills
With a $17m cap hit this is not a cheap one year rental, potentially, for a player, even one as good as Gilmore. As such it is likely to be a team with an immediate Superbowl window who is a couple of pieces from being successful who will pick him up. Any team that does I think tries to work out a longer term deal to lower his initial salary hit as well.
I have picked the Bills despite that fact that their cap situation is far from ideal. It will take some financial gymnastics but obtaining a second corner who can be left one on one allows the Bills to commit to stopping the run, a weakness of theirs this year.
Gilmore and the Bills know each other well as a result of his spell here before joining the Patriots. It is a deal that works well for both sides, Gilmore returns to a team he knows, who are a legitimate contender over the next couple of years. The Bills get as close to a shutdown corner as you can get without paying through the nose for the next batch of upcoming young stars. As I have said, this will require some work by Buffalo’s money men and likely some contract restructuring as well as Free Agent departures but when you are so close to the final prize the headache to make a deal like this work is worth it.
4. Xavien Howard (for 2021 2nd, 2022 1st, 2022 4th) to the New York Jets
This one is sure to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Why would Miami even consider trading Howard after the unbelievable season that he had? The short answer is money, currently Miami are projected to have just over $25m, not an insignificant amount, however with many pieces of the puzzle needed to turn this team into a challenger, rather than a one and done playoff team, hear me out.
If Miami were to trade Howard here is how the savings would stack up, Miami in 2021 would carry $4.2 million in dead money from Howard’s deal but would save $9.3 million, under one potential cap scenario. That is starting running back money. That is a long way to someone like an Aaron Jones money…
With a large contract just given out to Byron Jones, another corner who played exceptionally well this season Miami currently have two of the most expensive seven Corners in the league, a luxury yes, but perhaps not one a challenger in the middle of the rebuild can afford if they want all the other pieces to make a run at the Superbowl. Howard’s trade value will probably never be as high as it is now, is it time to cash in?
There are a few teams who I am sure would love to have him, someone like the Jets who have a tonne of cap space and a dire need for help across the board would be one option, the Bengals another. However the Jets in this hypothetical discussion are the ones who pull the trigger on an expensive piece, an immediate game changer in their secondary.
5. Zach Ertz (for 2022 5th) to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Zach Ertz deserves to be on a team that will allow him to be the starter. His last few years he has been a top 5 Tight End, this year aside, and he offers the kind of safety blanket a young Quarterback craves. Alright, he is 30 and probably at the start of a decline, but for relatively cheap money Jacksonville can pick up an immediate improvement over their current options, a player who knows how to win and has experience of what is required to make a franchise competitive.
The Eagles are not paying Ertz after the 2021 season and it is possible that he just walks into Free Agency but I expect the Eagles to get an offer from one team or another who want to secure Ertz’s services before he has a host of suitors.
For Ertz this is an opportunity to go to Florida, make a good amount of money from a team with cash to spend. I would expect the Jags to work out some form of contract extension with Ertz, maybe a further 2 years to take it to 2024 with a potential break after the 2023 season. This extension would allow them to push some of his £8.25m salary for 2021 down the road allowing the funds to be focused on other areas of the squad.
Of course, Ertz may be retained and have a blow up final season in Philly earning himself far more suitors after the 2021 season but I don’t see that happening. With a new HC and the reset button having been firmly hit I’d put it above a 90% chance that Zach Ertz finds himself somewhere other than Philadelphia by August 2021.
6. Matthew Stafford (for 2021 2nd and 2022 2nd) to the San Francisco 49ers
For this to work the 49ers would need to find a trade partner for Jimmy Garoppolo, I heard a team in Boston may well be looking for a new Quarterback, if one was available who had experience of the environment and system run up there already then even better…..
So Jimmy is gone, The perfect replacement for him exists in Detroit. Stafford has been a potentially elite Quarterback for the best part of a decade stuck on a team mired in below
average mediocrity. It is a crime quite honestly that so many years of fantastic Quarterback play have been wasted. A move to sunny San Fran would serve as a just reward to an individual who deserves a legitimate shot at a playoff run before his time in the sun is over.
