For years and years, trades involving big-name National Football League stars were not nearly as common as are such transactions in both MLB and the NBA. While that still may be the case moving forward, it’s interesting that a handful of recognizable players were linked with what would have been blockbuster transactions ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. Just because those individuals remained with their current clubs up through the end of the calendar year does not mean organizations cannot revisit trade possibilities leading up to and on the first night of the 2019 NFL Draft. In short, we in the football community may be in for a fascinating offseason.
It’s worth noting that not all of the ten men spotlighted in this piece will be traded in the upcoming offseason. Even if a team and player agree that the time has come to part ways, different organizations may not be willing to deal assets and the promise of future draft selections for that proven commodity. Any of these players being traded in the offseason would generate headlines because of who they are, where they could go and what such a trade would mean for the franchises involved. The NFL is a win-now league more than any of the other “big three” North American competitions. Because of that, a front office may go all-in on a trade to pursue a title.
20 Could be traded: Eli Manning
Much has been made about the supposed decline of two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning since even before the start of the 2018 campaign, and the fact that those running the New York Giants gave the 37-year-old a putrid offensive line at the start of the season didn’t silence such criticisms. Whatever you believe Manning may or may not have left in the tank doesn’t erase the reality that a coaching staff and front office that never drafted the veteran understandably has eyes on the future, one that won’t include Manning past 2019 at the latest. Finding a trade partner could be the nicest way this saga ends.
19 Where he could go: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are clearly done with Blake Bortles, so much so that the franchise may even take the salary-cap hit to part ways with him following the campaign. No disrespect meant to Cody Kessler, the former Cleveland Browns flop, but odds are he will never be the long-term answer at the position for any team. Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning’s former head coach, is the executive vice president of football operations for the Jags, and connecting the dots for how Manning, who has one more season on his contract, goes to Jacksonville isn’t a difficult task. Manning’s deal carries a no-trade clause, though, so he’d need to be convinced this is the right ending for his career.
18 Could be traded: Antonio Brown
It was earlier in the 2018 campaign when all kinds of uncertainty hovered over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wide receiver Antonio Brown didn’t help matters when he sent out a tweet hinting that he believes he does not need the organization to produce All-Pro numbers. The Steelers are nearing the end of an era, one in which running back Le’Veon Bell will feature for a different team, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will, eventually, enter retirement. Trading Brown ahead of his 31st birthday wouldn’t sit well with pockets of the fanbase, but it could be the right business decision for a team that needs to build for the 2020s.
17 Where he could go: Arizona Cardinals
Unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Arizona Cardinals have already begun a reset with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen (hopefully) finishing the season under center. Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who turns 36-years-old next August, could elect to enter retirement rather than sign a one-year contract with the Cards or pursue a title via a free-agency move out of town, and his departure would leave a noticeable gap in the team’s passing attack. Say whatever you will about Brown, his tweet, and some of his purported on-and-off-the-field antics. Any second-year signal-caller in the NFL would love throwing passes to Brown on Sundays.
16 Could be traded: Devonta Freeman
The Atlanta Falcons are in an interesting position this holiday season, as a side with a Super Bowl appearance in its recent history could finish dead last in the division standings. Atlanta also needs to make a decision on running back Tevin Coleman, the 25-year-old who can be a No. 1 back in that offense but who is scheduled to enter free agency after this season. Any team can only attach so much salary cap space to its backfield in the modern NFL. Keeping Coleman, who is younger than Devonta Freeman, would likely make Freeman surplus to requirements and trade-bait who should attract attention from a club in need of an upgrade at RB.
15 Where he could go: Indianapolis Colts
Devonta Freeman signed a five-year extension with the Atlanta Falcons before the start of the 2017 season, and cap hits for that deal up through the 2022 campaign could make trading for him a difficult task unless a team with a ton of cap space is willing to accept the risk. Enter the Indianapolis Colts, a franchise about to have more available money than it could spend in free agency and an obvious need to lighten the load for quarterback Andrew Luck. The Falcons wouldn’t get much in this trade because Freeman’s value has decreased following his latest injury. Trading Freeman for a couple of draft picks, or even one selection, is better than losing Coleman for free.
