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NFL trade candidates: Notable players who SHOULD be moved before the league's Oct. 31 deadline

The trade winds are blowing as we approach the Oct. 31 trade deadline. 

We've already seen a handful of trades go down this season. Cam Akers was shipped from the Rams to Minnesota, the Chargers sent J.C. Jackson back to Foxborough, Randy Gregory went from Denver to San Francisco, Chase Claypool was jettisoned to Miami and this week saw the Rams ship Van Jefferson to Atlanta. 

The action could be heating up as we near the Halloween deadline.

With that in mind, let's take a look at players who should be traded in the coming weeks. Let's highlight that premise: Should. I'm not projecting they all will be traded, but merely highlighting players who make sense to move. 

The NFL trade deadline is a notoriously fickle beast, with few blockbusters happening in-season. But that doesn't mean we can't speculate and surmise the best candidates.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · QB
Danielle Hunter
Minnesota Vikings · OLB

Here is the part where I get into the should/would nuance with my stated premise.

Should the Vikings trade Cousins after a 1-4 start to the season and the absence of star Justin Jefferson expected to loom for at least four weeks? Probably so, yes. Will they? Doubtful.

There are several issues with shipping out Cousins before the deadline, starting with the QB's no-trade clause. He got a massive contract the last time he hit the open market. Would he give up the chance to do so again? Even if a team trading for him offered a new extension, would it be as much as he could get on the open market? Then there is the destination. Barring a catastrophic injury for a top-tier team in the next couple of weeks, who would give up assets for Cousins at this stage? How would a team fit the deal under the salary cap? How much would the Vikings insist on getting in return?

The questions have no easy answers.

In the long run, the Vikings would be better off if they could find a way to trade Cousins. Currently holding a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could draft a dynamic long-term answer under center. Even without Jefferson for a spell, Cousins is good enough to stack at least a few wins over the next 12 weeks, pushing the Vikings further down the draft board. If you put backups Jaren Hall or Nick Mullens under center, the odds of a high draft pick skyrocket.

It's easy to make the case for the Vikings to trade Cousins. Pulling it off in reality would be much more difficult.

Perhaps the more likely move for Adofo-Mensah in a season tilting awry is to trade Danielle Hunter.

After the two sides couldn't agree to a long-term pact this offseason, they agreed to a one-year reworked deal that included a no-tag clause, making Hunter a free agent at the end of the season.

Hunter has been a beast off the edge early in the season, netting six sacks (tied for second-most in the NFL) with nine tackles for loss (tied for most). Looking healthy for more than a year, Hunter is the type of player a contending club could add to bolster the pass rush ahead of a playoff run.

Brian Burns
Carolina Panthers · OLB

There was confidence in Carolina that the team would make a quick flip after hiring Frank Reich. Wideout Adam Thielen even talked about the Panthers contending for a title before the season. After an 0-5 start, the optimism has taken a massive hit.

Instead of cosmetic upgrades, this Carolina home needs an overhaul. The plumbing leaks, the roof needs to be replaced and the electrical keeps shorting out. It's a mess right now. 

To make matters worse, the Panthers don't hold a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft after including their top selection in the trade to move up to No. 1 overall in this year’s draft

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Panthers are in the trade market for a starting wide receiver. With what assets? 

Parting with Burns might be the best way to recoup draft capital and/or find a receiver to help buoy rookie quarterback Bryce Young

The Los Angeles Rams reportedly made Carolina a hefty offer for Burns at the trade deadline last season, but the Panthers passed. In hindsight, GM Scott Fitterer might want a do-over on that one. 

Playing on the fifth-year option, Burns said he and the Panthers put contract talks “on hold” at the start of the season. Carolina could employ the franchise tag this offseason, but the cost of a long-term deal is likely to only increase for the club's leading sack artist. 

Carolina could also look to ship out players due to reach free agency in 2024, like linebacker Frankie Luvu or safety Jeremy Chinn, but they wouldn't bring the return Burns could garner. If the Panthers are to restock their draft coffers, parting with a star like Burns is the best path. 

