Trades aren’t as prevalent in the National Football League as they are in other sports. Just look at some of the players who have been moved thus far this offseason: Blaine Gabbert, Jonathan Martin, Mike Williams and Jeremy Zuttah—not exactly the most outstanding group of players.
Will the San Francisco 49ers cut ties with Aldon Smith after his latest arrest? What about the equally enigmatic Justin Blackmon in Jacksonville? These two talented young players could both be on the move prior to the start of the 2014 season. Read on below about nine current starters who very well could be put on the trade block between now and the end of training camp.
Ray Rice, running back, Baltimore Ravens
The former Pro Bowl performer just isn’t the same running back he was a few years ago on the field. He averaged just 3.1 yards per rush during a 2013 campaign that saw the Ravens boast a historically bad rush offense. In fact, that 3.1 average was nearly a yard less than his previous season low. With 1,799 career touches under his belt, it’s hard to imagine Rice ever returning to 2012 form.
And then you have to factor in his recent off-field arrest, which isn’t good for the future.
In addition, Baltimore has a young running back in the form of Bernard Pierce that it might be able to team up with a youngster in the upcoming draft to form a much fresher duo than that of Rice-Pierce. The issue as it relates to a possible trade is that Rice is due over $24 million in the next three seasons. He’s going to have to renegotiate that deal in order for anything to get done. Even then, it’s not necessarily a seller’s market at the running back position in the NFL today.
Frank Gore, running back, San Francisco 49ers
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) April 14, 2014
Gore is set to count $6 million against the salary cap in 2014 and the 49ers have a lot of money they will have to spend for long-term deals. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree are both set to become free agents following the 2014 season. In addition, general manager Trent Baalke will have to find some cold hard cash for the likes of Mike Iupati and possibly Aldon Smith (more on him later).
Is Gore worth the $6 million he is set to count against the cap next year? Does San Francisco have options in the offensive backfield to replace him?
San Francisco added former South Carolina standout Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft. He sat out the entire 2013 campaign while recovering from a torn ACL towards the latter part of his college career. Lattimore, who would have likely been a top-20 pick in 2013 if it wasn’t for a torn ACL, is being groomed as Gore’s eventual replacement.
In addition to Lattimore, the 49ers have two solid running backs in the form of Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. For his part, Hunter is averaging five yards per touch in his three-year career. On the other hand, James, a second-round pick back in 2012, hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to showcase his skills in his time with San Francisco.
If the 49ers add a young running back in the draft next month, they could very well make the decision to trade Gore and cut $6 million from their cap next season. They could then use that money and a potential draft pick to possibly address needs on other areas of the field.
DeAngelo Williams, running back, Carolina Panthers
Williams’ lack of production at running back speaks for itself. The former first-round pick has failed to put up a 1,000-yard season since 2009, and at 30 years old, has hit that unpleasant point in his career. Williams will count $12.3 million against the cap over the next two seasons, but doesn’t have any guaranteed money left on his deal.
It is possible that the Panthers could go out and trade their “starting running back” for a late-round pick in order to save money under the cap, to afford extensions for key players on the roster. The question now becomes whether any team in its right mind would show interest in a declining 30-year-old running back.
Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley says he wishes he could have more contact with suspended WR Justin Blackmon. They haven’t texted in weeks
— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) March 25, 2014
Speaking of off-field issues, Blackmon has been an accident waiting to happen since joining the Jaguars as a first-round pick back in 2012. Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension after a DUI arrest early in the 2013 season. According to ESPN, head coach Gus Bradley is unsure about his ability to see the field in 2014.
The Jaguars are still unsure of Blackmon’s availability for the 2014 season — he will be able to petition NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement before the season begins — and the team is planning on being without him.
Bradley also indicated that the Jaguars made a play for Emmanuel Sanders in free agency and will likely address wide receiver with one of their 11 picks in the 2014 draft. In order for Blackmon to be traded, he will have to be reinstated by the National Football League. This likely means that a trade prior to the draft next month won’t happen. In any event, Blackmon’s days with the Jaguars could very well be numbered.
Da’Quan Bowers, defensive end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bowers simply hasn’t lived up to expectations since the Buccaneers made him a second-round pick back in 2011. In three seasons with the Buccaneers, Bowers has started just eight games and recorded 5.5 sacks. The Clemson product lost his starting job last season before going down with what is considered to be chronic issues in his right knee. That’s also one of the primary reasons that Bowers, then a top-10 prospect, fell to the second round of the draft in 2011.
