NFL News & Analysis

Michael Thomas, Andy Isabella and more potential trade candidates ahead of cutdown day

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) carries the ball against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The high-octane action between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL Hall of Fame Game got the 2021 preseason underway, with new Cowboys linebackers Micah Parsons and fourth-rounder Jabril Cox leading the team in PFF grade and 2019 first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins battling for the top backup spot in Pittsburgh amid a strong camp showing, per The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly

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It’s wonderful to have live football back, but the offseason is not over. Not even close. 

Huge trades, such as the one that sent edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears from the Las Vegas Raiders in 2018, Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans from the Miami Dolphins in 2019, still glint on the horizon.

Here’s a larger list of trades that took place between Aug. 8 and Sept. 5 over the last five offseasons:

Year Acquiring Team Trading Team
2016 Minnesota Vikings receive
QB
Sam Bradford
Philadelphia Eagles receive
2017 first-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick
2017 Seattle Seahawks receive
DI Sheldon Richardson
New York Jets receive
2018 second-round pick, 2018 seventh-round pick
2018 Chicago Bears receive
edge Khalil Mack, 2020 second-round pick, 2020 seventh-round pick
Las Vegas Raiders receive
2019 first-round pick, 2019 sixth-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2020 third-round pick
2018 New Orleans Saints receive
QB
Teddy Bridgewater, 2019 sixth-round pick
New York Jets receive
2019 third-round pick
2019 Cleveland Browns receive
G
Wyatt Teller, 2021 seventh-round pick
Buffalo Bills receive
2020 fifth-round pick, 2020 sixth-round pick
2019 Seattle Seahawks receive
Edge Jadeveon Clowney
Houston Texans receive
2020 third-round pick, edge
Jacob Martin, edge Barkevious Mingo
2019 Houston Texans receive
T Laremy Tunsil, WR
Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick
Miami Dolphins receive
2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, T
Julien Davenport, CB Johnson Bademosi
2020 Minnesota Vikings receive
edge
 Yannick Ngakoue
Jacksonville Jaguars receive
2021 second-round pick, 2021 conditional fifth-round pick

These historical comps are familiar — from a narrative perspective, at least — to potential moves remaining for August of this year. 

Then-Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford was traded after the team drafted Carson Wentz No. 2 overall. This is familiar, perhaps, to Jimmy Garoppolo’s current situation with the San Francisco 49ers as Trey Lance continues to light up camp and earn remarkably high praise from his teammates.

Former Eagles and Cleveland Browns executive Joe Banner suggested Kyle Shanahan’s recent quote about Garoppolo looking great in camp indicated the San Francisco 49ers’ desire to build a market for the quarterback to clear the way for Trey Lance.

Teddy Bridgewater found himself on a crowded quarterback depth chart in 2018 with the New York Jets, with Sam Darnold drafted No. 2 overall and Josh McCown signed to a one-year, $10 million deal. Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew is in a very similar situation after the arrival of Trevor Lawrence

On Chris Long’s Green Light podcast, Minshew said that No. 2 is not an option — on or off the field. The Jaguars signed former 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard to a respectable backup contract and have 2020 sixth-round pick Jake Luton, so Minshew can perhaps attempt to chase the No. 1 job somewhere else. 

Multiple trade requests have reportedly already been placed by Arizona Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones (per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler), New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry (per his agent Jamal Tooson) and more recently Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington (per ESPN’s Adam Schefter).

There are several 2018 draft picks heading into their pivotal 2021 seasons looking for a place to play with more opportunities to get on the field in a contract year. Based on reporting from NFL training camps across the country, some players drafted highly in recent years also seem to be finding themselves further down the depth chart and will perhaps look for a fresh start elsewhere. 

Massive blockbuster to kick things off?

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson → New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Michael Thomas

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has reported that C.J. Henderson may be available this offseason. This would be a stunning development, given that he was drafted with the ninth overall pick just a season ago. 

The Jaguars have already paid 64% of the total cash owed to Henderson over his entire four-year rookie deal. And while the team did trade 2016 first-rounder Jalen Ramsey, it was a move that transpired midway through Ramsey’s fourth season — not one year into his rookie deal. 

There should be multiple suitors here. The Atlanta Falcons reportedly attempted to move up in the 2020 NFL Draft for Henderson, but they were ultimately unsuccessful, instead taking Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell. Then-Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is now the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, who could use help at the cornerback position. 

The New Orleans Saints have also been searching near and far for a corner who excels in man coverage, and Nola.com’s Jeff Duncan reports they have explored adding C.J. Henderson. Add to that the recent news that the Saints and star wide receiver Michael Thomas are not on good terms, and we could have the makings of a blockbuster.

A three-year, $7.43 million fully guaranteed deal would travel with Henderson, with the fifth-year option for 2024 available to be exercised after the 2022 season. Three years of Henderson’s services for less than $2.5 million per year could make a huge difference on a team with few resources to add premium talent in free agency.

