NFL trade candidates: Notable players who SHOULD be on the move before the league’s Nov. 1 deadline

Exciting news for you fans of wheeling and dealing: Trading season is already upon us!

The Browns swung a deal with the Falcons to land LB Deion Jones on Sunday, just hours after losing in the waning moments to the Chargers. Jones has yet to take a snap this season following offseason shoulder surgery. When healthy, though, he could provide some juice to a struggling Cleveland defense. While Jones’ stock is down at the moment, he’s still a 27-year-old with a Pro Bowl appearance on his résumé. All in all, it’s a change of scenery that makes sense. Speaking of which …

Below we’ve compiled a list of 14 players we think should be traded, even if all of them won’t be moved prior to the league’s Nov. 1 trade deadline. Mind you, this is quite different from a list of players we think will be traded, so pretty please: Spare us the hate mail if these players stay put.

Still, a few of them could be on the move. Not all of the guys listed below will be season-changers if they’re dealt, but some might benefit greatly from a new environment. And from a team perspective, moving on from a player who isn’t in the long-term plans can provide significant financial benefits and/or draft capital.

Without further ado, let’s explore some potential trade candidates — and some of the teams that could be interested in their services.

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Now that Matt Rhule has been fired, the Panthers are fully in rebuild mode and candidates for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

So, do the franchise’s future plans include McCaffrey? From our perspective, they shouldn’t. No offense to McCaffrey, who has been very good through five games, on pace for more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage if he plays a full season. That last part is the catch, though, as McCaffrey’s past two seasons have been cut short by injury. But there might be a team willing to take on his $19.55 million (non-guaranteed) salaries over the next two seasons. For the Panthers, trading him now offers better salary-cap relief than the coming offseason.

If McCaffrey is willing to rework his deal for this year, it would more easily facilitate a trade. The return would be interesting because of the money he’s owed and the injury factor, but when McCaffrey’s right, he’s a premier playmaker. The Bills could be candidates. So could the Broncos, who would bring McCaffrey back to the area where he grew up and to the team on which his father, Ed, became a standout receiver.

McCaffrey shouldn’t be the only Panther on the trade block. If Carolina is going to go headlong into an offseason quarterback pursuit, it must accumulate as many draft picks as possible to ensure the team can find one. Unless the Panthers ultimately land the first overall pick next spring, they’ll need to be wary of possibly QB-needy teams such the Texans, Lions and Seahawks, all of whom own multiple firsts in the 2023 draft.

Marshall figures to be another post-Rhule trade candidate. He entered the NFL with a lot of promise, scoring 23 TDs in his final 19 games at LSU, but has yet to show much as a pro. This past Sunday, he actually had one of his more productive NFL games, tying his career high for catches (four) and posting his second-highest yardage total (30). He has yet to catch a TD pass in the 15 pro games he’s played.

Prior to Week 5, Marshall was a healthy inactive for two straight games. Some of it was a numbers crunch in Carolina, where receiver is one of the team’s stronger positions. But there’s also a developmental question, as Marshall has missed time with injuries and raised concerns about his daily preparation.

Nonetheless, several teams showed interest in the 2021 second-rounder when he came out, and he only turned 22 years old in June. A team seeking a young scratch-off ticket and wanting to add talent to its WR room — maybe the Bears? — might be willing to take a flier on Marshall, likely at a cost far lower than his original draft position.

This wouldn’t exactly be a Von Miller type of situation, but a team needing some pass-rush help could target Quinn as a player who is currently idling on a non-contender’s roster. Coming off an 18.5-sack season, Quinn has only one sack through five games in 2022. But he has a track record of getting to the quarterback and dislodging footballs consistently (30 forced fumbles since 2013).

Like McCaffrey, Quinn carries a contract that is a bit of a problem, with cap numbers north of $17 million for this season, as well as 2023 and ’24. His age — Quinn turns 33 next May — also isn’t ideal. There hasn’t been a player 33 or older with 10-plus sacks in a season since 2017.

But pass rushers are rare commodities. And given Bears GM Ryan Poles’ track record since arriving this past winter, you’d have to think Chicago absolutely would listen to any reasonable offer.

We stay in Chicago for another player who might not be long for the team. If the Bears are headed for a top-10 draft pick, why not trade a guy who’s playing out his rookie deal after contentious contract talks broke down this past offseason?

