Trade Candidate

Potential Trade Candidates: Cooks, Claypool, Jeudy

Franchises looking for an upgrade at receiver should have their opportunities before the trade deadline comes, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. While the Panthers seem determined to hold onto D.J. Moore, it appears that Texans wideout Brandin Cooks, Steelers receiver Chase Claypool, and Broncos pass catcher Jerry Jeudy are all names generating interest in the trade markets.

Cooks is in his third season with his fourth NFL team after getting traded three times before. If Cooks does get dealt again, he’ll tie running back Eric Dickerson for the most trades in a career with four. Cooks has been dependable as a top target at every stop of his career. There have only been two seasons, one being his rookie year, in which he failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving. He’s a veteran that can lead a room and add production on all levels of the passing game.

Claypool is in his third season with the Steelers after getting drafted out of Notre Dame. Claypool exploded onto the scene as a rookie, racking up 873 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. He continued a lot of the same production in his sophomore season, totaling 860 yards but only found the endzone twice. This year, with new quarterbacks, Claypool’s on track to finish along the same stat lines, but, with rookie wideout George Pickens starting to out-produce him, the Steelers may be seeing Claypool as an expendable asset.

Jeudy is also a third-year receiver who was expected to have a breakout year this season for the Broncos. His production has been plenty serviceable so far this year, but, as Denver’s offense continues to sputter, the team might be shifting into sell-mode. Jeudy represents one of the more talented and promising assets in Denver. If quarterback Russell Wilson fails to get the Broncos to be more competitive, Jeudy and his rookie contract could be headed somewhere new.

There are plenty of teams who are hungry for some new receiving options. The Ravens have been relying on Devin Duvernay and Demarcus Robinson as Rashod Bateman deals with injuries. The Packers has seen injuries hurt their production, as well. They’ve been utilizing Allen Lazard alongside a mix of whoever is healthy out of Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and a pair of rookies. Also in the NFC North, the Bears could certainly use some proven playmakers to supplement a receiving corps led by Darnell Mooney and Dante Pettis.

We’re bound to see some fireworks as the trade deadline nears. It’s starting to look like the stars may align to move some productive pass catchers to needy homes.

Trade Candidate: Robert Quinn

A report emerged Thursday indicating the Commanders, particularly in the event of a Thursday-night loss, would be prepared to shop some of their veterans. But the Bears lost, which should bring one of their veterans’ statuses to the forefront.

Robert Quinn is both tied to a long-term contract — a five-year, $70MM pact that runs through 2024 — and said upon reporting to training camp he did not seek to be traded. That said, Quinn has been traded twice in his career. He also was rumored to be wanting another scenery change this offseason, with that report preceding an unexcused minicamp absence. At 32, Quinn does not profile as a cornerstone player for the Bears’ Ryan PolesMatt Eberflus era. Teams were monitoring the 12th-year pass rusher earlier this year; interest still stands to come the Bears’ way. Will Chicago act on it?

The Bears should be expected to entertain interest that stands to come their way for Quinn. Poles has not shied away in remaking the team. Eberflus’ defense looks quite different from Sean Desai‘s 2021 unit, which housed the likes of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan. The Bears cut the latter two, traded Mack and let Hicks sign with the Buccaneers. This is a younger defense. The first draftee obtained via the Mack trade — safety Jaquan Brisker — has played every defensive snap for the rebuilding team this season. Acquiring another pick or two for Quinn would make sense, now that the Bears have slunk to 2-4.

Less than three weeks remain until this year’s trade deadline (Nov. 1), and the Bears may have cost themselves a bit in terms of value by holding onto Quinn this offseason. After a two-sack 2020, Quinn stormed back with his most productive year since his 2013 All-Pro season. He broke Richard Dent‘s single-season franchise sack record, moving the number to 18.5 during a campaign that did not feature much Mack (due to injury). In 2022, however, Quinn has just one sack and two quarterback hits in six games.

Interested parties will nonetheless surface, when considering contending teams’ injury tolls and the edge position’s value. The Broncos collected second- and third-round picks for Von Miller at last year’s deadline. While the Bears are unlikely to extract such a haul for Quinn, ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell offered a scenario in which the Rams (Quinn’s original team) reacquire him for two third-rounders. The Rams have not been shy about in-season edge rusher augmentation, acquiring Miller and Dante Fowler at the deadline during Sean McVay‘s tenure, and have had a need opposite Leonard Floyd since Miller spurned their free agency offer to join the Bills.

