NFL Free Agency is well underway, and as the pieces begin to fall into place, the NFL Draft outlook becomes more and more clear. Rosters have many holes heading into the offseason, but those needs start getting crossed off the list during the free agency period.
There is a third avenue though, trades. We have already seen a few trades this offseason. The first blockbuster involved a quarterback swap and multiple drafts picks, when the Los Angeles Rams acquired Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions for Jared Goff. Then Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was sent to the Indianapolis Colts. We’ve also seen left tackle Trent Brown head back to the New England Patriots, as well as a Benardrick McKinney/Shaq Lawson exchange between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins.
Some of these deals have involved 2021 draft capital, others have not. One thing’s for certain, more trades will occur before April 29th and the NFL Draft. Here are five that may be upcoming in the near future.
5. N’Keal Harry to the Chargers
Supposedly, three teams are currently in on New England’s 2019 first round pick N’Keal Harry. We’ve already seen a 2020 first rounder get dealt, after tackle Isaiah Wilson was traded from the Tennessee Titans to Miami, so don’t assume Harry is safe based on his draft status. The Pats have already all-but replaced the former Arizona State wide receiver, signing a duo of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency (keep in mind Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers are also ahead of Harry on the depth chart). At this point, Bill Belichick’s best course of action is to salvage some sort of mid-to-late round draft pick in return for the bust.
Where he’ll end up is a bit trickier. I’ve heard the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals names mentioned, and the Lions and Titans also stand out as franchises looking to add wide receiving ability (both cores have been decimated by free agent losses). The Los Angeles Chargers just seem like the ideal fit though, being that Harry’s best days were out West and Justin Herbert needs weapons besides Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. He just lost one in Hunter Henry, but New England could send Harry back as retribution.
4. Zach Ertz to Indianapolis
This one has been heavily speculated already, similar to the Wentz trade before it happened. The Eagles are desperately shedding cap under a new coaching staff, and they have a built-in relationship with Frank Reich already (former Eagles offensive coordinator). Zach Ertz was Wentz’s favorite target for a long time in Philadelphia, and the Colts have identified the tight end position as an area that they would like to add to. It just makes perfect sense.
Ertz is 31 years old, and has a $12.471 million cap hit in 2021. If the Eagles were forced to release him, it would yield a dead cap hit of $7.769 million. The veteran tight end started 11 games in 2020, but had a career-low catch percentage of 50.0, with only 335 receiving yards and one touchdown. He probably wouldn’t cost more than a sixth or seventh round pick.
3. Brandon Brooks to the Jets
Since we just talked about Ertz, let’s discuss the other Eagles veteran that’s on the block. Brandon Brooks is a three-time Pro Bowler and 2018 Super Bowl Champion guard. He had a 92.8 grade on Pro Football Focus in 2019, but missed the entire 2020 season with a torn Achilles. Approaching his age 32 season, Philly needs to get his contract off the books, which increases to an $18 million-plus cap hit from 2022-24. His cap hit would be a little over $7 million this season, and there is a potential out in 2022 with a $16.438 dead cap penalty.
There aren’t too many teams that would take on this type of contract coming off a torn Achilles, but the New York Jets might. They were reportedly in the market for interior offensive linemen this offseason, but already missed out on guards Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney, as well as center Corey Linsley. The drop-off in free agent talent after those three is drastic, so if the Jets are still looking to add experience at guard, Brooks might be the best possible solution. It would likely cost them a late-round pick, as the Eagles are desperate to unload his contract.
2. Sam Darnold to Chicago
Based on the way the offseason has gone, it appears that the Jets are trending towards trading Sam Darnold. They are supposedly rebuilding through the draft, or making a blockbuster deal for a Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson type (less likely). Either way, neither path involves keeping Sam as their starter. The most recent bidders on Darnold are the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Football Team (according to reports), but the Seahawks would only make an offer if they were forced to trade Wilson. So far there’s more smoke than fire in Seattle. Washington on the other hand just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, and already stated that they would only trade for Darnold if his price tag came down (not happening).
That leaves the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans (more on that below), Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears. Aside from his contract and hometown, a Darnold to San Fran trade doesn’t really make all that much sense. What will become of Jimmy Garoppolo? Is Sam really an improvement on Jimmy G? Denver and Carolina sound plausible, but they are less desperate to get a deal done with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater under contract. The Bears are the only franchise that NEEDS a quarterback (Andy Dalton addition aside), and they don’t really have enough trade capital or cap space to acquire Wilson if we’re being honest. Darnold is the cheapest, high-ceiling option for Chicago, and that’s why it could end up happening.
1. Deshaun Watson to Miami
To me, the Miami Dolphins still feel like the franchise most likely to trade for Deshaun Watson. Of course, the Jets, Broncos, Panthers, 49ers, Bears and a half-dozen other teams still remain in the mix for the generational talent. The Dolphins must keep pace with the likes of the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots (who have been gearing up in free agency), and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t exactly inspire much confidence his rookie season. The former Alabama star threw for only 181.4 yards per game (6.3 yards per attempt), with a 64.1 completion percentage and an 87.1 quarterback rating. Not terrible, but compared to Herbert and Joe Burrow, not very enticing either.
Miami also has the draft capital and cap space (about $32 million) to make the Houston Texans a legitimate offer. They could send Tagovailoa back in return, along with the third and 18th picks in the 2021 draft, as well as numerous future firsts and seconds. The only team that could match an offer like this is the Jets, but NYJ general manager Joe Douglas seems more intent on building through the draft. Even if this is a smokescreen tactic by Douglas, some might argue the Dolphins have the more appealing offer with Tua rather than Darnold (more years of team control left) headed to Houston. The Broncos or Panthers probably have the third best chance, with more cap and draft capital than the Niners and Bears, but none of them can truly match up against the Fins and Jets.
Watson would make any franchise an immediate contender, but GM Nick Caserio and the Texans have yet to even admit that they have any intention of dealing him. The writing’s on the wall though, and at this point I would expect Deshaun to be wearing a new jersey by the time Roger Goodell reads out Trevor Lawrence’s name.