Trade Candidate

Trade Candidate: Darius Slayton

The Giants offense has the potential to look extremely different in 2024 than they did in 2023. The starkest change obviously came with star running back Saquon Barkley heading to division-rival Philadelphia. The departures also included those of backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and backup running back Matt Breida, and there’s a chance that the team is not nearly done seeing players walk out the door.

One possible additional departure could be veteran tight end Darren Waller. After injuries limited him in each of the past three years, Waller has been seriously contemplating retirement. While the team was hoping for an update by the draft, that deadline came and went with no decision. The most recent report claims that Waller will inform the team of his intentions by the time the Giants dismiss players for the summer break.

The other potential departure is a bit less cut-and-dried. The more mercurial situation is that of the contract of veteran wide receiver Darius Slayton. The 27-year-old wideout is heading into his sixth year of NFL play and the second year of the two-year, $12MM contract he signed last year to remain in New York. With another contract-year on the horizon, Slayton has been playing hardball in his attempts to attain his third NFL deal.

In April, Slayton made it clear that he was staying away from the first phase of offseason workouts for the Giants, taking a note out of Courtland Sutton‘s book in Denver. That strategy can only work for so long, though, as missing any of the team’s mandatory minicamp in June will result in fines. Giants general manager Joe Schoen denied at that time that the team was engaging in any extension conversations, but Slayton claimed that his agent, Michael Perrett, was in negotiations with Schoen following the draft.

Slayton has excelled in his role after being drafted in the fifth-round out of Auburn in 2019. He exploded onto the scene as a rookie, leading the team in receiving yards (740) and touchdown receptions (8). Since then, Slayton has led the Giants in receiving yards while surpassing 700 yards in every season except for one injury-limiting 2021 campaign. While impressive as a rookie, his inability to improve on those numbers has been limiting to New York’s offensive potential.

While leading the team is certainly an accomplishment, it may also be more a mark on the talent of the team’s receivers. He’s hardly ever the most-targeted player on the team and has twice been targeted fewer times than a running back or tight end. He’s put up impressive numbers for a fifth-round pick catching balls off the arm of Daniel Jones, but he hasn’t nearly put up solid, WR1 numbers.

The results of the draft may play a key role in Slayton’s future, as well. The Giants utilized their No. 6 overall draft pick on LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers, who many believe has the potential to be a true No. 1 wideout. Nabers also has the potential to add to a youth movement that could make Slayton superfluous. Last year saw second-year receiver Wan’Dale Robinson start to break out, and rookie third-round pick Jalin Hyatt began earning some starting snaps in the back half of the season. The two could pair up with Nabers to form a receiving corps that doesn’t need to depend on Slayton to lead the team anymore.

These three factors — Slayton’s hold out strategy, his limited top-end production, and the potential youth movement at receiver — could push the veteran out of New York altogether. The Giants have yet to show that extending Slayton is a priority, and continuing to add young talent to the position room shows that he is not likely to become one.

There are plenty of teams who could use a receiver who could be a strong WR2. As we pointed out in our profile on Titans wideout Treylon Burks earlier this weekend, the Bills and Chargers are paramount on that list after each team watched top receivers (Stefon DiggsGabriel Davis and Keenan AllenMike Williams, respectively) depart in some fashion. The Steelers, Jets, and Ravens all have some question marks on the roster at those positions, as well, but each team would likely be wary of giving away too much for Slayton.

That is another factor for whether or not Slayton finds himself on the trading block. He may not bring in a massive return for New York. Still, even for only a late-round pick or two, shipping Slayton off may be the cleanest way out of overpaying Slayton as a subpar WR1. The team’s top receiver since his arrival in 2019 is set to represent a $8.15MM cap hit in 2024. Trading him away could result in $6.4MM of cap savings.

Trade Candidate: Treylon Burks

Almost a year ago to this day, the Titans claimed they were “satisfied” with their group of wide receivers heading into the 2023 season. Two months later, the team decided to augment the group with the acquisition of veteran free agent DeAndre Hopkins. Still, the team finished 29th in the NFL in passing yards last year, leading to lots of investment in a new wide receiving corps.

Hopkins did his job. In 17 games, he led the team in all receiving categories with 75 catches for 1,057 yards, and seven touchdowns. He didn’t have much help, though, as his 137 targets were more than three times higher than the next most-targeted wideout, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (45), though tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo (77) and running back Tyjae Spears (70) received their fair share of targets.