The Bears currently have just six of their own draft picks in 2023 and aren’t projected to receive any additional compensatory selections. Theoretically, the draft is where Ryan Poles will want to go in order to restock the shelves over the next few seasons.

Smith had a late interception and 16 tackles to help the Bears beat the Texans in Week 3. Overall, he has played at a high level this season, with eight or more tackles in every game so far, as he bets on himself to earn the long-term contract he believes he deserves.

Could the Chargers and old friend Brandon Staley (who was on the Bears’ staff in Smith’s rookie season) make an offer? Their run defense has continued to underwhelm, allowing a league-worst 5.8 yards per rush.

Sitting at 1-4 after getting blasted by the Bills, Pittsburgh’s heading toward what could be Mike Tomlin’s first losing season as head coach. Why not see what, if anything, you could get for Rudolph?

It was important for the Steelers to see enough in their other two quarterbacks during the preseason before making any big moves at the position. But now that first-round pick Kenny Pickett has replaced Mitch Trubisky as the starter, the franchise is headlong in reset mode behind the rookie QB, and there’s no future in Pittsburgh for Rudolph, who is a free agent after the season.

Rudolph has started one game in each of the past two seasons, but was an eight-game starter in 2019, helping the Steelers win five of those contests. Is he great? No. A future starter? Not likely. Where Rudolph might best help is as insurance at the position, especially for a team that has suffered QB injuries and lacks quality depth.

The list of teams potentially interested won’t be that long, but his modest salary (a shade more than $4 million) and age (27 years old) are somewhat appealing.

Ferrell hasn’t come close to fulfilling the expectations the former Raiders staff had for him when it selected the Clemson product fourth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Most people outside the building felt Ferrell was a major reach at the time, and he hasn’t exactly proven the doubters wrong. With only eight sacks in his career (4.5 coming as a rookie), Ferrell isn’t what we’d call a pass rusher. But he’s a pretty solid run defender with good length and mass and won’t turn 26 years old until next May. To say that he’s done all he can as a football player feels a bit premature.

But he’s set to be a free agent next spring and certainly hasn’t been able to boost his value for the open market as a rotational player averaging 17.5 snaps per game since the start of the 2021 season. One would assume that Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler are not at all wedded to Ferrell for the long term.

Perhaps a team such as Jacksonville could take him on as a look-see experiment for the remainder of the season. The Jaguars’ cast of 5-techniques is solid but fairly unremarkable, even if the defense has played well. Jacksonville DL coach Brentson Buckner was on the Raiders’ staff in Ferrell’s rookie season and frequently defended him publicly when the D-lineman was called out in the media.

This isn’t as big a name as some of the others on this list, but Johnson has risen to the occasion in the past when called upon. He has four career games with 95 or more rush yards. In his only two NFL starts, both last season, he totaled 245 rush yards on 41 carries and hauled in nine catches for 80 yards.

Johnson also has experience on coverage units and as a kick and punt returner. Oh, and he has never lost a fumble on 190 career touches (including returns), adding to his appeal.

Running backs typically don’t return much in trades, especially those who aren’t true game-changers. But Johnson’s meager salary (just over $1 million) and free-agent status in 2023 would be an easy add for any team seeking backfield help.

Could the Colts use a back such as Johnson? It might cost them a late Day 3 pick, or even a swap of picks, perhaps even in the 2024 draft. Johnson has played one — ONE — offensive snap this season, stuck behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns don’t offer much of a pathway to offensive playing time for Johnson. Moving him, even for a meager return, makes sense.

Mims, who turned 25 on Monday, has been a healthy scratch all five games this season. His unhappiness with the Jets has been known for quite some time, as trade rumors made their way into the wild this August. He clearly doesn’t appear to have much of a future with the team.

Now might be the time to move him. The Jets would not incur an unwieldy cap hit, as Mims’ base salary for this year and next aren’t too far above $1 million. That’s a low cost for a recent second-rounder with some possible upside.

There are enough teams hungry for young blood at receiver to kick the tires on a possible trade. Mims has length and high-point ability that could be developed in a different location. 

Seattle has some young corners with promise, including Tariq Woolen, Mike Jackson and Coby Bryant. Yes, the defense has been mostly bad so far this season. But the aforementioned trio possesses enough upside for the Seahawks to consider moving Jones if he’s going to continue being a bystander.

