Five trades to watch out for in the 2023 NFL offseason

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) catches a pass during warmups prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

• Aaron Rodgers could end up in Vegas: Rodgers could retire or he could play another season, likely with a new team if so. The Las Vegas Raiders are a prime landing spot.

• Where does DeAndre Hopkins land? The star Cardinals wide receiver is rumored to be on the trade block and could be part of a similar deal to the one that sent Julio Jones from the Falcons to the Titans in 2021.

• Tee Higgins — long-term deal or trade? There’s no guarantee the Bengals can’t or won’t work out a long-term deal with the 2020 second-rounder, but the team is staring in the face of a handful of extensions for star players.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins

The quarterback carousel looks to be in full swing once again for the 2023 offseason, and there are several marquee players at other positions who could be traded in the coming weeks. The 2022 NFL trade deadline featured 10 trades on deadline day — twice as many as any year prior over the past decade — with several other big trades, such as running back Christian McCaffrey heading to the San Francisco 49ers, not included in that tally.

The new era of NFL roster construction is upon us, and we take a look at five more blockbuster deals that could shake up the league over the next few months.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron RodgersLas Vegas Raiders

  • Trade compensation: 2023 1st, conditional 2024 2nd (could become a 1st)
  • Contract acquired: Four years, $144,765,000 ($59.465 million total guaranteed)

Realistically, Rodgers carries with him a two-year, $108,815,000 contract that would almost certainly be reworked again were he to play in 2025. That’s looking very far down the road, but the heavy early-year cash flow — $54.4 million per year over the next two years — explains why the trade return here is arguably underwhelming.

The prospect of Rodgers playing one season for $59.515 million and then retiring has to give pause to any interested teams. There will surely be conversations between Rodgers and interested clubs about how long he plans on playing once he emerges from his darkness retreat, and there will be questions and drama surrounding his plans for the following season every year from this point forward. 

While the Packers had a down 2022 season, Rodgers’ 2020-21 campaigns earned him back-to-back MVP honors for a reason. From 2020-21, his 93.8 passing grade and 7.2% big-time throw rate led all quarterbacks, his 2.0% turnover-worthy play rate on dropbacks was third lowest and his 79.4% adjusted completion percentage and 8.0 yards per attempt ranked third. Rodgers was as good as he’s ever been, generating as many positive plays as any quarterback and simultaneously limiting the negatives as well as anyone. 

Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre HopkinsNew York Giants

  • Trade compensation: 2023 2nd, 2023 5th
  • Contract acquired: Two years, $34,365,000 million ($0 total guaranteed)

CBS Sports’ Joel Corry highlighted a very important aspect of this situation, with Hopkins voiding the no-trade clause in his contract when he was suspended for six games to begin the 2022 season. While this does undermine Hopkins’ control over his next destination and some of the leverage he may have over a new club with respect to a potential new contract, a marquee player like Hopkins can still dictate matters to a degree. In theory, Hopkins could make it clear to an inquiring club he doesn’t want to play for that he will not show up.

At this past year’s trade deadline, the Giants acquired a compensatory third-round pick and a sixth-round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs for wide receiver Kadarius Toney, and here they part with a slightly more expensive package to bring a dominant No. 1 wide receiver into the fold. The Giants are desperate for help at the position and have smaller, speedier options like second-round rookie Wan’Dale Robinson returning from injury, but here they add a legitimate X receiver on the outside.

This deal is reminiscent of the Julio Jones trade to the Tennessee Titans in 2021. Jones was acquired along with a sixth-round pick for second- and fourth-round picks. He was a year older and earned $15.3 million in his first (and only) year in Tennessee, not immediately seeking an extension — which is a big factor we don’t definitively know about with Hopkins. 

Upon returning from his suspension, and despite many games played with backup quarterback Colt McCoy instead of Kyler Murray, Hopkins ranked third in targets (93), fourth in receptions (64) and sixth in explosive receptions (19), and he was credited with just one drop. Wherever Hopkins ends up, he still profiles as an automatic No. 1 wide receiver. 

Houston Texans WR Brandin CooksNew England Patriots

  • Trade compensation: Texans send 2024 7th; acquire 2023 3rd
  • Contract acquired: Two years, $35 million ($18 million total guaranteed)

Cooks has already been traded three times in his career, including going from the New Orleans Saints to the Patriots in 2017 and moving from the Los Angeles Rams to the Houston Texans to play for head coach Bill O’Brien in 2020 … the new offensive coordinator of the 2023 Patriots.

Cooks lasted one year with New England, and he was with O'Brien in Houston for only four games before the coach's firing. With Patriots wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor pending free agents, New England and O’Brien reunite with the veteran Cooks. The Patriots won’t have to part with a first-round pick as they did back in 2017, and Cooks’ contract runs through 2024, which is also the fourth and final year of quarterback Mac Jones’ rookie deal. 