The rest of the wide receiving corps provided nothing more than auxiliary numbers. After Hopkins, the next leading receivers were 30-year-old Chris Moore (22 receptions/424 yards/zero touchdowns), the undrafted Westbrook-Ihkine (28/370/3), and finally, former first-round pick Treylon Burks (16/221/0).

Burks experienced a bit of sophomore slump in 2023, even after putting up middling stats (33/444/1) in his rookie season. In both seasons, Burks has missed six contests with injury. His rookie year, turf toe landed him on injured reserve. This past season, an LCL sprain caused him to miss even more time.

Burks opportunity to turn things around in 2024 will be difficult in Tennessee. Though Moore has departed in free agency, Hopkins and Westbrook-Ikhine return next season. Additionally, the Titans invested massive capital in signing free agents Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd. Not only is this group a massive improvement over last year’s, but Hopkins also claims this is one of the best wide receiving corps he’s ever been a part of, per Michael David Smith of NBC Sports. That’s big praise for someone who shared the field with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk.

With Ridley, Hopkins, and Boyd manning the first-team offense and Westbrook-Ikhine showing more reliability in 2023 than Burks, the 24-year-old out of Arkansas will struggle to see much of the field this year. Even if he does get some snaps, he’s going to have to earn targets over those four, as well. It’s starting to seem that if Burks is going to turn things around, it will require a change of scenery.

Before last year’s trade deadline, the Titans made it clear that running back Derrick Henry and Hopkins were not available. They were more receptive to hearing offers on Burks but were not necessarily inclined to move a young, former Day 1 pick. One has to imagine that, with the additions of Ridley and Boyd, their stances may have changed.

Tennessee is likely not going to fetch a first-round value out of Burks like what Baltimore got out of Marquise Brown a couple years ago, but some teams may still see the potential value in acquiring the sixth receiver off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. Even if they aren’t quite satisfied with the offers they receive for Burks, his value is likely only going to decline in 2024, barring a shocking breakout season.

As for teams with wide receiver needs following the draft and free agency, the Ravens, Bills, Chargers, Steelers, and Jets could all stand to take a swing. The Bills and Chargers probably house the biggest need. With Buffalo losing both Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis this offseason, Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel, and rookie second-round pick Keon Coleman lead their room. After losing star veterans Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Los Angeles is depending on Josh Palmer, last year’s first-round pick Quentin Johnston, and second-round rookie Ladd McConkey in 2024.

The Steelers (George Pickens, Van Jefferson, Roman Wilson) and Jets (Garrett Wilson, Williams, Malachi Corley) are each relying on a dynamic, young talent, an intriguing free agent, and a third-round rookie, while Baltimore could be looking to add another pass catcher to replace Odell Beckham Jr.‘s production from last year.

The Titans should have some options if they feel the need to move Burks or if Burks feels the need to request a change of scenery. Either way, it’s hard to see a situation in which Burks finds tremendous success as WR4 or WR5 on a Tennessee offense quarterbacked by Will Levis. If Burks wants to turn his career around and if the team wants to maximize his value, a move might be necessary this offseason or before the next trade deadline.

NFL Workouts: Giants, Bears, Titans, Grant

With NFL rookie minicamps coming to a close, we can take a look at some of the notable names that were invited for veteran tryouts during the rookies’ introduction to the NFL. The Giants were one of the teams with multiple veteran free agents in attendance, as noted by Pat Leonard of NY Daily News.

Two outside linebackers were auditioned this week in New York. Myjai Sanders worked out with the team after playing sparingly in seven games for the Texans last year. A former third-round pick for the Cardinals, Sanders had three sacks as a rookie but, after falling down the depth chart, found himself being auctioned off as a trade candidate before ultimately getting waived.

The other was Shaka Toney, a former seventh-round pick for the Commanders who was waived just before the draft. He’s only played major snaps in one game over his two years, his lone start out of 26 games played, but totes 1.5 sacks on his record.

The third veteran in attendance was wide receiver Jared Bernhardt.

