It's April, which means it's NFL Draft season, when front-office smokescreens and an IV drip of mock drafts are the name of the game. We've already seen several trades this offseason that affect the first round, with two draft-pick swaps (Jets-Colts, Bills-Bengals) and the Patriots recently by trading Brandin Cooks to the Rams.
Don't think for a second that those deals will be the end of the wheeling and dealing. With six potential first-round passers on the board and many teams needing a new franchise quarterback either now (Browns, Jets, Bills, Cardinals) or in the next 1-2 years (Giants, Broncos, Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, Patriots, Saints, Steelers, Jaguars), the first half of the draft should see much more shakeup before the first round is over. And a run on quarterbacks would push other premier prospects further down than expected, allowing a team in the 20s that probably didn't imagine having access to the perfect prospect the ability to nab him with a relatively minor trade up.
There are also big-name NFL talents who could be dealt before, during or just after the draft. Odell Beckham's name has popped up in trade rumors. Earl Thomas has as well. Would you be that shocked if the Steelers shipped away Le'Veon Bell if they still haven't come to terms on a long-term deal by the deadline?
While it's impossible to say for certain what trades are going to go down between now and the end of the draft, we know for a fact that some trades will happen, some involving draft-pick swaps and some involving players. They always do. We're not going to be able to predict them all here, but what we will do is run through some trade scenarios that make some sense on both sides.
QB trades in the top five
No. 2 pick
To Broncos for No. 5, No. 71 and 2019 first-rounder
The Broncos are loaded in this draft, with two picks each in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. If they're looking to move up for a specific quarterback and if they're willing to part with next year's first-rounder to do it, they can certainly find the right sweetener among their cache of 2018 picks to entice the Giants to take their offer. The Giants might not want to move too far down if they have their eye on a top non-QB prospect, so this trade would strike the perfect balance for them to still pick up a Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb.
To Bills for No. 12, No. 22 and 2019 first-rounder
If the Bills are going to make the jump all the way to No. 2, I think it's going to take three first-rounders. The Giants would be taking themselves out of range for the blue-chip prospects, and it's on Buffalo to make it worth their while. And you can see that type of deal appealing to the Bills, even at that high price; they land a top-two QB to build their franchise around and still have three more picks in the top 65 to put together an immediate playoff contender.
No. 4 pick
To Broncos for No. 5, No. 99 and No. 149
The Broncos know that other teams will be looking to trade up into the four-spot to draft a QB, so if they have their eye on a particular signal-caller, they're going to have to explore a trade similar to the one the Bears made to move up one spot for Mitch Trubisky. That took two threes and a four, and while this deal wouldn't be as steep, I still think it'll take three picks to get done. The Browns have no picks between No. 64 and No. 150 after their offseason moves; the Broncos have five picks during that stretch. If the Browns are angling to trade back into the first round from the early second, or to acquire future picks, having this package would give them more flexibility.
To Bills for No. 12, No. 96 and 2019 first-rounder
This obviously wouldn't be as big of a price as the one to move to No. 2, but you'd have to assume the Browns would insist on picking up an extra first-rounder next year to move out of the top 10. They have five picks in the first two rounds this year, and adding assets in next year's draft would help spread the wealth. Since the late third-round pick in both these offers is the same, these two offers boil down to the difference between getting No. 149 for a negligible move to No. 5 or a 2019 first for a move down to No. 12. I think I'd prefer the latter, but if the Browns become locked in to Chubb or Barkley at No. 4, the Broncos deal could work too.
No. 5 pick
To Bills along with No. 99 for No. 12 and No. 22
Of course, if the Broncos aren't actually committed to taking a quarterback with their pick, or they aren't happy with who is left over after three are off the board, they could conceivably look to move down with a team that does want that quarterback still available. Getting both the Bills' first-round picks would be a big ask, but if the Broncos kick in one of their many mid-round picks, the Bills should be willing to jump up for the right guy. With the Bills' two first-rounders, the Broncos would be in great position to add two of the following: a quality guard (Isaiah Wynn, Will Hernandez), a starting linebacker (Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans), a second-tier QB (Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph) or a receiver (Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, D.J. Moore).
To Cardinals for No. 15 and 2019 first-rounder
The Cardinals don't have quite the cache of the Bills, but if they're willing to put their 2019 first on the table to move up for a QB and if the Broncos aren't taking the QB that's available, the Cardinals might be able to pull off a move like this. Of course, the Cardinals have plenty of issues outside of quarterback to address as well, and in a tough division it might not be worth trading what could be a top-10 pick next year to select the guy three other QB-needy teams passed on. I think the Cardinals are more likely to trade down than up.
What's the deal?
Right now I'm leaning toward the Giants taking the Bills' offer of three first-round picks if the Browns take Sam Darnold No. 1. The Jason Pierre-Paul trade to me is a sign they're in rebuild mode, and an Odell Beckham trade would be the same. The Giants certainly need an heir for Eli Manning, but if it's not Darnold, I don't know that they'd be satisfied with someone else. Getting three first-rounders is huge, and they'd be in position next year to move up for a QB if they have two first-round picks at their disposal.
