NFL free agency often overpromises and underdelivers. Trades are increasingly how the most fascinating deals are done and how the biggest names change teams.
That is especially true this offseason, where some teams have almost too much cap space and not enough quality players to spend it on. If a new collective bargaining agreement is signed in the coming days, teams may also start spending more on the expectation that the cap will explode in 2021 and beyond. The cycle from cap problems to league austerity is due to flip again.
All of this flexibility should lead to bolder trades and more room for teams to dump salaries. It was only three years ago that Nick Foles was lobbing grenades to Alshon Jeffery in the Super Bowl. Now, both players may be available for next to nothing ... as long as another team is willing to take on their contracts.
The new NFL should be an interesting league to watch and cover, because rosters can truly be overhauled in an offseason or two. Here are some of the names that could be on the move in the coming months:
Redskins coach Ron Rivera's public comments about bringing Williams back into the fold went from very hopeful early this offseason to a bit more guarded when asked about Williams at the NFL Scouting Combine. NFL Network's Mike Silver said Rivera is "unlikely to spend a lot of energy trying to appease" Williams. This appears to be all about money. ESPN's John Keim reports that Williams wants to be the game's highest-paid tackle. The Redskins reportedly remain "hopeful" they could get a first-round pick for Williams, which indicates he's available for the right price. A pick that valuable and a market-setting contract could be too rich for someone like Williams, who has a long history of back injuries, but he's easily the most talented tackle potentially up for grabs this offseason, including all those fancy draft prospects.
Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver: Jeffery is considered a goner among some Philadelphia fans and media types after injuries and reports of friction in the locker room. It isn't likely to be that simple. Jeffery had surgery for a December Lisfranc fracture and may not be ready to play by Week 1. Jeffery's $11.5 million base salary in 2020 is guaranteed because of a restructure that general manager Howie Roseman made last offseason. The Eagles would be selling low and might have to pay some of Jeffery's salary just to unload him. Roseman appears to be a motivated seller this offseason, however, and has some financial flexibility to cut his losses. Jeffery could be a low-risk, high-reward gambit for a team like the Jets, who The Athletic connected to him in February. Despite all the obstacles to a trade, the motivation appears high enough here for a Jeffery deal to happen.
Defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars and Matt Judon, Ravens:Frank Clark, Dee Ford and Jadeveon Clowney were all assigned the franchise tag last year, then were dealt at various stages of the NFL calendar before Week 1. I'm grouping Ngakoue and Judon together because they fit similar profiles: players expected to be tagged who could also be available in a trade.
Ngakoue is the more likely player to be dealt because he doesn't want to sign long-term with Jacksonville and he should have more value to suitors based on his resume. If Frank Clark and Dee Ford were worth a first- and second-round pick, respectively, last year in addition to monster contracts, Ngakoue should come around the same price.
The Ravens would reportedly listen to trade offers regarding Judon, but that would only further create a positional need for Baltimore at edge rusher. Judon also doesn't necessarily have the reserve of pass rush moves or production before 2019 to inspire a premium pick in a trade.
Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets running back: It's no secret that Bell is a man without a country, as Jets GM Joe Douglas didn't bring him aboard, and coach Adam Gase famously didn't want Bell at his expensive price tag. The team is likely stuck with Bell, but it's at least possible the Steelers (or another team) would essentially take Bell for next to nothing in a salary dump if the Jets were willing to pay most of Bell's contract.
