After two years of relative quiet on the trade front, the wheeling and dealing has been hot and heavy ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The 49ers got the ball rolling last month, sending the No. 12 overall pick, two future first-round choices and a third-round selection in 2022 to the Dolphins for the No. 3 overall pick, where they intend to find their future quarterback. Miami then moved back up to the sixth overall spot, sending its 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia and swapping mid-round picks this year. That ensures the Dolphins will be able to grab a top-tier prospect (probably LSU product Ja’Marr Chase) and still hold on to two future selections.
Throw in the Rams and Lions trading picks and veteran QBs (with Matthew Stafford going to Los Angeles and Jared Goff heading to Detroit) and the Panthers scooping up Sam Darnold from the Jets, and the NFL practically had its own version of a Hot Stove League this spring.
Even the comparatively staid 2019 and 2020 NFL Drafts, in which only two draft-day deals for a top-14 choice were consummated (one in each draft), illustrate what teams hope to accomplish by swapping picks. In 2019, Pittsburgh moved up for linebacker Devin Bush, who ended up in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. And last year, the Buccaneers moved up one spot for offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who helped protect Tom Brady as he led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title.
So there’s good reason to believe teams aren’t done doing business. Consider also that over the past 10 drafts, an average of six Day 1 trades involving first-round picks occurred each year, with a high of nine deals being made in 2012.
Looking ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft, who else will sacrifice draft picks in pursuit of help at key positions? Below are seven additional prospective trades that I could see being made on April 29 when the draft opens in Cleveland (if not before).
Panthers also receive: 2021 fourth-rounder, 2021 seventh-rounder.
Four times in the past 10 drafts, a team has moved up one spot in within the first 10 overall picks to grab a desired prospect. The success of the Tristan Wirfs trade was not copied by the other single-spot ascensions in that span (the Bears traded up one spot to take quarterback Mitch Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, while the Browns did it twice, moving up to take cornerback Justin Gilbert eighth overall in 2014 and running back Trent Richardson third overall in 2012). But that shouldn’t preclude the Broncos from trying to get their quarterback of the future.
New Denver general manager George Paton was not part of the group that drafted incumbent QB Drew Lock in the second round two years ago, so he has no personal investment to consider there. Given that Paton has already said there will be competition at that position, the chance to acquire Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones could be too good to pass up.
Carolina made its quarterback move in the Darnold trade, and the team would surely tell Paton all about any offers it has already received for the pick. New Panthers GM Scott Fitterer will be happy to take fourth- and seventh-round picks from the Broncos to move down and still select the offensive lineman (Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater), cornerback (Alabama’s Patrick Surtain) or wide receiver (DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle out of Alabama) he and head coach Matt Rhule covet at No. 9 overall.
Giants also receive: 2021 third-rounder, 2022 first-rounder.
Chicago GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy must make progress toward becoming a Super Bowl contender in the 2021 season if they plan on being around in 2022. Signing veteran quarterback Andy Dalton might help the team contend for the NFC North in the fall, but drafting a fresh-faced passer would also give Pace and Nagy another building block to which they can point for the future.
If any of the top five quarterbacks make it to the 11th selection, I suspect the Giants will be taking calls so they can move down and acquire more picks. New York needs a pass rusher, but the value at that position will be better in the bottom third of the round, so moving to Chicago’s 20th overall selection and grabbing Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Michigan’s Kwity Paye or Jaelan Phillips or Gregory Rousseau out of Miami there makes sense.
The Bears would likely trade a 2022 first-round selection and a third-round pick in this year’s draft to make the move. If the Giants aren’t interested in trading down, then the Bears will likely try the Eagles at No. 12 overall and the Chargers at No. 13 overall to hold off other teams possibly looking for a future quarterback.
Even if the Broncos do move up to the eighth pick as I project, Pace and Nagy still have New England (currently drafting No. 15th overall), New Orleans (28th), Pittsburgh (24th) and Washington (19th) to worry about, in terms of potential competition in the QB hunt.
Dolphins also receive: 2021 third-rounder, 2021 sixth-rounder.
It’s reasonable for Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry to feel their defense is a couple of players away from being championship-caliber.
