NFL Players Not Named Aaron Rodgers Who Must Be Traded After 1st Week of Free Agency
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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
As the NFL world waits for the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets to iron out the details of an Aaron Rodgers trade, other players also need a change of scenery.
Players request permission to seek a trade for a variety of reasons: playing time, a new contract or a better team fit.
According to NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe, the Tennessee Titans wanted two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard to take a pay cut, but he doesn’t plan to accept a reduced salary. While the two sides don’t see eye to eye on financial matters, Byard hasn’t requested a trade yet, which leaves time for a resolution.
Several other players have likely gone past the point of no return with their respective clubs because of financial aspirations, the loss of a starting position or the direction of the club. We’ll highlight nine players who must move on to a situation that better suits them, providing the best team fit for each veteran in 2023.
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
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AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez
Best Team Fit: Seattle Seahawks
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the 2020 draft, but he tumbled down the running back depth chart this past season, falling behind Isiah Pacheco, who came out of Rutgers as a seventh-round pick in 2022.
By the end of the 2022 term, Pacheco handled the lion’s share of the Chiefs’ carries and finished with a team-leading 830 rushing yards with five touchdowns. In Super Bowl 57, Kansas City listed Edwards-Helaire as a healthy scratch, going with Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones at running back.
Buried in the running back rotation, Edwards-Helaire needs to go elsewhere for a bounce-back campaign. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, some teams will eye the Chiefs ball-carrier as a trade option.
Because of a sluggish running back market, Kansas City shouldn’t expect much in return for Edwards-Helaire—maybe a late-round pick.
The Seattle Seahawks should push to acquire Edwards-Helaire to replace Rashaad Penny, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.
The Seahawks can pair Kenneth Walker III and Edwards-Helaire in their backfield. The former would handle early-down touches while the latter carves out a pass-catching role on third down. Edwards-Helaire has hauled in 72 passes for 577 yards and six touchdowns in 33 games.
WR Brandin Cooks
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AP Photo/Zach Bolinger
Best Team Fit: New England Patriots
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio answered a question about the possibility of a Brandin Cooks trade deal.
“We’ll do what’s best for the team moving forward,” Caserio said.
Caserio’s response sounds like coded language for a general manager who has a notable player on the trade block. Remember, after the conclusion of the Texans’ 2022 campaign, Cooks said that he doesn’t want to play on a rebuilding squad, per Jonathan M. Alexander of the Houston Chronicle.
This offseason, the Texans have hired their third head coach in three years. Though new lead skipper DeMeco Ryans brings hope to a franchise that hasn’t won more than four games in a single season since 2019, Cooks isn’t a fit for a club that has to build a foundation from the ground up.
Cooks can reunite with his former Texans head coach and general manager, Bill O’Brien, who’s set to start his second stint as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
In 2020, O’Brien flexed his general manager muscle to acquire Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams. Though the Texans fired him after Week 4 of the ensuing campaign, the wideout went on to haul in 81 passes for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns.
Cooks should seamlessly fit into the Patriots’ aerial attack, which needs more perimeter speed.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Best Team Fit: Kansas City Chiefs
The Arizona Cardinals will likely trade DeAndre Hopkins in the near future. According to Mike Jurecki of the Arizona Football Daily podcast, the club has trade parameters in place, and it wants a second-round pick along with a conditional pick or player.
Despite recent injuries and a six-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, Hopkins is still a top-notch wideout. The 30-year-old receiver finished 10th in receiving yards per catch (79.7) last season.
If the Cardinals want a second-rounder and a later pick or player for Hopkins, they’ll likely field calls from several suitors. Don’t be surprised if the Kansas City Chiefs make an offer.
Kansas City lost wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster to the New England Patriots in free agency, and it could lose Mecole Hardman as well. In his post-combine notes, NBC Sports Edge’s Matthew Berry heard that the Chiefs “really like Allen Lazard.” The former Green Bay Packers wideout signed with the New York Jets, per Jordan Schultz of The Score.
So, the Chiefs could lose two wideouts, and one of their reported free-agent targets at the position signed with the Jets. By the way, tight end Travis Kelce will turn 34 years old in October.
The Chiefs can make room for Hopkins, who’s willing to be “flexible” with the final two years of his contract. Kansas City has $14.1 million in cap space, though the front office can restructure Patrick Mahomes’ contract to save $23.9 million.
With a chance to play with the 2022 league MVP in Mahomes on the reigning championship squad, Hopkins may revert to his All-Pro form in a pass-heavy offense that doesn’t have a No. 1 wide receiver.
WR Allen Robinson II
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AP Photo/John McCoy
Best Team Fit: Tennessee Titans
Last offseason, the Los Angeles Rams grabbed headlines when they signed Allen Robinson II, but he turned into a free-agent acquisition dud. The 6’2″, 210-pound wideout struggled to produce and missed the final seven weeks of the 2022 campaign because of a foot injury that required surgery. Robinson finished with 33 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns.
According to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, the Rams have granted Robinson permission to seek a trade, and they’re willing to eat a portion of his salary. If that’s the case, teams may be willing to make an offer for him despite his $18.1 million cap number in 2023.
Still 29 years old, Robinson may be able to rebound with a team that has a major void to fill at wide receiver. He’ll see a ton of targets and have plenty of opportunities to make plays in the passing game.
With that said, Robinson has recorded fewer than 39 catches and 411 receiving yards in consecutive injury-riddled campaigns. So, a wideout-needy team could have a clear indication of whether he’s on a steady decline or capable of a bounce-back season right away.
