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Matt Patterson / Associated Press
The last two NFL offseasons have brought more trades featuring star players than we’ve ever seen. The player empowerment movement from the NBA has clearly made its way to football, as rich contracts await some of the biggest names. Teams are no longer hoarding draft picks when an impactful veteran becomes available after stalled negotiations.
Pouncing on the opportunity to acquire a high-priced veteran is a calculated gamble. The value that a low-priced rookie contract can produce is unbeatable compared to a veteran’s salary. But the chances of a rookie helping as much as an established player is low, especially after the first round.
Trades can also be difficult due to salary-cap restraints and the message that certain deals send to the rest of the roster and fanbase. However, contenders need to load up for playoff runs, using rebuilding teams need assets and flexibility.
After scouring team needs and assets remaining, we’ve assembled five trades that teams should try to execute before the 2022 draft starts April 28.
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Deal: Browns get DT Grady Jarrett; Falcons get pick No. 99, 2023 third-round pick
The Cleveland Browns went all-in on winning now with their trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Continuing to build for 2022 should be the play, and bargain-shopping for a solid veteran makes the most sense.
Their most pressing hole is at defensive tackle, as the rotation of Taven Bryan, Jordan Elliott and Tommy Togiai lacks reliability. Calling the rebuilding Falcons about soon-to-be 29-year-old tackle Grady Jarrett can be mutually beneficial.
Atlanta is in the midst of creating flexibility after trading receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan over the last year. Getting two middle-round picks and shedding Jarrett’s $ 23.8 million salary-cap hit in the final year of his deal would free up $ 16.5 million.
Cleveland, which has $ 19.9 million in cap space, can open a considerable amount of cap space to afford Jarrett. Between trading quarterback Baker Mayfield and possible extensions for David Njoku and Denzel Ward, affording Jarrett would be easy. His addition could give the Browns the league’s best overall roster.
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Deal: Saints get WR DK Metcalf; Seahawks get 19th pick, 120th pick, 2023 second-round pick
After Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill were traded and landed top-of-the-market deals, the trickle-down effect was massive for other young receiving stars. Stefon Diggs quickly signed a four-year, $ 96 million extension with the Bills. Then speculation became louder about the futures of Deebo Samuel and DK Metcalf.
Metcalf is a particularly interesting heading into the final year of his deal. The 6’4 “, 235-pound receiver is the most gifted in the league based on stature alone, and the 24-year-old has posted impressive production to go with his physique, having put up 216 catches, 3,170 yards and 29 scores However, his place with the Seahawks is questionable after star QB Russell Wilson’s departure.
Will the Seahawks extend him for $ 25 million per year if his stats regress with Drew Lock or Baker Mayfield throwing to him? Metcalf might not even be interested in continuing with a franchise staring down a rebuild, especially if Pete Carroll decides to retire as he turns 71 this fall. Trading Metcalf now would be the best way to maximize their return for the star.
New Orleans, after acquiring a second first-round pick from the Eagles, is a perfect landing spot for Metcalf. The Saints need another proven pass-catcher to pair with Michael Thomas, given the uncertainty his injuries over the past two years have created.
Their continued wizardry with the cap eases any long-term concern of their ability to structure a deal that works for both parties. The NFC appears as open as ever after so much talent shifted to the AFC this offseason. New Orleans could be a force if QB Jameis Winston stays healthy and it adds Metcalf.
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Deal: Colts get CB James Bradberry; Giants get pick No. 159, 2023 sixth-round pick
The AFC’s arms race has created an urgency to continue stockpiling talent at key positions. Even one glaring weakness may be enough to sink an otherwise great team. The Indianapolis Colts, freshly off their wise move to acquire Matt Ryan for a mere third-round pick, must double-down and use their assets to push for a deep run in 2022.
General manager Chris Ballard has few needs left. Their addition of pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue could help a young unit create pressure on quarterbacks. On the back end of the defense lies a hole at the cornerback.
The signing of Brandon Facyson was a shrewd move based on his quality play in limited time with the Raiders. Bolstering the position with a proven veteran such as James Bradberry would be ideal, though. Entering the last year of his contract, he would be much more impactful for the AFC South contender than the rebuilding Giants.
Indianapolis’ heavy zone defense is an excellent fit for Bradberry. The 28-year-old began his career in a similar scheme in Carolina and has developed over the last four years into an above-average starter. However, the Giants should want to store the $ 12.1 million they’d save from his $ 21.8 million cap hit if they trade him.
A handful of contenders should also be interested in Bradberry if the Giants are willing to eat some salary. Here, the Colts, who are sitting on $ 21.7 million in space, give up a little less and absorb his whole contract.
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Stacy Bengs / Associated Press
Deal: Chiefs get Edge Robert Quinn; Bears get pick No. 94
One year ago, there seemed to be no way out of Robert Quinn’s contract for the Chicago Bears.
The 31-year-old sported an $ 11.3 million cap hit, was coming off a season with two sacks in 15 games and had arguably the worst pact in the NFL from a team perspective. Then, Quinn ripped off an 18.5-sack season in 2021.
The Bears have either sold off or allowed other high-priced veterans to depart via free agency. Their need to replenish the roster with young, affordable bodies and to reset around quarterback Justin Fields is critical. 2022 will likely be a painful experience as new general manager Ryan Poles lacks immediate avenues to improve the team.
Moving Quinn now would only save $ 4.4 million in 2022 but would clear at least $ 17 million off the cap in 2023 and 2024. With a lack of pass-rushers available in free agency and the developmental curve for rookies being steep, the Chiefs make more sense than any other team for the veteran. After adding five draft picks in their trade of Tyreek Hill, they can afford to address the gaping need on their defense for a mere third-rounder.
The impact of Melvin Ingram’s midseason addition in 2021 should be further proof of the Chiefs’ need to add a premier body to the unit. Frank Clark can no longer be the creative rusher, and it’s unlikely a rookie will push the defense over the hill in the playoffs.
Quinn can be a higher-upside version of Ingram for the Chiefs in 2022.
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Kyusung Gong / Associated Press
Deal: Panthers get OL Cam Robinson, pick No. 198 and 223; Jaguars get pick No. 137
After another disappointing season in 2021, head coach Matt Rhule and his staff are in a win-or-go-home situation. The Panthers must continue to invest in their offensive line since they own just one top-100 selection.
Regardless of whether the Jaguars take an offensive lineman or pass-rusher with the No. 1 overall pick, spending $ 16.7 million on Cam Robinson’s franchise tag is wasteful, considering their needs. 2021 second-round pick Walker Little can take over at left tackle, and Robinson doesn’t have the talent to justify paying so much for a left guard. The Jags’ decision to tag him feels more like they’re angling for a trade.
Carolina would be a much better spot for Robinson both now and in the long term. While the Panthers probably won’t love the idea of losing another draft pick, this regime must leverage its assets to get a long-term, viable winner on the field. Taking a rookie quarterback with the sixth overall pick and putting him behind a rebuilt line is one way to get back on track.
The other way is to trade a 2023 pick for QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
Initially, Carolina lacked upper-tier cap space but now sits with the second-most room, so it can afford Robinson.
Whoever lines up under center, having Robinson as the new left tackle or guard would be a dramatically better plan than starting one of Cameron Erving or Pat Elflein.
Salary-cap numbers via Spotrac.