The Chargers also make sense for Quinn, who would reunite with Mack in this scenario. Unlike Mack, however, Quinn was not with the Bears during Brandon Staley‘s Windy City stay. Still, Joey Bosa is out for at least two months and is not expected to be 100% again this season. The Bolts made Mack part of an extensive defensive reload effort, attempting to maximize Justin Herbert‘s rookie contract, and Quinn would be an upgrade alongside Mack. The Titans are down Harold Landry for the season and have seen Bud Dupree run into more injury trouble. Injuries would help determine other potential fits as the deadline nears.

Denver’s Miller haul would represent a (likely unrealistic) goal for Chicago. Younger Quinn versions went for fourth- and sixth-round picks (in 2018) and a sixth-rounder (2019). Leonard Williams went for third- and fifth-rounders at the 2019 deadline, to a non-contending Giants team, while Yannick Ngakoue fetched the same haul (in the second of his three career trades) during the 2020 season. Quinn’s 2021 production would allow the Bears to ask for an Ngakoue-type package for Quinn, though his age may lower the price. Thirty-something edges Melvin Ingram and Everson Griffen landed their teams sixth-rounders, and Carlos Dunlap brought the Bengals a seventh and O-lineman B.J. Finney. Quinn’s value is higher than those players at this point. Something in between the Ngakoue 2020 price and the Ingram-Griffen-Dunlap tier would be reasonable.

The Broncos also collected the haul they did because they ate $9MM of the $9.7MM remaining on Miller’s contract. The Bears, who took on $24MM in Mack dead money, could increase their compensation by doing the same. That would seem in play, given how Chicago has operated under Poles thus far. Draft compensation will be more important than a few million in salary in a clear rebuilding year. More than $8MM remains on Quinn’s $12.8MM base salary this season. He is tied to $13.9MM and $12.9MM nonguaranteed bases in 2023 and ’24, giving an acquiring team flexibility.

Expect Quinn trade rumors to re-emerge soon. He has 102 career sacks and should be one of the top players available at this year’s deadline. What other teams would make sense for the talented sack artist?

Trade Candidate: Falcons LB Deion Jones

Since being drafted in the second-round by the Falcons back in 2016, linebacker Deion Jones has become a defensive mainstay in Atlanta. Despite the job security he’s enjoyed for the past six seasons, Jones may find himself on the move as teams narrow their rosters down to 53 players this August. 

Jones was an immediate impact player as a rookie out of LSU, starting all but three games in his first season of NFL play, finishing third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey, and forcing a fumble in the Falcons’ Super Bowl LI overtime loss. Jones’ sophomore season didn’t show any drop off as he took over the full-time starting role in the middle and made his first (and only) Pro Bowl.

A foot injury would cause Jones to miss 10 games in 2018, but he showed enough in the six games he did play to warrant a four-year, $57MM extension just before the 2019 NFL season. After returning from injury, Jones showed virtually no drop off. He continued his normal production as if he had only taken a vacation. He’s started all but one game since his return from injury, as well, showing his dependency and resiliency.

Jones is best known for his pass defense abilities. While he still has the tackling ability of a linebacker, totaling over 100 tackles in every season of his career (except the injury-shortened 2018 season), Jones’ prowess has been on display in coverage. During his six seasons in the league, Jones has an impressive 11 interceptions and 44 passes defensed. He’s also displayed an ability with the ball in his hands returning five of those interceptions for touchdowns over the years. He hasn’t had a tremendous ability forcing other kinds of turnovers through fumbles or sacks, though he has improved recently in those two fields with two forced fumbles and 6.5 sacks over the last two seasons.

Unfortunately for Jones, though, his history on the field and coming back from injuries are not the only factors determining his roster status. If they were, he would be a sure bet to lead the Falcons’ defense once again in 2022. But the combination of his salary cap hit and the influx of linebacker talent in Atlanta this offseason may be pointing to an uneasy situation for Jones and the Falcons. Also not helping his job security is head coach Arthur Smith‘s insistence that “everybody is going to have to earn a spot” this year, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Falcons return Mykal Walker in his third season with the team. The former fourth-round pick hasn’t quite had a breakout season in his two years of play, but Smith has touted Walker’s development this offseason and expects him to be a strong competitor in the position battles to come in camp.