Garett Bolles
Denver Broncos · OT
Frank Clark
Denver Broncos · OLB
Kareem Jackson
Denver Broncos · S
Jerry Jeudy
Denver Broncos · WR
Courtland Sutton
Denver Broncos · WR

Sean Payton's reign is off to an inauspicious start. The Broncos have had their teeth kicked in, with a furious comeback against the Chicago Bears the only thing saving Denver from a 0-5 start. With the stock tanking, it's time for the Broncos to SELL! SELL! SELL! Payton should purchase a dozen of those popular dancing inflatable tube people to highlight the sale -- then let the tube people play defense, because they'd probably do just as well as the D he's rolled out so far.

The Broncos already sent Randy Gregory packing, but they shouldn't stop at that move, even though Payton said on Tuesday that the team isn't looking to do business with its players. A club that has clung to hope that it could finally compete in the AFC West needs a roster overhaul. This collection isn't getting it done. 

Outside of Pat Surtain II and a few rookies, Denver should be taking calls on everyone else on the roster. 

Clark, playing on a one-year contract, is an obvious trade candidate for a team looking to add a veteran pass rusher. The issue is Clark hasn't been healthy after getting dinged in Week 1. He returned in Week 5 but had no stats in 11 snaps against the Jets. Jackson would be a low-cost veteran who can still pack a punch. 

On offense, Denver should finally look to break up the receiver corps, a move Payton resisted this offseason. Sutton has been sparsely used outside of one outburst in Week 3. On Sunday, he played 54 snaps and saw three targets with one catch for 13 yards. The wideout is under contract the next two seasons but has no guaranteed money left on the deal after this year, per Over The Cap. Jeudy might fetch more in return if Denver can find an interested club that had a high pre-draft grade on the Alabama product. Jeudy has fared better than Sutton in recent weeks but hasn't had a game with more than 81 yards this season. 

Bolles might be the most interesting piece the Broncos should look to sell. He has his foibles but remains a solid pass-blocking tackle. Bolles is under contract through 2024, and Denver's offense would take a hit by moving him, but given the need around the league for solid OTs, he could fetch a decent price on the trade market for a Broncos team in need of restocking its draft capital. 

Mecole Hardman
New York Jets · WR
Carl Lawson
New York Jets · DE

EDITOR’S UPDATE: The New York Jets have traded wide receiver Mecole Hardman to the Kansas City Chiefs, a team he played with from 2019 through 2022, NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Wednesday, Oct. 18.

Both Lawson and Hardman were healthy scratches in Week 5. Players in that type of situation are ripe for trades. 

Lawson took a pay cut to remain in New York, then watched as his playing time was cut. After missing Week 1 due to a back injury, the edge rusher has played 52 total snaps, including 14 in Week 4 (20%). The Jets have a deep D-line, and Lawson is clearly squeezed out. Barring injury to the youngsters in front of him in the pecking order, Lawson seems unlikely to regain much of a role with Gang Green. 

Hardman's usage has been head-scratching. In four games, he caught one pass for six yards while playing a grand total of 22 snaps on offense. The decision to sign him to a one-year contract this offseason now has the look of a disconnect between the front office and coaching staff. Why sign a gadget player you'll never use?

Hardman is limited but can be useful in the right offense. If the Jets aren't going to play him, they might as well see if someone else will take a flier. 

Hunter Renfrow
Las Vegas Raiders · WR

We're a long way from Renfrow's 1,000-yard Pro Bowl campaign of 2021. At this point, it seems clear he's not a fit in Josh McDaniels' offense. In five games in 2023, the slot maven has just six catches on nine targets for 59 yards. In Monday night's win over Green Bay, Renfrow played just 19 snaps (30%). 

The Raiders signed Jakobi Meyers this offseason to essentially replace Renfrow alongside Davante Adams. Despite recent talk that Renfrow is part of the game plan, the reality has left him in the cold

The usage under McDaniels makes the 2022 contract extension all the more head-scratching. The wideout is under contract for $10.82 million guaranteed this season and a $11.153 million base salary in 2024, with no guarantees remaining, per Over The Cap. If the Raiders plan to move on after the season, it makes sense to see if they can get some compensation now for an asset they rarely utilize. 

