While everyone is collectively sitting around and geeking out about the start of NFL free agency looming just six weeks on the horizon, I'm getting jazzed up over the other potential changes the NFL offseason is about to bring our way: trades.
Teams are posturing for contract extensions and jostling to "set the market," or check boxes and fill needs first, or else suffer the consequences of entering the draft in April handcuffed by needs.
Player trades could be facilitated by a number of different motivations. There are coaching changes, salary cap restrictions and personnel decisions that all loom as potential prompts to make a trade. But which players make sense? Which don't? I've narrowed down six potential trade candidates for this offseason and make my case for which ones are studs and which ones are duds.
STUD: Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars, DE
Calais Campbell is going to go down as one of the best free agent signings in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ franchise. Campbell played his first nine seasons in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals, logging 56 1/2 sacks before jumping ship to sign with the Jaguars ahead of the 2017 season. In the three years Campbell has called Duval home, he's tallied 31 1/2 sacks in one-third of the time, was named first-team All-Pro in 2017, has made three straight trips to the Pro Bowl and was a huge part of Jacksonville's dominant defensive effort in 2017 en route to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game that year.
But let's read the tea leaves here for a moment. Campbell is entering the final season of his four-year, $60-million dollar contract in 2020 and will be responsible for a $17.5 million dollar cap hit (with $15 million in base salary) as a 34-year old veteran when the season opens in September.
Jacksonville? It’s facing the prospect of losing an equally potent pass rusher in Yannick Ngakoue this offseason unless they shuffle the deck with their cap. Campbell getting traded and moved off the books would be a potentially huge chess piece for the Jaguars in any efforts to not only retain Ngakoue, be it on the franchise tag or a negotiated extension, but stabilize their cap situation overall. Why? Because Campbell is exactly the kind of "short-term rental" for a "win-now" franchise that can put a team over the top. Campbell had a down season in terms of his sack production in 2019 but he's still a difference-maker and disruptive presence up front.
As much as it hurts to suggest, we've seen the New England Patriots routinely swap mid- or late-round picks for high priced, aging veterans in the past and parlay that into postseason success. The Patriots are currently credited with $44 million in cap space and Campbell would be a huge upgrade over Lawrence Guy and John Simon as the base ends.
DUD: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams, RB
We've already asked the question “could the Los Angeles Rams really trade running back Todd Gurley?” And the answer is yes, they really could. But good luck finding suitors to take on all the red flags littered throughout Gurley's current situation.
The case for trading Gurley away for the Rams is simple: He's a high priced player at a luxury position who looks to be slowing down due to past injuries and high usage. The problem? The Rams prematurely provided Gurley with his contract extension and now any team acquiring Gurley is facing the looming prospect of absorbing insane amounts of cash for a short-term rental before inevitably cutting Gurley after the 2021 season when his guaranteed money clears the books.
Good luck, Los Angeles.
STUD: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, TE
Howard was a rumored trade target back at the NFL's trade deadline but no deals were able to get pushed through. But if we're being honest about O.J. Howard the player, Bruce Arians' offense and basic economics, it makes absolutely zero sense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to hold onto Howard beyond this offseason.
Why you ask? Let's break it down.
Howard versus the Buccaneers’ offense
Howards started 14 games for Tampa Bay in 2019 and saw his snap count nearly double from 2018 (435 snaps in 2018 versus 782 in 2019). With all those extra snaps, Howard was sure to see a dramatic amount of growth in his production, right? Well, no. Howards' receiving yards were down (565 in 2018 versus 459 in 2019) and he logged only one touchdown in 2019 as well.
Arians' offense loves to push the ball down the field but that can at times leave the tight end as more of a complementary target. There's a clear conflict in strengths here between where Howard can provide the most value to a team and where the Buccaneers are most consistently able to implement him.
So let's not force a square peg in a round hole and move on already, before the economics kick in.
Howard, like most football players, is a depreciating asset. And the longer the Buccaneers hold out for what they view to be "appropriate" value in a trade while simultaneously failing to showcase his skills to their fullest, the harder the Buccaneers are going to have to work to get anything of value offered their way at all.
Howard is a 25-year-old former top-20 selection who is one year removed from a breakout season. Howard played just 10 games in 2018 and was on pace to finish the year with a 55-reception, 904-yards, eight-touchdown season before he was injured and ended the season on injured reserve. As things currently stand, Howard has two years of control left on his rookie contract with a fifth-year option that's projected to fall somewhere around $6 million for the 2021 season.
If the Buccaneers hold onto Howard beyond this offseason, we're facing a significant dip in team control, further diminishing production and growing uncertainty that the Bucs will ever sniff the reported first-round pick they were looking for at the trade deadline.