Rashaan Evans joined the Falcons this offseason as a free agent after four years in Tennessee. Already a talented linebacker expected to start, the former first-round pick will be even more comfortable as he reunites with defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Evans’ best season came when Pees was the coordinator of the Titans’ defense back in 2019.

Atlanta also signed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency this offseason. Kwiatkoski has plenty of starting experience over his years with the Bears and Raiders. After spending much of the 2021 season injured and watching the emergence of Denzel Perryman in Las Vegas, Kwiatkoski was released by the Raiders. In the two seasons before that, though, Kwiatkoski showed what he can do as a starter, totaling 157 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 11.0 tackles for loss, 5 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles in 2019 & 2020.

Lastly, the least experienced of the position group, Troy Andersen was drafted by the Falcons in the second round this April. Andersen entered college at Montana State as a quarterback and running back. As a true freshman, Andersen started games at running back and linebacker for the Bobcats and earned the Big Sky Conference’s Freshman of the Year honor, mainly for his impact on offense. As a sophomore, Andersen was asked to start at quarterback and set a school record with 21 rushing touchdowns. His focus was moved to defense in his junior year as he racked up 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. After his team didn’t play any games in 2020 due to COVID-19, he returned to his linebacker position with a vengeance, totaling 147 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks. As a rookie, Smith believes Andersen has the physical tools to compete at the NFL-level, but claims his time on the field will reflect how quickly he can learn. Considering Andersen played at least three different positions over the years at Montana State, he is clearly a cerebral player who can learn on the fly with relative ease.

Normally, the presence of Walker, Kwiatkoski, and Andersen on the roster wouldn’t influence Jones’ roster spot much, if at all. But Jones’ contract currently has him accounting for 9.62% of the team’s cap space, the biggest cap hit on the team. I almost considered Jones to be a release candidate until looking at his contract details. Releasing Jones as a post-June 1st cut would leave the Falcons with $18.98MM of dead money this year, saving a mere $1.07MM in cap space in 2022. It reflects a lot better in 2023, where the Falcons would be left with only $5.34MM of dead money, saving $13.14MM in cap space for that season.

Jones’ cap hit, combined with the fact that he is recovering currently from offseason shoulder surgery, puts him at an inherent disadvantage going into the camp position battle at inside linebacker. Evans and Walker ran with the first team during OTAs and minicamp. Kwiatkoski and Andersen lurk ready and waiting in the wings.

If Jones can’t survive the position battles and the Falcons decide they need some cap relief, the two parties may work towards moving Jones in a trade. There are a couple of teams who could use a strong inside linebacker. Linebacker is maybe the weakest position on Baltimore’s roster. Denver would love a wily veteran to pair with Josey Jewell. Similarly, the Rams could create a deadly combination with newly signed Bobby Wagner. There are plenty of contenders who could utilize Jones and absorb his cap space (or at least part of it). Time will tell how the Falcons choose to deal with the benefit of playing Jones versus the hindrance of his contract.

Trade Candidate: Ravens S Chuck Clark

Chuck Clark was an unheralded addition to the Ravens when he was drafted in 2016, spending the early part of his NFL career primarily on special teams. His play since becoming a starter, however, has demonstrated his value to the Ravens and the rest of the league. 

A sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, Clark took over a starting safety spot midway through the 2019 season when Tony Jefferson was injured. He has been an every-down player ever since, teaming with Eric Weddle, then DeShon Elliott, at the backend of the team’s secondary. He has emerged as not only a statistical contributor, but also a valued leader during recent years.

In two full seasons as a starter, Clark hasn’t put up the kind of production a number of high-profile safeties have, but he has nevertheless been a steady presence. He has totalled 176 tackles, three interceptions and 16 pass deflections since 2021, while occupying an important role outside of statistical production. As the player wearing the green dot for communication, Clark has operated as, in essence, the ‘defensive QB’ since he assumed a starting role.

Expectations were raised for his effectiveness in 2022 and beyond when the Ravens signed Marcus Williams in free agency. As a more natural ‘centerfielder’ type of free safety, Williams represented an Elliott replacement who would allow Clark to operate closer to the line of scrimmage, which his athletic profile is better suited to. It wasn’t until the team drafted Kyle Hamilton in the first round of the draft that Clark emerged on the trade radar.