The early tea leaves in Jacksonville indicate Gardner Minshew will be the favorite to start at quarterback, regardless of Foles' $15.1 million salary. There would likely be a market for Foles if he was available, depending on the discount the Jaguars were willing to give. A year ago, Foles was a sought-after free agent. He would upgrade a lot of quarterback rooms as a true backup or 1B, and he may never come more cheaply. A late-round pick or pick swap is probably all it would take to get Foles, and the Jaguars could be willing to pay part of his $15.1 million salary. Trading Foles would create cap room for Jacksonville, while cutting him would only add to its cap problems.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: Dalton probably isn't any team's first choice. That includes the Bengals, who are involving Dalton in a trade-seeking process that will likely take some time. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport mentioned the Patriots and Colts as possible destinations for Dalton, although he figures to be Plan B or C in both locales. Chicago, also mentioned by RapSheet, is a far more intriguing option. Dalton's former Bengals coordinator Bill Lazor is now coaching in Chicago. More importantly, Dalton appears to thread a bizarre needle for Bears GM Ryan Pace. Dalton would be a clear upgrade on Mitchell Trubisky -- but no one would have to admit that Dalton is a clear upgrade on Trubisky until, say, the third quarter of Week 3. It almost makes too much sense to happen.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders quarterback: To believe that Carr is entrenched in Las Vegas is to ignore all the warning signs. GM Mike Mayock has publicly admitted the team will investigate upgrades. The multiple reports about the Raiders' interest in Tom Brady don't come out of thin air. Assuming a Brady acquisition doesn't happen, the bigger question is whether Las Vegas will still be aggressive about adding a quarterback in the draft or possibly free agency, with a surprise option like Jameis Winston or Philip Rivers. That would start a domino effect, making Carr available to the next team with an open spot. Carr will be starting for some team in Week 1. If it's the Raiders, they may wind up giving him a Mark Sanchez-like apology contract to make up for all their flirting.
Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns wide receiver: OBJ may be the biggest long shot to be dealt on this list, in part, because he's unlikely to inspire an offer that would make it worth it for the Browns to move on after one year. One of the most spectacular receivers to enter the league in the last 20 years, OBJ too often looked ordinary last season. That may have been because of injury, but it makes it harder to imagine another blockbuster Beckham trade this offseason.
Darius Slay, Detroit Lions cornerback: GM Bob Quinn says he is openly "exploring" a trade for Darius Slay. This potential move has been out in the ether for so long that it's worth wondering if Slay has that strong a market. Interested teams would have to give up a premium pick and a big contract for Slay. That happens for pass rushers, but there's only so many cornerbacks teams will prioritize that highly. Would Slay make that cut? It just doesn't make sense for the Lions to deal away one of their best players on an underperforming defense unless they get a quality pick back.
Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens tight end: A report out of Jacksonville suggested that Hurst had inspired a few inquiries from tight end-needy teams like the Jaguars and Patriots. It makes sense, because Hurst has flashed some of the skills that made him a first-round pick, but he's buried at third on the depth chart behind Mark Andrews and primo blocker Nick Boyle.
Then again, the Ravens are not usually in the business of trading away depth. Tight ends are crucial to their roster. While they have plenty of needs this offseason, dealing Hurst only makes sense if they get a significant return for him.
Trai Turner as a stand-in for almost any Carolina Panther:Pro BowlPanthers guard Trai Turner was mentioned recently by ESPN's Jenna Laine as a player who was shopped at the NFL Scouting Combine. It's surprising because of Turner's pedigree, but less so because of the team he's on. The new regime in Carolina led by coach Matt Rhule is on its way to a full tear-down, and the chatter in the Indianapolis hallways last week was that they were willing to entertain offers for most anyone besides youngsters D.J. Moore and Brian Burns. (There's also a very real chance Cam Newton is likely to stay, primarily because he's impossible to trade until he gets healthy.)
Turner fits the profile of someone who could be dealt because he'd inspire good offers. Turning 27 in June, he has plenty of good years left. His size and road-grading profile may just not fit with the type of offense Rhule wants to run.
Quinton Dunbar, Redskins cornerback: After a strong fifth season with a career-high 613 snaps from scrimmage, Dunbar went public with his desire to get traded or be released. It doesn't make a lot of sense for the Redskins to entertain trading one of their better young players in a talent-poor secondary, so coach Ron Rivera is more likely to call Dunbar's bluff here.