Cut your losses now, Tampa. Make the most of Howard's remaining value as a once-coveted draft selection with promising physical tools. Wait any longer and suddenly the cons start to outweigh the pros for potential buyers and your return will sink.
DUD: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, QB
Let's stop the madness right here. Michael Irvin put the football world in a tizzy with his recent comments that the Dallas Cowboys could tag and trade Dak Prescott as a domino to signing Tom Brady in free agency.
“I am telling you right now, at the Super Bowl in Miami, some very significant people that I had conversations (with were) leaning in that same direction (of tagging and trading Prescott to sign Brady)," Irving said. "It was shocking. I had a vodka cranberry in my hand and when they said it to me I put the drink down and said, ‘Let’s talk a little bit more about this.’ I promise you, I had a conversation with people, I can’t tell you who, about that same scenario going down.
"I just don’t know if there’s a real possibility of that happening.”
What the hell are we doing here, people? Prescott is one of the "feel good" stories of recent NFL Draft lore. He’s a Day 3 selection who was pushed into the starting role as a rookie and hasn't looked back, slowly budding and developing from a player that the Cowboys won in spite of to a player the Cowboys won because of. Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and provided an additional 277 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He'll be 27 years old this summer. He's due "starting quarterback" money — whether that be via the franchise tag or an extension.
Tagging and trading Prescott in order to sign what will be a 43-year old Tom Brady is the ultimate "cut off your nose to spite your face" decision. We can't be serious here, Dallas.
STUD: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, QB
If we want to talk about trading a quarterback, here's a great place to start. Despite Cam Newton's emphatic assurance that he's "absolutely" coming back to the Carolina Panthers in 2020, I wouldn't be so sure. Newton is 30 years old, coming off significant injuries to his throwing shoulder and his left foot and ended both the 2018 and 2019 seasons on injured reserve.
Carolina? It’s in the midst of the most ambitious overhaul in recent memory. Owner David Tepper has thrown the moneybags at new head coach Matt Rhule and new offensive coordinator Joe Brady while simultaneously having visions of building a program equivalent to the legacy Steelers great Chuck Noll left for four decades after taking over the team in the late 1960s.
"(Noll) built a program that has lasted through three coaches," Tepper said. "That's what I hope Matt Rhule can do for us here. He's a program builder."
Take the verbiage of "program builder," pair it with Panthers general manager Marty Hurney's non-committal comments on Newton after the star quarterback assured he'd be back in Carolina and toss in the departures of long-time fixtures in Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers and others over the past 24 months and it sure feels like this program is getting ready to be built from the ground up — without Newton in the mix.
Carolina is facing a unique window to move Newton. They're not going to get great value for him because of the injury issues and Newton's status as entering the final season of his current contract. But with a log-jam of quarterback hungry needs in the top-15 of this year's draft order and three "sure-fire" prospects set to have their names called early on in Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, someone would find value in Newton.
If the Panthers can facilitate a trade for a Day 2 selection and then a conditional 2021 selection that could range between a first-, second- or third-round pick depending on Newton's production in his contract year in 2020, Carolina might just have a scenario on their hands where moving Newton is a "win-win" scenario.
A fit I like? The one with the Los Angeles Chargers. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller mentioned in a scouting portfolio that there were whispers swelling that the Chargers might be in the Newton trade market.
"The Chargers need a quarterback, but they also need to sell tickets. Bringing in a household name and marketable option is business savvy and football smart if Newton is healthy," Miller wrote.
"The most likely move is still to draft the next franchise quarterback at No. 6 overall, but there's enough buzz surrounding a Newton trade to mention it here."
DUD: Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins, S
The Miami Dolphins reportedly wanted to trade Reshad Jones last spring amid the great roster purge of 2019. It didn't happen, thanks in large part to many of the same reasons I anticipate the Rams will have a hard time trading Gurley. The money is steep, the injuries are adding up and the compensation is going to be hard to agree upon.
That's a pretty toxic mix. The good news for Miami? Jones' base salary is cheaper this season than it was in 2019. The bad news? Jones missed 12 games last season and is still due eight figures for his base salary — which is in excess of over $11 million for the 2020 season.
Jones is one of the more underrated defenders of the last decade, but he's going into 2020 as a 32-year-old hard-hitting defender with lingering shoulder issues and a boatload of money due to his way for whoever has him on the roster.
Teams were wise enough to wait out the Dolphins last summer and called Miami's bluff, which led to Jones returning to the team for another year. Call Miami's bluff again this summer and the odds are pretty strong that Jones will be cut before the start of the season. The Dolphins simply don't have any leverage to get a deal done here.