The Notre Dame alum has a largely congruent skillset to Clark’s, which led to multiple teams making trade inquiries after the draft regarding Clark’s availability. Using Hamilton on an every-down basis could cut significantly into Clark’s playing time, and complicate his ability to continue serving as the defensive signal-caller. The team has regularly used three-safety packages in recent years, though, providing a backdrop for the pushback to trade speculation the team provided.

Head coach John Harbaugh commented on the situation in May, saying “I love the fact that we have very versatile players in the backend and at safety. So, to me, Chuck is a big part of this team, and I’m planning on Chuck being here.” 

Things took another turn one month later, when Clark hired a new agent. It was reported at that time that, throughout OTAs and minicamp, he had made no public indication of requesting a trade. The Ravens have pulled off unexpected moves before, though, including the Marquise Brown trade this year. A swap sending Clark to a team which could play him as an undisputed starter has remained a possibility throughout the offseason, in part due to Baltimore’s financial situation.

The Ravens currently rank 31st in the league in cap space, so the relatively small savings a Clark trade would generate ($2.75MM) could nevertheless be significant. He has two years remaining on his contract, with affordable cap charges of $4.6MM and $5.2MM, along with even lower salaries. That could widen the pool of teams still interested in adding him.

Clark could be a useful fit in almost any system, given his ‘jack-of-all-trade’ profile. Teams currently set to start inexperienced safeties include the 49ers, who lost Jaquiski Tartt in free agency, and the Colts, who saw Khari Willis retire recently. If either squad wanted to add a quality veteran to insulate Talanoa Hufanga or Nick Cross, respectively, Clark could be the best available option. Especially after the 49ers part with Jimmy Garoppoloboth teams will easily be able to afford him.

Of course, the possibility still remains that the Ravens could hold onto Clark for at least the 2022 campaign, as Hamilton acclimates to the NFL. It wouldn’t come as a complete surprise, though, if he were to suit up for a new team by the start of the regular season.

Trade Candidate: Cowboys DT Trysten Hill

Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill has seen his fair share of obstacles en route to a career in the NFL, some self-inflicted. It appears he hasn’t seen the end of these obstacles yet, as ESPN’s Todd Archer reported that Hill’s road to continue playing in the NFL may require him to boost his stock and earn some trade-value at camp this summer. 

The Cowboys selected Hill in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft as their top draft pick that year. Hill had entered the draft early, forgoing his senior season after three years at UCF. He had started all 13 games in both his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Knights, but, by his junior year, Hill had reportedly fallen out of favor with the UCF coaches and only started one game during his third season. Despite not being granted the privilege of starting, 2018 was Hill’s best year in Orlando as he doubled his career sack total from 3.0 to 6.0 and more than doubled his career tally of tackles for loss from 9.5 to 20.0.

The Cowboys’ top-drafted rookie didn’t see much of the field in his first season. Playing behind Maliek Collins and Christian Covington, Hill only saw seven games of action in 2019, never playing in even half of the team’s defensive snaps. In those seven appearances, Hill was only able to make 5 total tackles, one for a loss, and 2 quarterback hits.

In his second year with the team, a preseason injury to presumed starter Gerald McCoy left the door wide open for Hill. Hill was named the starting three-technique defensive tackle to start the season. Unfortunately for Hill, he tore his ACL in a Week 5 game against the Giants and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.

His time before the injury wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. While he was starting to make more of an impact on defense, racking up 11 total tackles, one for a loss, and 3 quarterback hits, a couple of plays with questionable intention brought back memories of the behavior that lost Hill his starting honors in college. In a Week 3 game against Seattle, Hill caused controversy on plays against running back Chris Carson and quarterback Russell Wilson. After tackling Carson, Hill appeared to twist Carson’s knee after the whistle had blown. Carson suffered a knee sprain and Hill was fined $6,522 for the act. On the same drive, Wilson was the recipient of a late, helmet-to-helmet hit from Hill. While Wilson suffered no injury as a result, the league still fined Hill an additional $6,522 for the hit.

Last year saw Hill start the season on the reserve/PUP list. He wasn’t activated until Week 10 and failed to make the same impact he had the prior year, though he did record his first portion of a sack in the NFL. Hill fought for playing time behind Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins, and Quinton Bohanna. When he wasn’t fighting for playing time, though, he was still fighting. After a Week 12 game against the Raiders, Hill punched Las Vegas guard John Simpson, leading to a one-game suspension.