The 49ers would be getting an improvement at the position for at least the next two years at a relatively cheap level. Whether they renew the contract in 2023 when Stafford is due is a conversation for another time although if he has shown that he has the cahonies to carry this team through a stacked NFC West and into the playoffs maybe this is a marriage that last s for the next 5 years, Stafford is only 32 remember, he is only just hitting the middle of his career age wise, whether his body stands up, who knows.
This move would instantly make the 49ers more exciting, whilst Garoppolo was steady if not spectacular imagine the fun to be had with Stafford launching bombs for Aiyuk, Samuel and Kittle. Sign me up right now!!
7. Kirk Cousins (for 2021 3rd and 2022 4th) to the Denver Broncos
New Head Coach often equals absolutely no allegiance to a young Quarterback drafted by a predecessor. Drew Lock has look average at best and on his day Kirk Cousins is a top 10 at the position (fight me outside afterwards about this!).
Obviously the problem with Cousins is that he has to be on his day otherwise its 3 interceptions and an inability to complete any passes at all. The want to get his bloated salary off their books is one reason that I think the Vikings would listen to offers for Cousins.
For Denver, Cousins offers what they need, a good Quarterback who can help elevate the parts of the team they already have. Cousins is super accurate, despite his perceived issue with interceptions, and being able to get the ball often to Jeudy and Sutton next year is an appealing option. Drew Lock won’t get it done long term in my opinion and the contract Cousins comes with, whilst being high when signed, is quickly becoming the league norm. The Broncos aren’t going to ask Cousins to win them games on his own, just to make sure he keeps the interceptions down and the accuracy up.
Although the Broncos are not flush with cap space they can save $19m if they trade Von Miller or $15m if they were just to flat out cut him. As with most of these scenarios some financial re-arrangements will be made but Kirk Cousins offers the Broncos the chance to immediately become more competitive in a division where those around them are elite already, or on their way.
8. J.J. Watt (for 2021 3rd) to the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have a host of Edge players off to Free Agency this year, they won’t all return to M&T Bank stadium in 2021, with the Texans in full rebuild mode Watt is available to for peanuts. If the Divisional round match-up against the Bills showed anything it is that they could use some help upgrading the position.
J.J. Watt is someone who would suit a team who is in win now mode. He doesn’t want to spend the last years of his career on a team going 4-12, he has done that enough already. Another player due to hit Free Agency after the 2022 season this is likely a two year deal for both parties with the shared aim of getting to the big game. Watt brings with him such an air of authority and leadership, not seen at the Ravens since the days of Ray Lewis, that he could only be great for them. Whilst there are leaders developing in a young Ravens squad bringing in Watt with all of his experience and knowledge would benefit the entire organization from top to bottom, he also still plays as one of the best at his position more often than not.
Watt is not going to break the bank pick wise either. The Texans are approaching ‘blow it up and start again’ mode and I fully expect Deshaun Watson not to be there next year. A third round pick for a 31 year old with a not insignificant injury history offers good return for the Texans and is just low enough that it is worthwhile for the Ravens. As a Ravens fan this is a trade I could fully get behind, everyone cross their fingers please.
9. Michael Thomas (for 2021 1st, 2022 1st and 3rd) to the New York Jets
The Saints are in cap hell, there is no two ways about it. Currently predicted to be approximately $100m in the red there are going to have to be changes to this roster over the summer. With Brees retiring it has the feeling of the end of an era and this may well be the ideal time for the Saints to start to consider the next generation that hope to bring success to the Superdome.
This year’s Draft is full of talented young receivers who will cost approximately 5% of Michael Thomas’s wage, players like Chris Olave and Kadarius Toney will be second day selections in all likelihood with the potential to go a long way to filling the big shoes left behind in New Orleans.
The Jets are looking to improve quickly and wit the cap space to allow it will be heavy hitters in the veteran market this off-season. They will have a young franchise Quarterback in place on a cheap deal for the next few years and that allows them to absorb the size of Thomas’ contract.
The Jets have two first round picks this year and I imagine would be more than happy to forgo the latter of the two plus further picks to secure the services if the best receiver in the league. Just picture Justin Fields with Michael Thomas to rely on, I am not sure there is a better situation for a rookie Quarterback to come into.
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