Here are a few other notable minicamp auditions that took place around the league:

  • The Bears also hosted three veterans, even eventually signing tight end Tommy Sweeney. Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic reports that cornerback Parry Nickerson and wide receiver Freddie Swain were the other two veterans in attendance this week. Nickerson entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2018 for the Jets. Since then, he’s bounced around with one season each at in Jacksonville, Green Bay, Minnesota, and, most recently, Miami. Swain had a decent start to his career after two seasons in Seattle but didn’t play in 2023 after appearing in only four games in 2022 between time in Miami and Denver.
  • The Titans were another team to host multiple notable veteran names, namely cornerback William Jackson III and pass rusher Shane Ray, per Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 and Turron Davenport of ESPN. After playing out a rookie contract in Cincinnati, Jackson earned a three-year, $40.5MM contract with the Commanders but requested a trade that landed him with the Steelers a year in a half into the deal, though he never got to play for them. He hasn’t appeared in a game since Week 5 of 2022. Ray’s absence from the NFL has been even longer. A first-round pick for the Broncos in 2015, Ray hasn’t played in the league since 2018. He joined the Bills last offseason, reuniting with his former Denver teammate Von Miller, but he was cut before the regular season.
  • After attending the Eagles’ rookie minicamp, wide receiver and return specialist Jakeem Grant also worked out for the Saints at their rookie minicamp, per Mike Triplett of NewOrleans.Football. Grant hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since the 2021 season as he’s rehabilitated a torn Achilles and a ruptured patella tendon, but the last time he played, he earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors.
  • Lastly, the Dolphins hosted pass rusher Aaron Lynch for a tryout, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Lynch showed promise after tallying 12.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the 49ers but never managed more than three in a season over the next five years. He hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2020.

Trade Candidates: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton

Another slow start in Denver has brought about the latest round of trade talks involving the struggling team. Although Randy Gregory went for this season’s trendy low-end trade package — player/seventh for a sixth — and Frank Clark surfaced as a trade chip before being released, the Broncos’ top two wide receivers are again at the center of the trade rumors surrounding the team. With the Broncos at 1-5, they are likely not done moving pieces for draft capital.

In their third full season together, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton have each spent multiple Octobers in trade rumors. Sutton signed a four-year, $60MM extension in October 2021 but surfaced as a potential trade piece ahead of last year’s deadline. Jeudy, who remains attached to a first-round rookie contract, generated far more interest going into the 2022 deadline.

Teams called the Broncos about Jeudy and Sutton last season, but GM George Paton stood down on both. With the presumed goal of the duo helping a retooled offense around Russell Wilson in 2023, the Broncos held onto their top weapons. While this season has not produced the offensive disaster 2022 did, the Broncos are still not where they want to be on that side of the ball. And both receivers have again come up in potential deals, as the Broncos are believed to be willing to listen on just about anyone not named Patrick Surtain.

The Broncos informed at least two teams — the Cowboys and Giants — their Jeudy pursuit was not sufficient to make a move. Denver was connected to wanting a second-round pick at that point, but this offseason, the now-Sean Payton-run team placed a first-round price on the 2020 first-round pick. Teams understandably balked at that, and Jeudy came into the season as the team’s expected top target. Success has largely eluded the shifty wideout, who has drawn criticism from former players for his unremarkable performance. Through five games (after missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury), Jeudy has just 20 receptions for 222 yards and no touchdowns.

Sutton’s 275 yards and four TD receptions lead the Broncos, and the team did not hold out for a first-round pick in exchange for the former second-rounder this offseason. Denver sought a second-round pick for Sutton, whose $15MM-per-year contract runs through 2025. The Ravens appeared close to making a deal in March, but talks slowed and the team pivoted to a $15MM guarantee for Odell Beckham Jr. While Baltimore’s OBJ signing has not panned out to this point, Sutton is highly unlikely to fetch a second-round pick. Jeudy will not score a first-rounder for the Broncos, and teams may be balking at the Alabama alum’s fully guaranteed $12.99MM 2024 option salary.

A 2018 draftee who developed behind former Denver dynamic duo Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Sutton has a 1,000-yard season under his belt. That came back in 2019, with a Joe FlaccoBrandon AllenDrew Lock QB platter targeting the 6-foot-4 receiver. Even as the Broncos’ offense cratered to last place under Nathaniel Hackett, Jeudy posted 972 yards and finished the season strong, recording three 100-yard games in his final five.

Unavailability has largely defined the Broncos’ 2020s receiver blueprint. Sutton suffered an ACL tear in Week 2 of the 2020 season, starting a pattern of injuries that kept the Broncos from fully deploying their planned wideout array together. A reliable target in 2020 and 2021, Tim Patrick also signed an extension in November of ’21 (three years, $30MM) but the 6-4 possession target has suffered ACL and Achilles tears during the past two training camps. The injuries obviously leave the former UDFA’s Broncos future in doubt. Patrick’s injury came after KJ Hamler ran into another health issue, seeing a heart problem lead to a cut. While the Broncos left the door open to the former second-rounder returning, Hamler is now on the Colts’ practice squad. Jeudy has missed 10 career games.