Now, Hill is headed into a contract year. Odighizuwa, Watkins, and Bohanna all return this year after taking playing time from him last season. Even Neville Gallimore has apparently risen above Hill on the depth chart, leading to some long odds for Hill to earn significant playing time.

As Archer suggested above, the best path forward for Hill might be to seek a less-crowded depth chart. If Hill can take advantage of the playing time he will get as a back up in the preseason and prove that he can behave and play nicely with the other players in the NFL, the Cowboys may be able to move Hill for a reasonable return and provide him with an opportunity to start again in a new city.

QB Wentz’s Future With Colts In Question

Reports have been circulating concerning the future of quarterback Carson Wentz in Indianapolis. It started earlier today when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen went on “NFL Countdown” and stated that, “By March 18, (Wentz) will probably be traded or released.” 

The Colts traded for Wentz last offseason. Wentz played well for most of the year, throwing for 3,563 yards while tossing 27 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. However, Wentz’s struggles down the stretch cost the Colts a playoff spot as they lost their final two games.

$15MM of Wentz’s salary for 2022 was guaranteed last March and the remaining $7MM of his 2022 salary will be guaranteed on March 18. March 18 is also the date that triggers a fully guaranteed roster bonus of $6.3MM for Wentz. So if the team were to cut Wentz before then, they would only be on the hook for the $15MM guaranteed last year and would save the $13.3MM due to him next month.

Joel Corry, who writes for CBS Sports on NFL contracts and salary caps, tweeted out some skepticism about releasing Wentz. He points out that the price the Colts paid to obtain Wentz last year (a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick) doesn’t point to a one-year rental.

The best case scenario is likely finding a trade candidate willing to take on Wentz’s full contract. They wouldn’t have much leverage in the negotiations, though, considering they’d be asking a team to take on a contract they don’t want to take on themselves. A more likely scenario would see the Colts include Wentz in conversations with a trade candidate wherein they can agree to a re-worked contract that works for both Wentz and the new team. That way, they can attempt to redeem some of the value they gave up to get Wentz last year while allowing them to move on from the sixth-year quarterback.

Whatever route they plan on taking, the Colts have a little over a month to navigate it. There are certainly some quarterback needy teams that would consider Wentz an upgrade and may have the cap space to take on a contract that would keep Wentz happy.

Trade Candidate: Jets S Marcus Maye

Now in his fifth pro season, Marcus Maye stands as the Jets’ longest-tenured player. But, with the NFL’s November 2 trade deadline fast approaching, that could all change in the coming days.

The Jets slapped Maye with the franchise tag earlier this offseason, but the two sides couldn’t come to terms on an extension. Both sides spent the summer saying all the right things. Jets GM Joe Douglas told reporters that be would work towards long-term deal with the young safety. Maye, meanwhile, said he’d focus on football and worry about negotiations later.

Once [I was tagged], I just put it to the side and got back to the basics of playing football,” he said (via the team website). “Once I get on the grass I never worry about anything else.”

Winning games is first, that’s what you play the game for. Also taking care of your family and making sure you’re set up for the future. Control the controllables. If you have no control over something, there’s no point in getting all upset. If you’re not here to win games, then what are you doing this for?”

Things have changed since then. For starters, Maye suffered an ankle injury in September that still has him on the sidelines. Then, in early October, we learned that the 28-year-old has been charged with a DUI and a pair of misdemeanors. The incident occurred in February; the Jets were not aware of the incident until it went public.

Maye’s agent recently tweeted that his client will be ready to play by the trade deadline, a clear attempt to drum up interest. His DUI and failure to notify the Jets may be a red flag for clubs, however. Ditto for his salary — any club acquiring him would have to pay him the prorated portion of his $10.6MM salary. And, of course, he’d only be a rental.

Still, Maye offers upside. The former second-rounder has started in each of his 57 games in the NFL, including 32-straight starts between 2019 and 2020. Last year, he finished with a career-high 88 stops to go along with two sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Those credentials could appeal to contenders like the Buccaneers and Rams, as ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler suggested this week. Old pal Todd Bowles knows Maye’s capabilities first-hand and could use some support with Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. sidelined. The Rams, meanwhile, would love the extra firepower as they chase the Cardinals. Besides, it’d be an opportunity to reunite Maye with Jalen Ramsey, bolstering a secondary that has allowed 271 passing yards per contest.