He fell out of favor under Greg Schiano, but who didn’t in Tampa Bay last season? While it seems that Bowers is a perfect fit in Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme, possibly playing a Julius Peppers-type role, ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas makes a valid point as it relates to potential versus production.
The new coaching staff has said it still has high hopes for Bowers. But the reality is that if this team gets anything out of Bowers going forward, it will be a bonus. The Bucs can’t afford to sit back and expect Bowers to emerge.
With Adrian Clayborn stepping up last season and bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, there might not be any room on the Buccaneers roster for Bowers. They added veteran defensive end Michael Johnson on a five-year, $43.75 million contract, which is yet another indication that Bowers could be on his way out. It now remains to be seen what, if anything, the Buccaneers could get in return if they put him on the block.
Geno Smith, quarterback, New York Jets
After signing Michael Vick to a one-year contract earlier in the offseason, New York may be prepared to pass on Smith as the starting quarterback in 2014. Rich Cimini of ESPN New York expects Smith to open the 2014 season as the starter, but stranger things have happened than Vick overtaking a young quarterback who struggled a great deal as a rookie.
Then you have the draft. What if Johnny Manziel were to drop in the first round? Maybe Derek Carr becomes the Jets second-round selection. The idea behind New York picking up another quarterback after selecting one in the second round last season might not make much sense on the surface. However, it must be noted that this year’s draft class is much stronger at quarterback than the 2013 version. It might be hard for general manager John Idzik to pass up on one of those blue-chip prospects with the knowledge that Smith isn’t at their level.
Trent Cole, linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia has a few youngsters that it’s going to want to get involved on the defensive side of the ball sooner rather than later. While we have heard rumors that Brandon Graham could be on the trade block, there is also another scenario that could play out here. Cole, a nine-year veteran of the Eagles, is coming off an eight-sack campaign. At 31 years old and counting $38 million against the cap over the next three seasons, this might be a perfect time for general manger Howie Roseman to make a move. Graham and 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry are more than ready to fill the void that would be left if the Eagles decide to trade Cole.
There would also be a nice amount of interest in the veteran pass rusher, especially if he agrees to restructure his ridiculous contract. The interest would be limited to teams who run a 3-4 defensive scheme and would have Cole play with his hands up at outside linebacker. Pure conjecture here, but the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers could show interest should he be put on the block.
Brad Jones, linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Jamari Lattimore might be relatively unknown outside of Green Bay, but the young linebacker from Middle Tennessee State stepped up and played well in four starts last season. Meanwhile, Jones missed four games due to injury in 2014 and might have topped out as it relates to production at the NFL level.
Moving the veteran linebacker and playing Lattimore in a starting role next to A.J. Hawk seems like an obvious enough move, but it remains to be seen whether Ted Thompson and Co. would risk losing depth at this point.
Aldon Smith, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) April 13, 2014
Smith, a monster of an outside linebacker for San Francisco, has been nothing more than a disaster off the field. After his most recent arrest at Los Angeles International Airport, it’s possible that his off-field issues might force the 49ers hand. They have been dealing with legal issues as it relates to players for the better part of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach, and it’s now starting to impact the perception of the team around the NFL. Simply put, the 49ers might have to make a statement and send Smith packing.
On the field, Smith is a special player. He’s racked up the most sacks (42) for any player in the history of the NFL with less than 50 career games under his belt. Furthermore, Smith has become a full-time player over the last two seasons, learning how to play the run extremely well. As such, he’s going to be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he keeps his head in the game. This seems to indicate that there would be a nice amount of interest in the enigmatic youngster on the trade market.
With that said, we need to see how this most recent legal situation plays out before declaring Smith a sought-after commodity on the trade market. No team is going to trade for him with this hanging over his head. Interestingly enough, the 49ers have less than a month to make a decision on whether to pick up Smith’s $9.75 million option for the 2015 season.
Is Aldon Smith nuts? You are 3 weeks from 49’ers picking up a $9 MILLION option and you get arrested for allegedly yelling bomb at LAX? DUMB
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) April 15, 2014
San Francisco needs to tread lightly on how it handles this situation, especially if the linebacker isn’t in a good place mentally. But they also need to do what’s best for the franchise. And a new deal for Smith is now highly unlikely.
(Contract numbers for this article provided by Spotrac.)