Stars on the move
To Browns for No. 33 and No. 35
The Browns of course have the most cap room in the league as well as three second-round picks. I doubt they'd move either of their first-rounders in a Beckham trade, but what about two near-firsts and a potential Beckham replacement for the Giants? If that's not enough, Josh Gordon is an X-factor who could be out of the league forever with another slip-up, but he at least gives the Giants a talented starter on a cheap salary. The Giants would also have the first three picks of the second round, giving them the ammo to move back into the first round if they want, or the ability to snag three potential Day 1 starters back-to-back-to-back for a playoff push while Eli Manning is still under center.
To Colts for No. 36 and No. 37
The Colts have extra ammo after their tradedown with the Jets; why not use some of it to go get one of the best receivers in the game? The Giants want two firsts for Beckham, but this might be as close as they're going to get, considering the acquiring team will then have to sign him to an enormous extension. That won't be a problem for the Colts, who have the second-most cap space in the league and plenty of ways to make more to accommodate a big Beckham deal in 2019 and beyond (five players are scheduled to make between $4M and $8M in 2019 yet would have no dead cap number if cut). If the Colts pair Beckham with T.Y. Hilton and a healthy Andrew Luck, and they can boost the defense with Bradley Chubb at No. 6, this is suddenly an interesting team. If this isn't enough, the Colts could think about bumping one of the picks up to a 2019 first-rounder, or throwing in another pick. One final point: the Colts acquired three second-rounders in the move from No. 3 to No. 6, a move that looked like a steal at that time. Even if the Colts had to pay three seconds to get Beckham, wouldn't you love them essentially turning No. 3 into No. 6 and a star receiver?
The Panthers still have a major need at receiver, and even though a new Cam Newton contract is on the horizon, there should be plenty of room to pay top dollar for Beckham as well. The Giants don't get two firsts here, but they do land a recent first-round pick who could be developed as an eventual successor to Damon Harrison, along with one first and another quality pick in 2019. Would the Panthers be open to this type of franchise-altering move in an offseason where ownership is in flux? Probably a long shot, but with Gettleman's Carolina ties, one I'm not ruling out.
What's the deal?
I'd make Beckham a slight favorite to be dealt by the time the draft is over. While I'm not sure the Browns would pull the trigger on the above deal, the Colts put themselves in a great position to land the game-changing receiver if two early seconds (plus maybe one other pick if needed) is enough. Beckham to the Colts, mark it down.
To Chargers for No. 48 and conditional 2019 fourth-rounder
A slow-developing safety market means the Seahawks likely won't be able to get as much as you'd think if they trade their All-Pro safety, but even though players like Tre Boston and Lardarius Webb are freely available and would cost nothing but money to add to a roster, Thomas's sheer talent could make him worth trading two picks to land and sign to a new deal. The Chargers have yet to find a replacement for Boston, and that No. 48 pick could be a good spot for them to target one. Or they can add a proven vet to what could be an elite defense in a trade like this.
To Cowboys for No. 50 and No. 116
The Cowboys have 10 picks in the draft, and Thomas would certainly put them atop his list as possible destinations once he becomes a free agent. Here, the Cowboys move their second-rounder for a guy who would immediately stabilize the back end of the defense.
To Panthers along with No. 146 for No. 55 and No. 85
This trade nets the Seahawks two Day 2 picks from the Panthers, who have two third-rounders but don't pick in the fourth round. Free safety could be a target of Carolina as early as the first round, but if they pass on the position there, a deal like this could make sense.
To Steelers along with No. 146 for No. 60 and 2019 second-rounder
This would address a massive need for the Steelers, but they'd have to do some work to fit Thomas's contract into their budget for 2018. If they can make the numbers add up, they could be the team most willing to part with two seconds in a deal for Thomas, provided they can land one of the Seahawks' numerous late-round picks in return.
What's the deal?
This time, I don't think there is one. The glacial safety market in free agency points to teams devaluing the position, for whatever reason. I don't think anyone is going to give the Seahawks what they expect to deal one of the best safeties in the league.
To Raiders along with No. 28 for No. 10
The Steelers are running out of time to sign Bell to an extension, but if it hasn't happened yet, why would it happen at all? If the two sides don't agree to a long-term deal by the draft, there's a case for using Bell as a chip to trade up in the first round and get in range for Lamar Jackson, Minkah Fitzpatrick or one of the top LBs. The Raiders are looking for a throwback type of offense and may be one team willing to pony up for an elite back. It'd likely take some restructuring of other players to fit Bell in (Kelechi Osemele? Rodney Hudson?), but if the front office can make it work, wouldn't Jon Gruden jump at the chance to add Bell to his offense? This one's a long shot, but file it under "stranger things have happened."
