The life of a football player can be nomadic.
Consider Tom Brady. The greatest of all time has been in New England longer than many of you have been alive -- but he could be on the move this offseason, maybe lacing them up with the Titans, Chargers or Raiders. And he'd hardly be the first legend to switch jerseys. Some of the best ever spent time playing for teams they aren't often associated with. Think of Joe Montana with the Chiefs. Brett Favre with the Jets and Vikings. Matt Forte with the Jets.
While Brady would be leaving as a free agent, he makes a great springboard into my list of untradeable players for the 2020 season, because until now, it was impossible to imagine him with any team but the Patriots. Like Brady in his prime, each of the players below should be absolute locks to stay with their current teams, either because there's no price that would make trading them worth it, or because their absence would be disastrous.
When we made this list two years ago, we didn't include quarterbacks, because the untouchability of quarterbacks kind of went without saying. Last year, we included them -- and Andrew Luck made the cut. I don't know if the Colts' ultimate inability to make the playoffs following Luck's surprise early retirement proved my point or not. But we will start this list with three quarterbacks who I will just go ahead and group together right below.
A quick note first: This is not just a list of the best players in the NFL. While some of the names might seem unconventional at first glance, each and every player on here means so much to his current team that he simply cannot be traded away.
1) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs; 2) Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks; 3) Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens: These are the only three quarterbacks currently in the NFL that I would consider off limits. You might want to include the Texans' Deshaun Watson, but is he really that untradeable? Like, Watson is a star, but would anything Bill O'Brien could do surprise you after last year's wheeling and dealing? Mahomes is obvious -- Kansas City would burn like a giant BBQ pit if he were to exit. Wilson simply is the Seahawks. And Lamar Jackson is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs. As for the rest of the QBs, though -- yeah, I could see them being traded. Even you, Kyler Murray, though you might be on the untradeable list next year.
4) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers' offense is nothing without McCaffrey, who became the third player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Yes, the running back position has been devalued -- just look at the number of backs who slip into the second and third rounds of the draft -- but McCaffrey is an exception to that rule. Consider that he accounted for 43.7 percent of the Panthers' 5,469 offensive yards (2,392 yards from scrimmage) and 51.4 percent of their 37 touchdowns (19). Beyond that, there's the emotional impact that trading a player like this would have on the fan base. I would imagine this wouldn't go over too well in Charlotte. New coach Matt Rhule said the team was going to keep quarterback Cam Newton, but never say never, while defensive star Luke Kuechly recently retired. This team could use some stability right now, and McCaffrey provides it.
5) George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Now, it's obvious that Kittle is the best at his position, or at least not too far behind Travis Kelce. And Kittle is way more valuable to the 49ers than Kelce is to the Chiefs. Kansas City boasts multiple dynamic receivers, but Kittle is the Niners' most important pass catcher. Kittle is even more valuable in the run game, given that the dude loves to block. He's out there throwing blocks like Edge throws spears. It's pretty impressive. Remember that prime-time game where he was champing at the bit, sitting up in the 49ers' luxury box, itching to get on the field? Kind of like those wrestlers waiting to get into the ring during War Games? His mic'd-up session during the Super Bowlgives you chills. I'm telling you, he's a Dusty Rhodes "Hard Times" promo come to life. There is no way the Niners could trade him. The fans wouldn't stand for it, and they'd never get enough in return for the 26-year-old All-Pro.
6) Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: Thomas just set the NFL single-season record with 149 receptions. He notched 10-plus receptions and 100-plus yards in eight games. He's also one of just four players in NFL history to post 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of his first four seasons. Lest you think it's all because of Drew Brees, remember that Thomas played a large swath of games with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback in 2019. Not to demean Teddy Two Gloves, who is a capable quarterback, but Thomas can produce while catching passes from anyone. Well, don't make us find out about Taysom Hill, although I'd be confident enough about that pairing, too. And if I could throw in a bonus Saints player, I'd say Ryan Ramczyk might be the second-most valuable member of that offense. Don't @ me. Or do. I've likely muted you anyway.
7) Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Buccaneers: There are times I might be blinded by a player's fantasy appeal, and this might one of those times. Still, it feels like Godwin, 24, is the next great NFL receiver after he recorded 86 receptions, which was tied for the third-highest total in club history, outpacing three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2019. Godwin is just getting started with coach Bruce Arians, as well, so that has to be noted. The quarterback position is obviously in flux, with Jameis Winston -- fresh off LASIK surgery -- headed for free agency. But the team could also be in the mix for veterans such as Brady and Philip Rivers, and one thing most people would find attractive about playing in Tampa Bay would be Godwin's presence. And Evans'. And those new uniforms. But mostly Godwin.
8) Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos: Simmons might not jump out as an obvious choice, but he was a key element of one of the bright spots in Denver's 7-9 season: the defense, which ranked 12th overall, 10th in scoring and 11th against the pass. Yes, it's taken John Elway some time to get his quarterback situation under control, and it does feel like Drew Lock could be an answer. The thing is, Denver's two most important players, to me, are Simmons and receiver Courtland Sutton. You might say, What about Von Miller? And he's clearly an important player. But if the Broncos could get a Khalil Mack-like haul for Miller, who's turning 31 in a few weeks and has two years remaining on his current contract, would you really say no? The 26-year-old Simmons is a bright young star, one of the top-rated safeties by Pro Football Focus, and he'll be the anchor of that defense for years.
EDIT: I see Simmons as such a fixture in the Broncos' lineup that I neglected to mention when this was originally posted that he's technically headed for free agency in 2020. But he still fits here, because Simmons is a virtual lock to either be extended or tagged by Denver -- and, in light of the tag-and-trade trend that saw guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and Frank Clark swap jerseys last year, it's important to remind the Broncos not to be tempted to try any funny business with this foundational piece.
9) T.J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers: We had J.J. Watt on our first ever list two years ago, and now his brother is coming on strong. T.J. Watt was my pick for Defensive Player of the Year last season, and he was a huge reason why the Steelers were still playing meaningful games in December, despite Ben Roethlisberger being out for most of the year. Watt is one of the best all-around defenders in the league, excelling at getting to the passer, but he's also great at stuffing the run and dropping into coverage. If the Steelers return to the playoffs (as I predict they will), Watt is going to be a huge part of that effort. I would even take this one step further and say he's more untradeable than the Rams' Aaron Donald. I'm not saying Watt's better than Donald, but when you consider salary (Donald makes $22.5 million per year; Watt makes $2.3 million and could be under team control for two more seasons) and age (Donald is 28; Watt is 25), Watt would get an advantage.
10) Quenton Nelson, LG, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are a pretty scary team heading into next season. They could end up being a dark horse to win the AFC. And it starts on the offensive line. I remember secretly hoping Nelson was going to fall to the Bears at No. 8 in 2018. Not only would he have been a perfect fit in Chicago as a Notre Dame product, but he's one of the best linemen in the business. Alas, the Colts snagged him at No. 6, and he's now spearheading the strongest unit on the team. Indy is going to have an interesting offseason, because this team is turn-key and ready to go. Well, in most areas. If the Colts can land a quarterback like Brady and perhaps swoop in if the Titans don't want to spend to keep running back Derrick Henry, this offense could be amazing. Nelson is an indispensable puzzle piece.
11) Taylor Lewan, LT, Tennessee Titans: I'm going to do a two-fer of AFC South linemen. I know Ryan Tannehill gets a lot of love for the Titans' rebound from the abyss, but Tennessee's 2-2 record during Lewan's four-game suspension to start the season underscored how important Lewan is to this team. Titans fans might be getting emotional about giving Tannehill an extension or wondering what is going on with Derrick Henry, but I believe the 28-year-old Lewan is more important than both of those dudes, especially if right tackle Jack Conklin leaves via free agency. The thing about Lewan is, even as one of the best linemen in the game, he remains a relatable superstar. He's the heart and soul of that Titans offensive line, which was ranked eighth overall by Pro Football Focus. He's the leader of that stable. The Ric Flair, if you will.