An athletic, tough-nosed middle linebacker would be one of those key pieces — Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Kentucky’s Jamin Davis are two worthy of mid-first-round picks. Trading with the Dolphins gets the Browns ahead of Washington at 19 as well as other teams looking for an elite second-level defender.
The Browns have extra selections in the third and fourth rounds available this year to make something happen. The Dolphins, while owning five of the top 81 selections, are currently scheduled to sit out Rounds 4 and 6. Cleveland would likely have to send their late-third-rounder and a sixth-rounder to Miami in the deal.
Colts also receive: Two 2021 fourth-rounders.
Green Bay has become an aggressive team in the first round under GM Brian Gutekunst, entering his fourth season on the job. The Packers have traded up in each of the past three drafts, twice for defensive help (cornerback Jaire Alexander, taken 18th overall in 2018, and safety Darnell Savage, taken 21st in 2019).
Another trade seems like it could be in the offing this year, and that switch could net the Colts two late fourth-round selections. Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome is the most logical target for the Packers at 21, though Jamin Davis and Zaven Collins, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, and even Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley could be in the mix, with Farley’s back injury potentially preventing teams from taking him in the top half of the first round.
Indianapolis may have interest in some of those players, too, but the Colts could instead take the extra picks and select Texas left tackle Samuel Cosmi or cornerback Eric Stokes at 29.
Jaguars also receive: 2021 fourth-rounder, 2021 fifth-rounder.
Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz’s injury issues came to a head when they were unable to suit up for the loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV, and the Chiefs subsequently jettisoned both offensive tackles. As part of his attempt to rebuild the offensive line, Andy Reid could very well emulate the Wirfs trade that the Bucs pulled off last year, finding at least one solid starter to keep Patrick Mahomes from constantly fleeing pressure.
Assuming the top four tackles are off the board by 25, Kansas City could target Samuel Cosmi or Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood here. Jacksonville could use a tackle, as well, but with Cam Robinson playing on a franchise tag, the Jags can afford to trade back and find a value at 31, or select a receiver (LSU’s Terrace Marshall, Florida’s Kadarius Toney) or a cornerback like Eric Stokes.
The Chiefs would trade fourth and fifth-round picks to the Jaguars in this deal; they own two picks in each round after being awarded free agent compensatory selections.
Ravens also receive: 2021 fourth-rounder, 2021 fifth-rounder.
If the Falcons want to buy into the QB lottery, they’ll select one fourth overall. But if they want to win in 2021, they’ll select tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4 (while they could trade that choice to a QB-needy team, I happen to think a weapon like Pitts is worth taking in the top five), then move into the late first round to get a desperately-needed pass rusher. As was mentioned earlier, the value at defensive end is in the lower third of the first round this year. Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh and Miami’s duo of Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau could all be around where Baltimore’s set to select.
The Ravens may have interest in one of those players, too, but they could also be motivated to trade out to find value on the edge in a later round. In past drafts, they’ve found linebackers Tyus Bowser (Round 2, 2017), Matt Judon (Round 5, 2016), Za’Darius Smith (Round 4, 2015) and Pernell McPhee (Round 5, 2011) outside the first round. This year, potential selections include Daelin Hayes (Notre Dame), Janarius Robinson (Florida State) and Elerson Smith (Northern Iowa).
Atlanta moves a fourth- and fifth-round pick (they have three in the latter round) to Baltimore in his deal.
Bills also receive: 2021 fourth-rounder, 2021 fifth-rounder.
The Eagles own 11 selections in this draft, so I suspect they’ll look for movement opportunities. They could trade back into the first round for a receiver (Terrace Marshall, Kadarius Toney) to help anointed starter Jalen Hurts, a tight end (Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth) if Zach Ertz is traded, a starting cornerback (Eric Stokes, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr.), or one of the pass rushers mentioned above to ensure their defense is good enough to compete for the NFC East title.
Buffalo is also looking for a young edge rusher or cornerback, but the Bills’ roster is so solid, they can afford to find value later while picking up good middle-round selections to foster competition at the back end of the depth chart. Or they could use those mid-round picks to move up in the second round to get a top-50 prospect.
The Eagles would also send a fourth- and fifth-round pick to the Bills in this swap.
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