There are plenty of possibilities for the Jets and Maye. Right now, there’s only one that seems unlikely – a second franchise tag in the spring for approximately $12MM.

Trade Candidate: Bears QB Nick Foles

A year ago, there was hope that Nick Foles could guide the Bears to the postseason. Now, the veteran quarterback finds himself on the outside looking in with the franchise.

Chicago has completely revamped their quarterbacks room this offseason. The team first signed veteran Andy Dalton to take over the starting gig, and they surprised many pundits when they traded up to select Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick in this year’s draft. As a result of the quarterback refresh, Foles will find himself as the third quarterback heading into 2021. Matt Nagy indicated as much the other day, referring to Fields as “the guy” if Dalton ends up getting sidelined with an injury, and the coach seemed pretty steadfast on the team’s current pecking order.

“There will be a process and a plan,” Nagy said (via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Tribune). “We will stick to that. That plan is not going to change tomorrow. The plan is not going to change in training camp. The plan is a plan — and it’s been thought out.

“All three of those guys know that you need to produce, you need to play well, you need to compete, you need to be the best quarterback you can be. And then it’s going to be really pretty easy for us to see who that is and how that goes.”

Normally, a team would probably let the veteran third-stringer go so he could find his next gig before training camp. However, it’d end up costing the Bears more to cut Foles than keep him. The 32-year-old is still owed $4MM in guaranteed money, and they’d be left with a hefty $6.6MM dead cap charge if they release him. In other words, cutting Foles would just exasperate the Bears salary cup crunch, meaning the only way Foles isn’t on the roster to start 2021 is if he’s traded.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and the Bears front office would need to find a taker for Foles. The former Super Bowl MVP didn’t impress during his first season in Chicago; he guided the Bears to a 2-5 record in his seven starts, completing 64.7-percent of his passes for 1,852 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Teams probably aren’t lining up for Foles services at the moment, but that could easily change. QBs will surely suffer injuries during training camp and the preseason, and those teams could easily turn to the Bears if they need an experienced arm.

Further, teams will also get clarity on their quarterback depth throughout August. For instance, several pundits have recently suggested that the Jets would be a logical suitor for Foles as a backup to Zach Wilson. The team will surely want to get a thorough look at their current backup options (including 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan and former UDFA Mike White) before they start exploring the trade market, but they could be at least one suitor who’s uninspired by their current choices.

While Foles disappointed in 2020, he’s not far removed from that iconic 2017 (and, to a lesser extent, 2018) run, and teams would surely take him on as their number-two QB. However, if one of these teams does want to acquire the veteran, they’ll likely have to do so via trade.

Trade Candidate: Jets LB C.J. Mosley

When C.J. Mosley inked a five-year, $85MM deal with the Jets during the 2019 offseason, the linebacker was expected to lead the team’s defense for at least the next half-decade. He’s certainly looked the part of a defensive stalwart through two games with the organization, collecting nine tackles, a pick-six, and a fumble recovery.

However, Mosley suffered a groin injury that ultimately sidelined him for all but two games during the 2019 season. The veteran ended up opting out of the 2020 campaign, meaning he’s only seen times in two games through two years. The Jets certainly haven’t received a return on their investment, and rival teams believe they may be able to make a move for the former Pro Bowler…we learned back in March that the front office had received calls on Mosley.

To be clear, those reports indicated that the Jets were receiving the trade calls, not necessarily initiating the trade calls. Plus, there haven’t been many developments over the past three-plus months. However, it’s still easy to see a path where the Jets justify moving their former major free agent acquisition, and it’s easy to understand why a rival team would take a chance on the veteran.

From the Jets standpoint, a Mosley trade would be mostly financial. Since he sat out the 2020 season, Mosley still has four years and $56MM left on his deal, including $22MM guaranteed (this remaining commitment is a big reason why Mosley won’t be released any time soon). The Jets aren’t necessarily hurting for money, but as the front office looks to introduce the Zach Wilson/Robert Saleh era, it’d make sense for them to move some future money with the hopes of loading up during future offseasons.

Further, the Jets have a bit of a logjam at the position after the team signed middle linebacker Jarrad Davis to a $5.5MM deal this offseason. The Jets defense is expected to play in a 4-3 scheme, meaning one of Davis or Mosley will either find themselves on the bench or playing (somewhat) out of position at outside linebacker. Sure, Davis probably isn’t the caliber of player who should be pushing a player like Mosley out of the lineup…but we also have no idea what to expect from a player who’s barely seen the field over the past two years.