Denver followed up one of the best receiver eras in franchise history — a five-season Thomas-Sanders partnership that involved lucrative extensions sandwiching the team’s Super Bowl 50 win — with what has amounted to a letdown. Payton has been unable to coax steady production from either thus far, and moving one of them appears likely — especially if losses continue ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline. A trade would open up more playing time for second-round pick Marvin Mims, who has shown flashes as a deep threat. The Broncos have not used the Payton-era pickup too often, however, playing him on just 97 snaps thus far. Mims’ 246 receiving yards still top Jeudy’s output.

Jeudy, 24, is tied to a $2.68MM base salary this year. Sutton, 28, is attached to a $14MM base that will be much harder to move. Under Paton, the Broncos have shown a willingness to eat salary to facilitate trades. The Broncos paid all but the prorated veteran minimum to move Von Miller in 2021 (for second- and third-round picks) and did the same to send out Gregory earlier this season. Denver has also been this period’s most notable seller, having dealt Thomas in 2018 (to the Texans, for a fourth-round pick), Sanders in 2019 (to the 49ers, for third- and fourth-rounders) and Bradley Chubb (to the Dolphins, for first- and fourth-rounders, along with Chase Edmonds).

Keeping viable receivers in place to help Wilson may no longer be a concern for the Broncos, who will undoubtedly consider moving on from the underwhelming trade acquisition — via a record-setting dead-money charge, even in a post-June 1 cut scenario — in 2024. But the team’s offseason asking prices for Jeudy and Sutton will probably not be met. Both players do not appear part of Payton’s long-term plan, and each would probably be more interesting on a contender with a better offensive setup.

The Broncos will need to determine how much below asking price they will be willing to go to move on from the pillars of a promising but ultimately disappointing receiving cast. The team has less than two weeks to decide.

Trade Candidate: Patrick Queen

The expectations have been high for Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen ever since he heard his name announced from the Bronxville home of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In 2019, the Ravens felt the significant loss of four-time second-team All-Pro selection and Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley as they trotted out Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes, and L.J. Fort in starting positions. With Queen failing to quite fill the shoes left by Mosley and the legends before him (Daryl Smith, Ray Lewis), he may find himself on the trade block heading into the 2023 season.

For three years, Queen was part of a stout LSU defense. He didn’t find much playing time in his first two seasons with the Tigers, playing behind future Pro Bowler Devin White. In his junior season, though, Queen finally found significant time on the field, starting 11 of 15 games in the team’s National Championship season and winning defensive MVP honors for the season finale win over Clemson. Despite only having started 16 of 41 career games, Queen opted to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

Queen ended up as the fourth inside linebacker drafted in the first round that year, but at this point in time, he may be the most successful of the four. All four first-round picks from that year had their fifth-year options declined, and while Jordyn Brooks has had some highly productive seasons in Seattle, the back half of Queen’s 2022 season may be the best linebacker play we’ve seen out of that draft class so far.

Queen hit the ground running in Baltimore, starting every game of his NFL career so far. In his first two seasons of NFL play, Queen put up the numbers that a starting inside linebacker should. Over his first 33 games, he collected 204 total tackles, five sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, three force fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), three passes defensed, and an interception.

Despite lighting up all the different areas of the stat sheet, analytics failed to see the hype of Queen as a top linebacker. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the young linebacker ranked 82nd out of 83 ranked players at his position in his rookie year and 71st of 86 in his sophomore season.

Queen had a bit of a breakout year in 2022. He posted career-highs in total tackles (117), sacks (5.0), quarterback hits (14), passes defensed (6), and interceptions (2). Analytically, he also slotted in at PFF’s 31st best linebacker, a significant improvement over previous years. It wasn’t just the increased experience or finally adjusting to the speed of the game at the NFL level that led to this breakout. The midseason acquisition of first-team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith paid huge dividends towards Queen’s improvement.