In February, the Titans cut Robert Woods. They should be on the lookout for an experienced wide receiver to complement Treylon Burks, who’s going into his second year. Headed into his 10th season, Robinson has the veteran savvy to fill that role. With three 1,147-plus-yard campaigns on his resume, he’s capable of filling a go-to role if age and injuries haven’t taken a toll on him.
OT Jonah Williams
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Best Team Fit: Chicago Bears
Late Wednesday, the Cincinnati Bengals made a splashy signing, inking four-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year, $64 million contract.
Not long after the Bengals came to terms with Brown, Jonah Williams requested a trade, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Williams may not have a strong market, though. He allowed 12 sacks while on the field for 1,101 snaps in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus. Coupled with his issues in pass protection, Williams is due $12.6 million on a fifth-year option term.
Because of Williams’ salary and shaky pass protection, the Bengals won’t get a first-round pick (maybe not a second-rounder, either) for him, which makes the four-year tackle worth an inquiry.
Last year, the Chicago Bears took a flier on offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, whom the Las Vegas Raiders selected in the first round of the 2021 draft and then waived last August. They didn’t have to give up draft capital for him, though general manager Ryan Poles should offer a third- or fourth-round pick to Cincinnati for Williams, who’s also a former first-rounder (2019) with 42 starts on his resume.
Perhaps the Bears would experiment with Williams at right tackle following his rough year on the left side.
C Ryan Kelly
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AP Photo/Adam Hunger
Best Team Fit: New York Jets
Before the start of free agency, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler dropped an interesting nugget in his report about potential sellers:
“Meanwhile, teams that went all-in to contend for a championship now must shed salary. Some of those teams will stay very active on the phones, feeling out potential suitors. The Colts are believed to be one. Sources with several NFL teams say three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly is available for a potential trade or release.”
Every year between 2019 and 2021, Kelly earned Pro Bowl honors. In 2020, he made the second-team All-Pro list. Despite those accolades, the Colts center may be on the trade block with a new offensive coaching staff in place.
Perhaps head coach Shane Steichen and his staff prefer a less costly player at center. Kelly signed a four-year, $49.7 million extension in 2020. If Indianapolis is a seller with its starting center on the hook, the New York Jets should bite with an aggressive offer.
The Jets could lose center Connor McGovern in free agency; they signed Wes Schweitzer, who has experience at that position, but Kelly would be a significant upgrade. With 39-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely on his way to New York, Gang Green should look to solidify its offensive line.
Edge Za’Darius Smith
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Best Team Fit: Carolina Panthers
Days before the legal tampering period, Za’Darius Smith informed the Minnesota Vikings that he wanted to move on, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Thus far, the club has held on to Smith, likely in hopes to find a trade partner for a three-time Pro Bowl player coming off a 10-sack season.
The Vikings should be able to get draft capital, a fourth-rounder at least, for Smith, who plays a premium position on defense.
The Carolina Panthers have limited draft capital after they sent a package of picks and wideout DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears for this year’s No. 1 overall selection. However, if they can acquire Smith, who’s 30 years old, in exchange for one of their fourth-round picks, that’s a good deal.
Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, an ascending play-caller, would have a high-end pass-rushing duo with Brian Burns and Smith on the edge.
LB Patrick Queen
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AP Photo/Nick Wass
Best Team Fit: Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts lost linebacker Bobby Okereke to the New York Giants in free agency. Last season, three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard missed 14 games with back, head and nose injuries.
The Colts’ new regime retained defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. So, they don’t need wholesale changes on that side of the ball, but the club should add a young second-level defender to replace Okereke with Leonard coming off back surgery.
General manager Chris Ballard should call Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, who didn’t say if he would exercise linebacker Patrick Queen’s fifth-year option while at this year’s combine.
Before the 2022 trade deadline, the Ravens acquired Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears and signed him to a five-year, $100 million extension. Teams rarely give big contracts to two off-ball linebackers (except the Bears in free agency this year).
Baltimore may eventually let Queen walk away as a free agent with Smith making $20 million annually and quarterback Lamar Jackson seeking a new deal.
Instead, the Ravens can command a middle-round pick for Queen, who had a standout 2022 campaign with 117 tackles, nine for loss, five sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions, allowing an 83.1 passer rating in coverage. If they do, the Colts can offer pick No. 106 (a fourth-rounder).
S Jeremy Chinn
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Best Team Fit: Las Vegas Raiders
The Carolina Panthers signed Vonn Bell on a three-year, $22.5 million contract that includes $13 million in guarantees.
Based on Bell’s new salary, he’ll likely start at safety, which raises questions about Jeremy Chinn, who plays a similar role.
With far less starting experience than Bell and Xavier Woods, Chinn may not play enough snaps to fully showcase himself in a contract year. With an eye toward free agency in 2024, he should want out of Carolina.
Chinn may draw interest from the Las Vegas Raiders, who have his former defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach on staff in Jason Simmons.
The Panthers selected Chinn in the second round of the 2021 draft, and he finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year votes. Though the 25-year-old safety missed six contests because of a hamstring injury this past season, he still registered 70 tackles, two for loss, a sack and six pass breakups while allowing a 93.2 (out of a possible 158.3) passer rating in coverage.
The Raiders have yet to re-sign Duron Harmon, and Tre’von Moehrig made few impact plays and struggled in pass defense last season, allowing a 129.7 passer rating in coverage. Marcus Epps, the club’s newest addition at safety, only has one year as a full-time starter on his resume.
With Simmons on staff, the Raiders can further tap into Chinn’s potential as he goes into a crucial season.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.