For Michael Thomas, an acquiring team would inherit a four-year, $52.95 million contract with just $1 million in salary for 2021. The only remaining guarantees would be his $15.35 million 2022 salary, which is currently guaranteed for injury only and will become fully guaranteed early in 2022. The worst-case scenario is a two-year, $16.8 million deal for a player one season removed from setting a single-season record with 149 receptions.

Because of Thomas’ unclear injury status, projecting an exact trade value is challenging. For now, a swap of two talented players could be fairly reasonable —  Thomas could reunite with former college coach Urban Meyer, and C.J. Henderson could get a fresh start in New Orleans to form a tandem with cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore is entering a contract year, so the leverage New Orleans could gain by adding a recent top-10 pick doesn’t hurt, either.

Busy wide receiver market

The long list of wide receivers who could feasibly move via trade is perhaps another indication of the abundance of talent at the position league-wide. 

Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has moved to the Houston Texans, while Houston helped the Green Bay Packers appease Aaron Rodgers and traded away wide receiver Randall Cobb, but Texans 2018 fourth-rounder Keke Coutee could ultimately lose out to Miller for the starting slot receiver role and want out of Houston, as well. A handful of other receivers are potentially on the move before the 2021 regular season gets underway on Sept. 9. 

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy IsabellaLos Angeles Chargers for a 2022 fifth-round pick

The Cardinals' former second-round pick, who was taken two picks ahead of Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, already appears to have found himself fighting for a spot on the back end of the depth chart. 

The Cardinals used a top-50 draft pick on Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore this past April, and while they’ve made it clear that Moore and Isabella bring very different attributes to the table, Isabella is now, at best, the No. 5 wide receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and Moore. The draft pick gained by Arizona could then perhaps help them pursue a cornerback, such as C.J. Henderson. 

Isabella brings top-end speed on the outside for a team looking to stretch the field and could open things up even more in the passing game for the Los Angeles Chargers. Former first-rounder Mike Williams is great at getting downfield and high-pointing the ball for contested catches, but perhaps Isabella could stress defenses even more and open things up underneath for Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and new tight end Jared Cook.

If Isabella does turn things around, perhaps the Chargers will be more comfortable letting Mike Williams walk after the 2021 season and relying on 2021 third-rounder Josh Palmer and Isabella to step up in his absence.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Allen HurnsKansas City Chiefs for a 2022 sixth-round pick (via Baltimore Ravens)

One of the deepest wide receiver depth charts in the league appears to belong to the Miami Dolphins, with a top trio of Will Fuller V, Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker. Albert Wilson has reportedly stood out all training camp long following his return from opting out in 2020 and taking a sizable pay cut for 2021. 

This leaves six more players with realistic shots at making the Dolphins’ 53-man roster: Lynn Bowden Jr., from whom Miami traded a third-round pick in September of 2020, Isaiah Ford, Jakeem Grant, Mack Hollins, Allen Hurns and Preston Williams. Miami will likely only keep six or seven wide receivers, so at least three players on this list will not make the roster. 

Hurns sticks out as a vet who could be a perfect fit for the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that attempted to add a quality possession receiver this offseason to complement their speed by making offers to Willie Snead IV and Juju Smith-Schuster before they signed with the Raiders and Steelers, respectively. 

Hurns can be used out of the slot (48% of snaps 2017-19) or out wide and caught 91% of the catchable passes thrown his way from 2017 to 2019, 16th-best among wide receivers with at least 100 targets. Hurns also raked in 52.2% of contested targets to finish 14th. He could be the tertiary weapon Kansas City needs to keep its offense rolling. 

New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims, 2022 fourth-round pick (Jets own fourth-round pick or Carolina Panthers fourth-round pick from Sam Darnold trade, whichever is later) → New Orleans Saints for a 2022 third-round pick

The New York Jets added three important pieces at the wide receiver position this offseason, signing Corey Davis and Keelan Cole and drafting Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore with the 34th overall pick. All three appear to be firmly ahead of 2020 second-round pick wide receiver Denzel Mims, who has been working with the third-team offense at times. 

Even if the Saints do fix things with Michael Thomas and keep him around, they could still use more talent at wide receiver. They’ve gone so far as to sign semi-retired wide receiver and current professional lacrosse standout Chris Hogan in recent weeks. Mims could be the big-bodied target New Orleans will sorely miss with the absence of Thomas, measuring similarly to Thomas at 6-foot-3 with 34-inch arms (95th-percentile at wide receiver). 

The Jets used the No. 59 overall pick on Mims in 2020, so a third-round pick from the Saints could get them close to recouping that pick if the Saints struggle in 2021. The pick-swap here also has the potential to end up a pretty even trade if New Orleans has a good season and the Jets and Panthers struggle, but here the Jets protect themselves a bit by adding a condition to the pick — the same condition the Kansas City Chiefs used when acquiring edge rusher Frank Clark from the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle received the Chiefs' or 49ers' second-round pick in 2020, whichever was worse. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the Chiefs and 49ers subsequently met in the Super Bowl in 2019. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson, 2022 sixth-round pick → Minnesota Vikings for 2022 fourth-round pick

Lastly, the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers just have an embarrassment of riches at the receiving positions heading into 2021. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin remain a top duo in the league, Antonio Brown serves as the best No. 3 wide receiver in the NFL and 2021 fourth-round rookie Jaelon Darden is reportedly “the talk of Buccaneers camp,” picking up right where he left off in college after racking up 19 total touchdowns and 1,190 yards over just nine games in his final season. And one also can’t forget speedster Scotty Miller

Former first-round tight end O.J. Howard has returned from injury and is entering a hugely important contract year after playing out the fifth-year option in 2021. Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate return, and the addition of running back Giovani Bernard is yet another player who will command targets. All of a sudden, 2020 fifth-rounder Tyler Johnson finds himself battling for targets with nine other players.