Smith’s addition affected Queen’s situation in more ways than just on-the-field improvement. At the conclusion of the season, a big money extension to Smith, the newcomer in Baltimore, made it clear where the Ravens’ priorities lie at linebacker. While they were surely happy to see the improvement from Queen throughout his third season in the league, Queen hadn’t quite shown enough in his first three years to warrant a fifth-year option pickup, and in the meantime, the Ravens were getting cozy long-term with Smith.

Early reports indicated that Queen could find himself on the trade block leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft. When nothing came of those rumors, it was reported that Baltimore had hopes of extending Queen. While that’s a nice sentiment, it’s not common to see two off-ball linebackers on the same team get paid big money. With Smith’s new contract averaging $20MM per year, paying Queen top dollar is just not feasible.

Queen himself spoke on the situation and claimed that he hopes to remain with the team for an extended period. In order to do that, though, Queen likely will have to take less money than he’s probably looking for in his second NFL contract. In an ideal world, Queen’s second contract could approach $8MM to $9MM per year. But with the Ravens recent deals, I think Queen would be lucky to get around $7MM. The Ravens may be able to offer something around a three-year, $20MM deal or a four-year, $25MM extension, but is that a deal Queen would consider?

Likely, Queen would see the vast improvement he made in Year 3 and opt to bet on himself in a contract year. He may see that he’s pricing his way out of Baltimore like many Ravens defenders before him. If that’s the case, the Ravens, seeing the writing on the wall that they may be losing Queen regardless, may decide that they want to get something in return for Queen as opposed to nothing.

If the two sides can’t reach common ground in extension negotiations, Baltimore may opt to trade their former first-round pick away for draft compensation. The move would also clear approximately $2.27MM of cap space, according to OvertheCap.com. It’s not the ideal scenario for either side, but both sides are going to feel they have leverage in this negotiation. Queen, having just completed the best season of his career, will want to get paid for his best football. The Ravens, on the other hand, secured one of the league’s best linebackers to a five-year deal and drafted Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson in the third round of this year’s draft. Obviously, Simpson is an unproven commodity, but if he can slot in successfully next to Smith, Queen may become superfluous.

So, that’s the situation. Queen and the Ravens both appear interested in a long-term relationship that keeps Queen alongside Smith in Baltimore. The Ravens, likely anticipating the desires of their top 2020 draft pick, have bolstered themselves with Smith and Simpson. If Queen decides to draw a line on his worth that the Ravens can’t reach, the team may be ready to move on from the ascending, young player and seek compensation for what they will eventually lose for nothing.

Trade Candidate: Bills DE Carlos Basham Jr.

The Bills have a number of pass rushing options at their disposal compared to previous years. The team has used both free agent deals and the draft to add to their edge rushing arsenal recently, but the latter path has not worked as expected with Carlos Basham Jr. As a result, he could find himself playing elsewhere in 2023.

Selected in the second round of the 2021 draft, ‘Boogie’ came to Buffalo with considerable expectations. His final three seasons at Wake Forest resulted in a total of 19.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss, demonstrating his abilities as a disruptive presence in the passing game coupled with an intriguing frame (6-3, 281 pounds). His first two years in the NFL have not gone as planned, however.

Basham has made 27 combined appearances in the regular season and playoffs, but he has yet to register a start. Playing in a rotational role behind a host of other edge rushers, he has logged a snap share of 39% in both of his Bills campaigns. Notably, his spot in the pecking order is behind that of fellow former second-round pick A.J. Epenesa. Bashasm has totaled 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and one interception to date.

Buffalo made a major investment in their defensive front by signing Von Miller last offseason. The future Hall of Famer’s debut Bills season was cut short by an ACL tear, but he has appeared increasingly optimistic that he could be available in time for Week 1 of the 2023 campaign. Even if that is not the case, recent addition Leonard Floyd will give the team an experienced presence off the edge. When at full strength, the Bills’ depth at the position could leave Basham better suited for a new opportunity.

As a result, the latest roster projection from Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic includes Basham being dealt before the start of the season (subscription required). His college pedigree and status as a recent second-rounder could entice teams to take a flier on him, especially since he has two years remaining on his rookie contract. At the age of 25, there could still be considerable potential yet to be unlocked by an acquiring team, particularly one willing to use him both on the edge and the interior.

A trade would yield $1.17MM in cap savings for the Bills in 2023, and another $1.43MM next year, compared to modest dead cap charges. Added flexibility could be valuable given the team’s limited space and their win-now approach, while a change of scenery could result in increased playing time for Basham. In any event, the 2023 season could prove to be a critical one in his pro development.

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.