More than half of Cooks’ remaining contract being guaranteed works against his value a bit, though it could also make it more likely he plays out these years as compared to DeAndre Hopkins. Despite the tumultuous past three seasons in Houston, Cook earned an 82.1 cumulative receiving grade, which was a top-30 mark at the position. His 1.90 yards per route run ranked in the top 25, his 66 explosive receptions ranked 17th and his 30 receptions on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield ranked eighth.

Cooks remains one of the better deep-ball trackers in the NFL, with the ability to consistently handle significant volume. He had at least four receptions in 11 of 13 games in 2022 — and he probably would have even more impressive stats if he had played elsewhere.

Los Angeles Rams CB Jalen RamseyMiami Dolphins

  • Trade compensation: Rams send 2023 5th (compensatory); acquire 2023 2nd, 2024 2nd
  • Contract acquired: Three years, $55 million ($12.5 million total guaranteed)

The Dolphins have been among the most aggressive teams in the NFL over the past few offseasons, notably trading first-round picks for wide receiver Tyreek Hill and edge defender Bradley Chubb over the course of the 2022 season. Why stop there?

Despite the Dolphins already dealing with a handful of big contracts, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be on the fourth year of his rookie deal in 2023 and Miami can clear a ton of cap space with a few obvious restructures and cuts. A notable cut that would likely be a precursor to this move is the Dolphins moving on from cornerback Byron Jones, who missed the entire 2022 campaign and whose release, if designated a post-June 1 release, could clear $13.6 million in 2023 cap space.

Ramsey played college football at Florida State and began his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, so he continues his football journey back in Florida with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio’s zone-heavy defensive scheme has already proven to be a great fit for Ramsey, with Fangio disciple Brandon Staley coaching Ramsey with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. Fangio could deploy Ramsey as the “Star” in the defense with Xavien Howard staying out wide. That would allow the Dolphins to get the most out of Ramsey in the slot, down in the box and, really, all over the formation.

Ramsey’s cumulative 90.6 coverage grade over the past three seasons ranks second among cornerbacks, and his 91.2 run-defense grade ranks first. His 80.3 coverage grade from the slot over the past three seasons ranks fifth. There are a lot of elite, young cornerbacks in the league right now, but Ramsey still holds the crown as the best defensive back in the NFL as of today.

Newly inducted Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for first- and conditional fourth-round picks entering his age-28 season, where he then signed what was effectively a one-year deal for $16 million. Here, Ramsey is traded for two second-round picks entering his age-29 season, three-and-a-half years after the Rams acquired him for two first-round picks. 

Cincinnati Bengals WR Tee HigginsDetroit Lions

  • Trade compensation: 2023 1st, 2024 4th
  • Contract acquired: One year, $2,993,000 ($0 total guaranteed)

Higgins is the lone rookie contract player who makes our list here. He would probably be traded later in the offseason as compared to the above players, all of whom could be moved right after the 2023 league year begins on March 15. As we saw last offseason across the NFL, the game’s top young wide receivers taken outside of the first round — and thus without fifth-year options in their contracts — can all but refuse to play in the final year of their rookie deals without a multi-year extension. Will Higgins end up like Deebo Samuel, back with his drafting team on a strong new deal, or like A.J. Brown, traded to a new team around the draft.

All of that said, there’s no guarantee the Bengals can’t or won’t work out a long-term deal with the 2020 second-rounder. A video during Super Bowl media week of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase discussing quarterback Joe Burrow’s pending extension has Bengals fans optimistic, and perhaps they should be, but this would more than likely be a franchise-altering offseason for Cincinnati from an operational standpoint if they work out extensions for Higgins and Burrow.

Last offseason, Burrow made a public plea to an audience of Bengals reporters about the importance of safety Jessie Bates III both on and off the field. Bates, who shares an agent with Higgins, was not provided with an offer he found commensurate with his level of play and is once again a pending free agent coming off a season spent on the franchise tag.

From Detroit’s perspective, while they made a huge trade-up in the 2022 NFL Draft for speedy wide receiver Jameson Williams, they followed that move up by sending tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings for a package including a second-round pick at the trade deadline.

Here, the Lions send the No. 18 overall pick — the same pick the Philadelphia Eagles traded to the Tennessee Titans for A.J. Brown during last year’s draft — along with a future fourth-rounder for Higgins. Higgins can be the new big-bodied receiver in the Lions' offense, filling the void left by Hockenson and potentially free agent D.J. Chark Jr. Last but certainly not least, the Lions will still have the No. 6 overall pick from the Los Angeles Rams in this year’s draft.

Higgins has been durable and productive through his first three seasons, using his big frame to haul in 44 contested catches over the span — fifth most among wide receivers in the NFL — with his 25 catches on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield tied for 14th. Defenses would be in a bind trying to defend Higgins, Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown each week.


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