14 Could be traded: Bobby Wagner
Somebody forgot to tell those inside of the locker room of the Seattle Seahawks that the team was apparently in the middle of somewhat of a rebuild that included the disbanding of the “Legion of Boom” secondary, as Seattle remains in playoff contention as of the middle of December. Regardless of what quarterback Russell Wilson is able to accomplish with this team in January, continued roster restructuring is expected of the Seahawks up through the NFL Draft. Linebacker Bobby Wagner, signed through the 2019 campaign, will soon want a new deal. Ask Earl Thomas how similar negotiations with the organization went earlier this year.
13 Where he could go: Indianapolis Colts
Say, for the sake of argument, that the Indianapolis Colts don’t trade for a running back and instead address that position via free agency by pursuing somebody such as Le’Veon Bell or Mark Ingram. Trading for Bobby Wagner could make a lot of sense. Indianapolis wouldn’t be on the hook, long-term if the experiment didn’t work out next season for whatever reasons, but the Colts could also afford to extend Wagner’s deal if the two came to terms on an agreement. Adding Wagner on defense, signing or drafting an RB and continuing to bolster the team’s improved offensive line could make the Colts favorites to earn a postseason berth as long as Luck remains healthy.
12 Could be traded in the offseason: Sean Lee
It’s too bad that we will probably never know just how good Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee could have been because of the injuries that he has sustained throughout his career. The veteran, who turns 33-years-old next summer, remains excellent when on the field, but the Cowboys already have his future replacement on the roster in rookie Leighton Vander Esch, who needs to become a mainstay in the lineup as soon as his second preseason. Dallas could save money by releasing Lee following the current campaign, but the franchise should, instead, look to obtain something for his services from a team requiring help on defense.
11 Where he could go: Oakland Raiders
Why would an Oakland Raiders team clearly not trying to win a championship in 2018 or 2019 want to give future assets up for somebody such as Sean Lee? For starters, Oakland’s defense certainly could use him. Also, Jon Gruden can only realistically utilize so many draft selections at any given time. Lee wouldn’t cost Oakland a lot in a trade or in money against the salary cap. The Raiders probably wouldn’t extend him beyond the 2019 season, which will probably be another long and painful campaign during the franchise’s rebuild. It’s not the sexiest of trades, but it’s one that benefits all involved for a season.
10 Could be traded: Charles Clay
Give those in charge of the Buffalo Bills credit for knowing when to admit things aren’t working out and when to give up on players such as Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes, which is what the Bills did on December 4. Quarterback Josh Allen, entering his second season in 2019, needs weapons, but this franchise isn’t pursuing a conference title before the end of the decade. Tight end Charles Clay has been a mixed bag in 2018, but the same could be said for just about the entire Buffalo offense. The 29-year-old who has a year left on his current contract needs a change of scenery. Meanwhile, the Bills need both assets and better players.
9 Where he could go: Atlanta Falcons
Okay, so this year didn’t go exactly as planned for the Atlanta Falcons. Pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off and go get a tight end who may not be Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce but who can still make plays in the red zone. Taking Charles Clay on a one-year flier is a low-risk move for a team looking to make it back to the Super Bowl as quickly as possible with Matt Ryan under contract and in his prime. Those who want to get a little extra creative here could even produce a transaction that includes the Falcons sending Devonta Freeman to Buffalo for Clay in a trade that involved both sides swapping some draft picks.
8 Could be traded: Jameis Winston
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up quarterback Jameis Winston’s fifth-year option earlier this year, but the front office needs to make a decision about his status with the club beyond 2019 sooner rather than later. Tampa Bay deciding Winston isn’t the right franchise QB for the team, as it exists today, isn’t just about how he has performed during games, as multiple off-the-field incidents, including one that earned him a three-game ban this past September, could prevent the organization from investing real money in him. Yes, Winston has looked the part during the second half of 2018. That could merely increase his value in a trade.