Johnson’s presence does help if the Buccaneers can’t come to an agreement with Godwin after he plays on the franchise tag in 2021, but perhaps a trade could be worth exploring if the team thinks they can improve their roster in other areas in pursuit of back-to-back Lombardi trophies.

Other offensive weapons potentially available

Beyond the wide receivers, a handful of other names resemble intriguing late-offseason additions for clubs that perhaps have a need created by injury or now think they have a contending roster that deserves a boost based on what they’ve seen so far in camp. 

Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst → Jacksonville Jaguars for 2022 fifth-round pick (via Minnesota Vikings)

Hurst probably has a solid path to a lot of snaps in an Arthur Smith offense that used 12-personnel (two tight ends) at the second-highest rate in 2020 (33.7%). And the departure of Julio Jones can only mean a more even distribution of the football by Matt Ryan

However, Atlanta still chose to decline Hurst's fifth-year option in 2022, even after the Atlanta Falcons traded a second-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens to acquire him. 

The lack of commitment from Atlanta after an expensive trade is still noteworthy. Hurst earned the lowest receiving grade of his career in 2020 (62.8) but could certainly provide an upgrade over what other clubs are currently working with. Jacksonville has gone so far as to bring Tim Tebow into camp at tight end and reportedly made an effort to trade for Zach Ertz last season. Here, they add a significant upgrade over their current tight end room. 

Philadelphia Eagles tackle Andre Dillard → Chicago Bears for 2022 fifth-round pick (via Houston Texans), 2023 sixth-round pick

First-round left tackle Andre Dillard has presumably lost the opportunity to start at left tackle in Week 1 for the Eagles, with Jordan Mailata working ahead of him reportedly looking like the most impressive player in camp.

Dillard missed the 2020 season with a torn biceps injury after playing just 337 snaps his rookie year, which could scare Chicago off, considering their injury troubles with a young tackle prospect. But Chicago’s 2021 second-round pick tackle Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma State, who is expected to transition from playing right tackle in college to starting Week 1 at left tackle, has yet to practice in training camp with a back injury. Asking him to get up to speed at a new position with no practice thus far may be a tall order, with quarterback Andy Dalton and eventually Justin Fields in need of good protection up front.

The fifth-round pick here could be very early on account of it being originally owned by the Houston Texans, making it all the more valuable to the Eagles. Philadelphia has already begun loading up for the 2022 draft, with an extra first-round pick via a trade with the Miami Dolphins and most likely an extra second-round pick via the Carson Wentz trade. An early fifth-rounder could help them move up in next year’s draft, add a veteran or just provide another good draft selection.

Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman Los Angeles Rams for a 2022 sixth-round pick

The Broncos did agree to mutually part ways with running back Philip Lindsay, but Royce Freeman may still end up as the fourth running back behind 2021 second-round pick Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon and Mike Boone. Entering a contract year, the 2018 third-rounder would probably welcome an opportunity to get more touches.

The Los Angeles Rams lost projected breakout running back Cam Akers for the season to a torn Achilles, and KOA Radio’s Benjamin Allbright mentioned the possibility of a move if the two sides could work something out. The Broncos and Rams have utilized very different run concepts in recent years, with the Rams leading the league in percentage of outside-zone runs from 2018-20 (51%) and the Broncos using more gap/man schemes and power runs.

Nevertheless, Freeman could still carve out a solid role behind expected starter Darrell Henderson, with no one else on the Rams depth chart having recorded an NFL carry. The Rams are too “all-in” on the 2021 season to not have a solid backup running back.

Defensive player on the move?

New England Patriots edge rusher Chase Winovich, 2022 seventh-round pick → New York Giants for a 2022 conditional sixth-round pick (becomes fifth-round pick if Winovich plays more than 45% of defensive snaps in 2021).

New England has added a boatload of talent along the defensive line and with linebackers who play more forward than backward, and Winovich’s spot on the roster looks anything but secure.

Since the 2020 offseason, the New England Patriots signed or extended Matthew Judon (four years, $54 million), Kyle Van Noy (two years, $12 million), Deatrich Wise (four years, $22 million) and used top-100 picks on Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins in the 2020-21 drafts. The interior of the defensive line is loaded, as well, so there’s no wiggle room up front. 

The New York Giants, on the other hand, cannot seem to get healthy at edge rusher. The two clubs will hold joint practices on Aug. 25th-26, providing Giants assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham with a good look at Winovich if he can get healthy in time after missing all of training camp thus far.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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