Sunday, December 3, 2023

Lamar Jackson, Derrick Henry among 14 trade candidates who could be shopped ahead of, during 2023 NFL Draft

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Most of the big names available in 2023 NFL free agency have found new homes, or cashed in with their old ones. Now, all eyes are on the upcoming draft, where at least four different quarterback prospects are set to come off the board on Day One. But incoming rookies may not be the only difference-makers landing in new spots come late April.

That’s right: We’re talking draft-day trades. As all 32 teams prepare their lineups for an influx of new talent, plenty will be looking to increase or improve their draft capital by selling expendable veterans. So here’s a look at 14 different candidates who could be shopped before and/or during the 2023 NFL Draft:

Two years ago, rumors swirled on the morning of the draft that Rodgers was anticipating a trade to the 49ers. San Francisco went on to draft Trey Lance No. 3 overall, however, and the Packers great spent the next two seasons in Green Bay. Now, A-Rod and the Packers are publicly working toward a breakup after an 18-year union. Barring catastrophe, the future Hall of Famer will suit up for the Jets in 2023. But it’s still unclear when and how all parties will finalize the terms of a deal, including what happens with Rodgers’ pricey contract; technically, Green Bay can’t save money by dealing the QB until after June 1.

Logical landing spots: Jets

No matter their mutual attraction from months past, Jackson and the Ravens are on shaky ground as the QB navigates free agency under the non-exclusive franchise tag. It’s possible Baltimore could let the former MVP walk if another team actually makes Jackson an offer, receiving two first-rounders in return. But it’s perhaps even more likely the Ravens would seek to move Jackson via a traditional trade; in that case, offers would likely begin at two first-rounders. Losing such an electric, if recently fragile, athlete would be a major blow to the franchise, but it’d save the Ravens at least $32.4 million in 2023, and depending on the return haul, potentially set the team up to reset at QB right away.

Logical landing spots: Colts, Falcons, Lions, Titans

Technically he’s locked in for 2023 under the franchise tag, but that doesn’t mean the Raiders wouldn’t field — or solicit — interest in the event a future long-term deal is unlikely. Coach Josh McDaniels, remember, hails from the Patriots system that deploys multiple backs, even if he did lean heavily on Jacobs in 2022. And the veteran teased dissatisfaction with the current regime after Darren Waller’s exit this offseason. Moving the 25-year-old workhorse would instantly save Vegas $10M.

Logical landing spots: Bills, Cardinals, Seahawks

Whenever he’s on the field, Henry carries Tennessee’s offense; to this day, no one matches his combo of size (6-3, 245), speed and experience at the position. But he’s topped 300 carries in three of his last four seasons, suffering a serious injury in between. In other words, the wear and tear is there. The Titans are in a rebuilding phase, or at least should be, and can save $6.3M by dealing the big man, who’s entering a contract year.

Logical landing spots: Bills, Falcons, Seahawks

At full speed, Cook is still one of the NFL‘s best pure runners, fresh off a fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign. But he’s going on 28 with a history of nagging injuries, has racked up 1,500 career touches and is due at least $14M in each of the next three years. Minnesota hasn’t been shy about bidding fan favorites farewell to free up money this offseason. Cook’s departure would save the Vikings almost $8M via trade, allowing Alexander Mattison to headline the next backfield rotation.

Logical landing spots: Bills, Bengals, Ravens

If Los Angeles is serious about maintaining an elite supporting cast for Justin Herbert, it’ll find a way to give Ekeler the raise he’s publicly seeking, even if for just this season. Similar to Christian McCaffrey with his reliable high-volume pass catching, he’s quite underpaid at $6.125M per year (13th among RBs) entering a contract year. The Chargers could gain $6.25M in savings should they deal him to a contender, however, and address the position with a handful of cheaper gambles.

Logical landing spots: Eagles, Falcons, Jets

One of the most obvious trade candidates of the offseason, Hopkins remains an elite technician when healthy, but he’s missed 15 games the last two years and is due almost $30M at age 31 this upcoming season. Kyler Murray needs weapons like anyone, but 2023 is a true transition year for Arizona as Jonathan Gannon remakes the culture. Marquise Brown is also in tow and eligible for an extension, and Hopkins, whose exit would save an instant $8.9M, still profiles as a borderline No. 1 for a contender.

Logical landing spots: Bills, Chiefs, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Ravens

Sutton’s fellow wideout Jerry Jeudy has been a more frequent subject of trade rumors, but we’re inclined to think Sean Payton is OK being patient with the former first-rounder, who’s just 23 and can easily be retained through 2024. Sutton, on the other hand, is a more proven commodity but due $17M+ in each of the next three years. Dealing him would save Denver $6.8M right away.

Logical landing spots: Lions, Patriots, Ravens

After a solid 2021 season in his first year under Nick Sirianni (43 catches, 647 yards), Watkins’ speed didn’t match his production as the No. 3 behind A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith during the Eagles’ Super Bowl bid. His iffy hands could convince hyperactive GM Howie Roseman to offload him ahead of a contract year, saving an immediate $2.7M.

Logical landing spots: Chargers, Colts, Falcons, Titans

A few years ago, teams would’ve been lining up to deal for A-Rob, who thrived as a jump-ball specialist despite shoddy QB play in Chicago. Now, the Rams — who are in full-fledged purge mode — would probably take anything to unload his deal. Due $18M in each of the next two years, Robinson still has value as a low-end No. 2/3, provided L.A. eats a chunk of what he’s owed.

Logical landing spots: Lions, Packers, Patriots 

In an ideal world, Sweat would build on a promising pass-rushing resume to earn a mega extension in Washington. But the Commanders are already paying top dollar to fellow D-linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, and Chase Young is also onboard. With 29 sacks in five seasons and a career-high 28 QB hits in 2022, he could fetch premium compensation (potentially for a future QB splash) even entering a contract year. His departure would also save Washington an immediate $11.5M.

Logical landing spots: Bears, Chiefs, Cardinals, Falcons, Texans

Oliver’s been a sturdy piece of Buffalo’s interior for the last four years, but he’s entering a contract year and could be angling for a lucrative extension after massive deals for veterans like Javon Hargrave on the open market. Sean McDermott would surely much rather keep him around as the Bills make another title push, but if they could reallocate the $10.8M he’s due in 2023 and further bolster Josh Allen’s weapons, an early split probably isn’t out of the question.

Logical landing spots: Bears, Cardinals, Lions, Saints

An underrated mainstay of Indianapolis’ front alongside DeForest Buckner, Stewart has been durable and stout as a starting interior man for the last four years. He’s also on a fair deal, due $10.875M in 2023 amid a slightly inflated DT market. But the Colts have reason to pivot to more of an offensive focus under coach Shane Steichen, especially with a new QB incoming. And dealing Stewart before his contract expires in 2024, entering his age-30 season, would also clear $9.6M.

Logical landing spots: Bears, Chargers, Cowboys, Saints

A polarizing four-year starter for Tampa Bay, White is an athletic freak who’s drawn high marks from coach Todd Bowles and posted gaudy numbers for the position. But he’s entering a contract year and could command near-record money despite middling grades as a coverage man. Selling him would rob the club of a defensive leader, but save an immediate $11.7M as the team prepares for potentially sweeping transitions post-Tom Brady.

Logical landing spots: Bills, Broncos, Chargers, Raiders

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