If the Jets aren’t willing to take a risk on Mosley, why would another team? Well, for starters, the financial ramifications wouldn’t be as severe as you think. The 29-year-old’s 2021 cap hit is only $6MM, so while the future commitments may cause some teams to pause, you could easily see a contender talking themselves into Mosley’s upside (especially if the linebacker has a solid preseason). Plus, the trade costs surely wouldn’t be that high, meaning a team wouldn’t be compromising their future in a deal.

For what it’s worth, Mosley recently indicated that he has no worries about his ability to come back following a two-year absence:

“Yeah, I don’t have any doubts in myself,” he said during an appearance on The Official Jets Podcast (via the team website). “I mean, [Rob Gronkowski] took two years off [only one] and won a Super Bowl, so it is what it is. I’m here, so we’ll let the play do the talking.

“When you’re out for a while, you’re always in your head, thinking, ‘When I get back, how’s it going to feel? Am I going to be able to move like I used to?’ I feel great.”

Mosley has a chance to be a top comeback candidate, or he could emerge as an albatross contract. While the Jets will surely prefer to see the former option, they could ultimately reduce their risk, pivot more toward the future, and trade the linebacker over the next few months.

Trade Candidates: Patriots RB Sony Michel, WR N’Keal Harry

While Bill Belichick has earned praise for his successful late-round picks, many of his championship rosters have been predicated on early-round draft selections. However, a pair of recent first-round picks have disappointed during their tenures in New England, and the young duo could find themselves playing elsewhere come the start of the 2021 season.

Erik Scalavino of the Patriots website recently discussed the trade availability of edge rusher Chase Winovich (something we looked at yesterday), and the writer believes that running back Sony Michel and wideout N’Keal Harry could also be on the trade block:

“[Winovich] and a handful of other Patriots (Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry?) could be potential trade prospects come August or early September. As always, what their value would be is impossible to predict, but summertime trades often involve player-for-player swaps between teams needed to strengthen certain positions. Something to keep in mind.”

Let’s start with New England’s 2018 first-rounder (No. 31 overall). Michel actually looked like he was well worth his draft stock during his rookie year. He collected 981 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 13 regular season games, and he added another six scores during the Patriots’ run to a championship. Michel’s counting stats went up a bit in 2019 thanks to him appearing in three more games, but his yards per carry dropped from 4.5 (2018) to 3.7 (2019). Michel spent much of the 2020 campaign on the IR and COVID list, finishing with a career-low 563 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

Still, Michel has showed plenty of promise (especially when it matters most), and he’s still only 26 years old. Why would the Patriots shop the young running back? For starters, the former first-rounder is an impending free agent after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year contract. Further, the Patriots haven’t shown any trust in the running back’s ability to catch the ball (26 receptions in 38 games), and it’s clear Michel will never be a three-down back. Considering those two factors, it seems unlikely that Michel will be playing in New England beyond 2021. Finally, New England has plenty of depth at the position; 2019 third-rounder Damien Harris is projected to be the starter, James White will be back in his pass-catching role, and the team also added Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

Harry’s spot on the trade block makes a lot more sense. Since being selected with the 32nd pick in the 2019 draft, the Arizona State product has struggled to show much during his limited opportunities. Harry couldn’t find a groove with Tom Brady during his rookie season, finishing with only 105 receiving yards. With much less receiving depth in 2020, Harry only saw a slight uptick in numbers, finishing with 309 yards from scrimmage. The Patriots have done some work improving their pass-catching corps this offseason, including the additions of veterans Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. This will only slide Harry further down the depth chart.

We haven’t done a whole lot to inspire confidence in either of these young players…so why would rival squads be interested? Well, both players are still on their rookie contracts, making them relatively inexpensive, (potentially) high-upside reclamation projects. Further, while the Patriots have a bit of a roster crunch at each position, there’s no real urgency nor financial advantage to cut the players. If a rival team is interested in Michel and/or Harry, they’ll likely have to acquire the player(s) via trade. New England obviously won’t come close to recouping their first-round investment, but the team could net a late-round pick.

One thing is certain: 2021 will surely be a make-or-break year for both Michel and Harry. The big question is if that crucial season will take place in New England or elsewhere.