7 Where he could go: Oakland Raiders
This trade checks every box. It gives Jameis Winston motivation to prove the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrong, and it also sends a message that his time in the NFL could quickly come to an end if he doesn’t get his act together and also doesn’t improve. The Oakland Raiders have more than enough assets to get this deal done. Jon Gruden has, somewhat comically, been high on many quarterbacks entering the NFL in the past, and he may believe he has the tools to develop the 24-year-old into what the Bucs hoped he’d become back on the first night of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gruden also wouldn’t have to worry about paying Winston past 2019; at least not yet.
6 Could be traded in the offseason: Derek Carr
It seems as if we can’t go a week without reading or hearing about a fresh rumor involving the Oakland Raiders potentially trading Derek Carr as soon as such a transaction would be approved by the NFL. That probably has something to do with the fact that we’re all guessing what Oakland’s next move will be now that just about everybody on the roster has been made available to other franchises. Carr turns 28-years-old only next March. He’s not a finished product. He also isn’t Gruden’s pick, at least he clearly wasn’t as of the middle of the fall months. Oakland wouldn’t necessarily need to land somebody such as Jameis Winston to ship Carr out of town to a buyer.
5 Where he could go: New York Giants
Perhaps the New York Giants won’t need to trade Eli Manning after the 2018 season. Yes, Manning has said on multiple occasions that he wants to keep playing up through the expiration of his contract that runs out after the 2019 campaign, but maybe he’ll read the writing on the wall, decide that he never wants to play for another organization and retire as a member of the team that drafted him back in 2004. Such a scenario would allow the Giants to trade for a QB such as Derek Carr without there being any controversy about how the greatest signal-caller in franchise history left the team. Head coach Pat Shurmur would likely welcome the opportunity to work with Carr. Just look what Shurmur accomplished with Case Keenum and Nick Foles.
4 Could be traded in the offseason: Joe Flacco
Add the Baltimore Ravens to the list of teams on the verge of blowing things up. John Harbaugh could be on his way out the door even if the Ravens manage to win the division, and quarterback Joe Flacco could lose his job to rookie Lamar Jackson on a permanent basis even before you read this sentence. Flacco’s cap hit goes up to over $26 million next season, and that would make him an expensive backup for a new head coach who likely would only take the job knowing he’d have the authority to keep Jackson under center. Trading Flacco, however elite he may be these days, makes sense as long as the Ravens locate a buyer.
3 Where he could go: Denver Broncos
We’re just going to come right out and say it: Does anyone reading this really believe Case Keenum is returning to a conference championship game with the Denver Broncos in 2019 or 2020 before his contract expires? We didn’t think so. The Broncos invested in Keenum this past offseason, but Denver could save salary cap space by moving on from that deal after a single season. Flacco is an upgrade over Keenum, no doubt, and Baltimore’s asking price shouldn’t be much of anything considering Flacco’s age and the fact that the team already has the veteran’s successor on the roster.
2 Could be traded: Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s anybody’s guess, as of December 2018, if the New York Giants are willing to trade Odell Beckham Jr. to help plan for the start of a new era that will see Eli Manning leave the team. The contract Beckham signed earlier this year does not make him untradeable, but he’d have to be sent to a team willing to accept that deal and everything that comes with Beckham up through 2020. A handful of organizations spring to mind, including a club that is starting one of Beckham’s college teammates at the same position and also featuring a young and outspoken QB who could mesh with OBJ in 2019.
1 Where he could go: Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns (finally) are headed in the right direction, and the team could be another good offseason away from competing for a postseason spot. Why not make a splash, Browns, and pair Odell Beckham Jr. with LSU teammate Jarvis Landry and young quarterback Baker Mayfield? Mayfield could use another target, one capable of consistently catching the football, and the Browns have the cap space to afford Beckham’s contract with Mayfield still on his rookie deal up through 2022. These aren’t the same old Browns that need to stockpile draft picks. Now could be the time to send a statement to the rest of the AFC North that the Browns are coming for the top spot of the division standings.