Jones has been a healthy scratch in three of the past four weeks, and Pete Carroll previously admitted that Jones was frustrated with his role. He was pegged as a starter before the season, but suffered a concussion in August and lost his starting job to Woolen and Jackson.

Despite entering the NFL back in the 2017 draft, Jones is still just 26 years old. He has a base salary of $1.6 million, which makes him easier to trade. Plus, Jones plays a premium position at which several teams could be seeking help in the coming weeks.

The Lions are a team badly in need of corners, and Jones played well in an injury-abbreviated 2020 under then-Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash, now Detroit’s defensive line coach. Depending on whether the Lions think they’re in contention, they could be a possible team of interest. 

New England has mixed and matched its receivers pretty heavily because of injuries and ineffectiveness, and even with the team forced to play three quarterbacks this season, it has been a tough go for both Agholor and Bourne, the team’s two biggest free-agent additions at the position from 2021.

The vibes were mostly great following the team’s 29-0 blanking of the Lions, but Agholor and Bourne each had low moments in the win. Agholor’s drop on a catchable pass from Bailey Zappe caused a Lions interception, and Bourne was flagged twice in the game, leading to a little chat with Bill Belichick after Bourne came off the field.

If the Patriots believe in a core of Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton and possibly Lil’Jordan Humphrey, they could be compelled to move either Agholor or Bourne — or both. Bourne, who has base salaries of $3.5 million this season and $4.75 million in 2023, might be the easier of the two to move. Agholor carries a $9 million base salary this season, will hit free agency in the spring and is two years older than Bourne.

On the surface, Wynn is an ideal trade candidate. He has multiple years of starting experience at left tackle and has played other spots on the line. Wynn turns 27 years old in December and likely would not cost as much to trade for, given that he’s due to hit free agency in the spring.

It’s also been clear that he and the Patriots have not been on the same page for some time now.

But if New England believes it can compete this season, trading Wynn would be a risky move. They’re already down to their third QB right now, with Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer (currently on IR) having been knocked out of games. And the Patriots are not as blessed with their typical wealth of OL reserves as they have been in years past.

Wynn also makes a hefty $10.4 million this season. But he plays an important position, and several teams could make a play for a deal if the Patriots are willing. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a slew of former New England scouts and coaches working around the league with other clubs who could have some personal insights on Wynn’s ability.

When the Broncos traded for Russell Wilson, the deal included sending Noah Fant to Seattle. That element of the acquisition led some to believe that Denver felt Okwuegbunam might still be a redeemable commodity, even though the former third-round pick had been more of a tease than anything to that point.

That theory is proving to be flawed, as Okwuegbunam has caught only two balls since his five-catch showing in Week 1 and has seen his snaps decrease the past month or so. Andrew Beck and Eric Saubert have had bigger roles at the position, and promising third-round rookie Greg Dulcich looks to make his debut soon after working his way back from a hamstring injury.

Okwuegbunam likely won’t cost much to land, and he’d be a low-salary investment for this season and next, with base salaries around $1 million per. The Broncos are in need of draft picks following the Wilson trade, so we’d assume their incentive to move Albert O would be high.

Miami opted to use the franchise tag on Gesicki this offseason, putting him on the books for $10.9 million in 2022. But through five games this season, Gesicki has mostly been an afterthought. He’s caught nine passes (on 12 targets) for 101 yards and one TD, playing roughly half of the Dolphins’ offensive snaps.

Miami’s QB situation likely has something to do with it. The Fins been forced to play three quarterbacks this season, with both Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater suffering injuries. But with a healthy Tua, Gesicki’s role has been pretty limited outside of the thrilling second-half comeback against the Ravens in Week 2.

Gesicki is a 2023 free agent, but trading for him will require a major leap of faith for another organization. His bloated salary already thins the potential pool of teams considerably, and he’s never been a complete player — far more of a receiver in a tight end’s body than an in-line blocker. He also offers no special teams value of note, logging 10 career snaps on those units.

We’d rate the likelihood of a trade to be pretty low. But if the Dolphins can find a taker, they should jump at the chance to make a deal. Gesicki’s just not a strong fit in Mike McDaniel’s offense with his lack of blocking prowess.

Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.

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