Morry Gash/Associated Press

The NFL's 7 Best Players Who Could Be Traded Before 2021 Season

Kristopher Knox

The 2021 NFL offseason has already been largely defined by its trade market. Though this year brought a deep and talented draft class and plenty of big-name free agent signings, the football world may look back on it as the year of the trade.

Quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford and Teddy Bridgewater were all dealt early in the offseason. The San Francisco 49ers traded up to the No. 3 slot in the draft long before selection weekend, and future Hall of Fame receiver Julio Jones was dealt after it. Kansas City acquired offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., a move that will likely make the Chiefs Super Bowl contenders once again.

The offseason isn't over either, and more players could be on the move before the start of the regular season. Here, you'll find a look at seven of the best players who could still be traded, based on factors like roster makeup, cap implications and any relevant trade buzz.

Players are listed in alphabetical order.

*Contract and cap information via Spotrac.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has been the topic of trade buzz throughout the offseason. He's set to carry a $12.7 million 2021 cap hit, while the Eagles could save $5 million in cap space by parting with him.

The other piece of the equation is that the Eagles have a tremendous young receiving tight end in Dallas Goedert. Ertz, who had just 355 receiving yards and a touchdown last season, may not be more valuable than the potential cap savings to the Eagles.

Ertz is also reportedly looking for a change of scenery.

"He isn't expected to report for the remainder of the offseason program or until his situation is resolved (read: he’s traded or released)," Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweeted last month.

One logical trade destination would be the Indianapolis Colts, who acquired Carson Wentz earlier in the offseason. Wentz and Ertz have both played under Colts head coach and former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. When Wentz played a full 16 games in 2019, Ertz racked up 916 yards and six scores.

The Jacksonville Jaguars would also make a lot of sense, as the Jags lack tight end talent to help support rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Chicago Bears acquired quarterback Nick Foles last offseason and gave him an opportunity to snatch the starting job away from Mitchell Trubisky during the 2020 season. Foles stumbled and eventually ceded the job back to Trubisky.

While Trubisky was allowed to walk in free agency, Foles remains on the roster behind offseason additions Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields. The Bears have made it clear that Fields would become the starter should presumed No. 1 Dalton suffer an injury.

"He would be the guy," coach Matt Nagy said of fields, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

While Foles is a fine piece of quarterback depth, Chicago could be inclined to move him for the right return—though the Bears wouldn't let him go for mere pennies, as he has $14.3 million in dead money remaining on his contract.

Should the Colts have concerns with Carson Wentz's ability to rebound from a miserable 2020 campaign, Indy could be an option for Foles. The two quarterbacks played under and won a Super Bowl with head coach Frank Reich in Philadelphia.

The New York Jets would also be a logical landing spot, as they don't have a proven veteran in place to help mentor rookie Zach Wilson. New York's current backups, Mike White and James Morgan, have no regular-season experience between them.

Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets

Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

From a strategic standpoint, keeping cornerback Stephon Gilmore would make a lot of sense for the New England Patriots. He is still one of the league's top cover corners and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year just two seasons ago.

However, football decisions aren't made in a vacuum. Gilmore will turn 31 in September, is entering the final year of his current contract and is seeking a pay raise.

"Gilmore won't attend this week's mandatory minicamp to express his displeasure with his contract, according to a source," Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote in mid-June.

While the Patriots should hold out for the right price, they face the possible threat of Gilmore holding out for a new contract. There's an intersection where dealing Gilmore would simply make sense.

The Cleveland Browns could be in on Gilmore, as they look to complete a Super Bowl-caliber roster. They added cornerbacks Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II this offseason, but returning corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams both carry injury concerns.

The Seattle Seahawks could also be a logical destination, as they're outside of the conference, ranked 31st in passing yards allowed last season and lost starting corner Shaquill Griffin in free agency.

Potential Suitors: Cleveland Browns, Seattle  Seahawks

Chandler Jones, Edge, Arizona Cardinals

Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

The Cardinals should be thrilled to get star pass-rusher Chandler Jones back from last year's torn biceps. The three-time Pro Bowler had a whopping 19 sacks in 2019 and should pair with offseason addition J.J. Watt to give Arizona quite the sack-artist tandem.