Marquise Brown
Arizona Cardinals · WR

Brown is playing on the final year of his rookie contract, making the wideout a potential trade target for a club looking to bolster its pass-catching corps. 

The Cardinals' current regime didn't trade for Brown. If GM Monti Ossenfort isn't prepared to make a big contract offer, he could see the speedster as another means of compiling more draft capital in 2024. 

After a solid 2022 campaign when healthy, Brown is off to a stellar start in 2023 for a Cardinals offense that has performed better than most expected with Joshua Dobbs under center. Brown has generated 300 yards on 25 catches with three TDs. The former first-round pick could be the best available wideout at the deadline. 

The emergence of rookie Michael Wilson should make parting with Brown easier to digest for the rebuilding Cardinals. 

Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears · CB
Darnell Mooney
Chicago Bears · WR

Despite his talent, Mooney hasn't found much production in the Bears’ offense the past two seasons. The addition of DJ Moore this offseason has pushed Mooney further into the background. 

The chemistry with Justin Fields seems simply nonexistent at this stage. In five games, the wideout has eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. He has three games with a goose egg in the catch column, including Week 5, when the Bears put up 40 points. 

Chicago already traded Chase Claypool this season, so shipping out Mooney would be a dent to the receiver corps. However, with Mooney playing out the final year of his contract, a split now could offer Chicago more of a return than it would get by him playing out the string. 

Johnson is another Bears player in the final year of his contract, with the sides not finding common ground on an extension this offseason. When healthy, Johnson is a good cover corner who has allowed a 46.2% completion rate in three games played in 2023. The CB missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, but if he returns to form, he could be a trade chip for Chicago, given the need for corners across the NFL. The emergence of fifth-round rookie Terell Smith in Johnson's stead could make it easier for the Bears to trade Johnson at the deadline. 

Chase Young
Washington Commanders · DE

Young has looked spry since returning to the lineup in Week 2. The edge rusher has generated 27 pressures in four games, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, per PFF, and has three sacks. 

Losers of three straight, including a shellacking from the previously winless Bears at home in prime time, Washington is in danger of falling into the abyss. With new ownership in town, significant changes could be on the way in the coming months. 

The Commanders declined the fifth-year option for the injury-plagued former No. 2 overall pick, which means Young is due to become a free agent after the season. With Washington already heavily invested on the D-line and Montez Sweat also slated to hit free agency in 2024, the club should look to move Chase before the deadline. 

Finally healthy, Young's production could provide a force for a contending club and would net Washington a good return now instead of potentially losing him on the open market in the offseason.

Kendrick Bourne
New England Patriots · WR
Hunter Henry
New England Patriots · TE
JuJu Smith-Schuster
New England Patriots · WR

What is the point of a red-zone tight end if you almost never get to the red zone? The Patriots have a total of eight red-zone trips through five games. They have been there once in the past three games. Ouch. 

Henry has caught 17 of his 25 targets for 176 yards and two TDs this season but is lost in the malaise that is the Patriots offense. With the TE playing out the final year of his contract, New England should look to cut bait now, as it did with Jonnu Smith in the offseason. 

You could take your pick of pass catchers the Patriots should look to unload to let youngsters like Demario Douglas get more run. Bourne is the team’s leading receiver with 218 yards. Despite being in the doghouse at times during his three seasons in Foxborough, he does boast talent and could fetch the best deal if the Patriots choose a fire sale as Bill Belichick starts “all over" after a disastrous beginning to the season. 

Speaking of disasters, the Smith-Schuster signing looks like a massive boondoggle for Belichick -- particularly when compared to how Jakobi Meyers has played in Las Vegas. JuJu has 14 catches for a measly 86 yards in five games. The veteran has seen his reps dwindle of late as well. It's unlikely another club would offer much of anything for Smith-Schuster at this point of his career, but if one does, Belichick should leap at the chance to unload him. 

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