However, Jones is 31 years old and entering the final year of his contract. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports believes that the Cardinals are underpaying Jones and that he held out of minicamp because of this.

"Facts. Reality. Deal with it," La Canfora wrote. "The Cardinals handled this poorly and we'll see if they do the right thing."

If Jones continues to stay away from the offseason program, trading him could make sense for Arizona. Doing so would save more than $15 million in cap space and undoubtedly bring a hefty package in return.

Virtually any team seeking pass-rush help should be interested in acquiring Jones. The Los Angeles Chargers, who have yet to re-sign Melvin Ingram, should be particularly interested. They are now set to build around quarterback Justin Herbert and, with $20.3 million in cap space, could afford to give him a lucrative extension. Pairing Jones with Joey Bosa could give L.A. one of the league's top edge-rushing duos.

A return to New England could also make some sense if the Patriots believe they can return to contention sooner than later.

Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots

Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Jones isn't the only Cardinal who could wind up on the trade block before the regular season. In fact, Arizona has already given linebacker Jordan Hicks permission to seek a trade.

"The Cardinals picked LB Zaven Collins 16th overall, and he is now the starting MIKE backer. The team has given Jordan Hicks permission to find a new home via trade, source said. Hicks is a respected leader & AZ wants to do right by him," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted last month.

With Collins and Isaiah Simmons as the future at linebacker, Arizona apparently views Hicks as expendable. However, the veteran linebacker—who had 78 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and an interception last year—could be a valuable addition to any linebacker-needy team.

The Browns would make a lot of sense for Hicks, as they look to forge a Super Bowl roster. Cleveland was particularly poor against the pass last season (22nd in yards allowed) and could use a linebacker who allowed an opposing passer rating of only 85.4 in 2020. Even with offseason additions Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker in the fold, Cleveland should have room for Hicks.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who ranked 19th against the pass and 29th against the run last season, could also desperately use a veteran linebacker as they look to continue their rebuild.

Potential Suitors: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

It's hard to argue that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't the best player who could still be traded. He's the reigning NFL MVP and plays the game's most important position. He's also unhappy with the organization and reportedly wants to finish his career elsewhere.

"Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is so disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team," ESPN's Adam Schefter wrote on the opening day of the draft.

A holdout is entirely possible, and as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk recently pointed out, Rodgers could also opt-out of the 2021 season.

"Although such players would be entitled to no stipend for 2021, any player who executed his most recent contract before October 1, 2020 can indeed opt out voluntarily, no questions asked," Florio wrote.

Virtually any team without a franchise quarterback in place should be interested in Rodgers if he becomes available. The Denver Broncos—who are set to stage an underwhelming quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater—should be at the top of the list.

The Washington Football Team—which has journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and the eighth-most cap space in the league—would also make sense if Green Bay is willing to trade within the conference. Washington was a playoff team in 2020 and would likely be a title contender with Rodgers at the helm.

Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Washington Football Team

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

While Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly wants a trade, he is also facing lawsuits by 22 women alleging sexual assault and misconduct. Presumably, teams would be hesitant to do a deal until Watson's lawsuits are resolved.

Watson could also face serious league discipline.

The Texans have made it clear that they'd prefer to resolve Watson's situation with the team soon—which could mean trading him for conditional compensation.

"As we get more information, as we get closer to training camp, we'll try to make the best decision for the Houston Texans, whatever that entails," general manager Nick Caserio told Sports Radio 610 (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk).

If the conditions of a trade carry low enough risk—say, a first-round pick that only transfers if Watson starts the majority of games over the next two years—teams could be willing to take a flier on him ahead of the regular season.

Broncos safety Kareem Jackson recently told the Catching Fades podcast (h/t Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia) that Watson wants to play in Denver. As previously mentioned, the Broncos don't have a sound long-term quarterback plan in place. According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, the Miami Dolphins could also be interested.

"The Dolphins are committed to Tua [Tagovailoa] and building around him, unless Deshaun Watson becomes a possibility again," Graziano said on Get Up (h/t Matt Johnson of Sportsnaut). "There's a quarterback or two out there that could distract them from their commitment to Tua."

Depending on the outcome of the lawsuits and the NFL's investigation, virtually any quarterback-needy team could become interested.

Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins


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