To Redskins along with No. 28 for No. 13
Another team that isn't in the best cap situation, especially for 2019, but one where adding a game-changing running back makes a lot of sense. Is an offense built around Alex Smith, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and an always injured Jordan Reed really one that's going to have a lot of success? However, take the pressure off Smith with a blue-chip running back, and suddenly there's a pathway to putting up points. Washington could then take interior line help later in the first round.
To Colts for No. 37
The Steelers might be better off looking for a trade partner that has a ton of cap space and extra picks in the second round who might be a fit for Bell. The Colts check off all those boxes, with a barren RB depth chart, more than $60 million in estimated cap space this year and next, and three picks in the second round (plus two more next year) after their deal with the Jets. If the Steelers can swing a pick in this range and pair it with No. 28, they could then move up in the early teens and be in much better position to land Lamar Jackson or a linebacker. Imagine if the Colts were able to add both Beckham and Bell while keeping No. 6 (it'd probably take the two early seconds and their 2019 first). If Luck is healthy ... yowza.
What's the deal?
While I see the sense in trading Bell, I'm not sure anyone is going to ultimately pay a premium price for a guy they know they'll have to overpay to keep, based on continuing reports of long-term negotiations with the Steelers over the last year-plus. No deal.
To Colts for conditional 2019 sixth-rounder
The Cowboys signed Allen Hurns recently and could very well use No. 19 overall on a receiver. If that's the case, there's a chance they'd look to move on from Dez's monster salary, and we've seen about the team maybe cutting him. If the Cowboys do take a receiver early, a team with cap room like the Colts should look to swoop in with an offer of a late-rounder or a conditional pick next year, assuming they don't swing a trade for another big-name NFC East receiver first.
To Texans for conditional 2019 sixth-rounder
The Texans are a team without picks in the first and second round this year, but here's a way to add talent to a position with two great starters but not much depth behind them. Giving the team's electric young QB a receiving trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Bryant would be pretty fun.
To Jets for conditional 2019 sixth-rounder
The Jets have the cap room for Bryant, but if they need more space this year, they could save $5.55 million by parting ways with Jermaine Kearse. They have plenty of room in 2019 to keep him around as well. The team gave up the ability to add multiple potential starters this year and next by trading three second-rounders to the Colts, and this would be a way to find starting-caliber talent at a position of need.
What's the deal?
I'd love to see Dez to the Texans, but would Jerry Jones sign off on that deal? Mark me down for Dez to the Jets.
To Seahawks for No. 141
There's speculation the Bears could move on from Howard under their new offensive system, and while I wouldn't call a trade a foregone conclusion by any means, it doesn't hurt to identify a few potential suitors. It likely wouldn't take more than a Day 3 pick to land him, and Seattle has four picks in the fifth round from which to make a move.
To Redskins for No. 142
Washington has two picks in the fifth round. Howard could give the offense a nice 1-2 punch at running back with Chris Thompson.
To Raiders for No. 159 and No. 212
Jon Gruden wants to build a throwback offense, and landing a proven lead back like Howard on his cheap rookie deal could make some sense. The Raiders have three comp picks in the sixth round as well as six picks in all in Rounds 5 and 6, so they could be a rare team willing to offer two picks for the back if he's available.
What's the deal?
I like the Seahawks here, considering their stash of Day 3 picks. Howard pairs with C.J. Prosise to give the team a nice set of weapons at running back ... provided the line can do its job.
More possible first-round trades
Bucs jump for Barkley
No. 7, No. 102 and No. 202 to Broncos for No. 5
The Bucs are the team in Barkley range that probably needs him the most, but it's unlikely he makes it to No. 7. And the Jason Pierre-Paul trade leaves them a little light on mid-round picks to pull off a move up. But if the Broncos aren't committed to a QB at No. 5, maybe they'd be willing to take a couple picks for a small move down.
What's the deal?
I don't think it's happening. With the Bucs missing their third-rounder, I'd peg them more a move-down candidate than someone to move up. And they might get that chance, if four QBs go in the top six and leave one of Barkley, Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson available.
Bears go get Nelson
No. 8 and No. 39 to Broncos for No. 5 and No. 71
The Bears showed last year they'll move up for the right guy, and Nelson figures to be the perfect target for them this year. However, he'd make sense for all three teams picking fifth through seventh. With no third-round pick in hand, the Bears might need to get a little creative to make something work, and here it involves a big drop back on Day 2.
No. 8 and No. 39 to Colts for No. 6 and No. 49
A similar deal to the one above, though not involving quite the drop. The Colts might be interested in a trade back if Barkley and Chubb are off the board along with three QBs, but in that case, they might want to auction their pick to the QB-needy teams and move down a little bit more.
No. 8 and No. 115 to the Buccaneers for No. 7
If Nelson gets to No. 7, the Bears should feel pretty good about landing him. But if they get nervous, the Bucs might be able to get a fourth-rounder out of them to swap picks. Considering Tampa Bay no longer has a third-round pick, that extra fourth could come in handy.
What's the deal?
None here. If the Bears are moving, it's probably down, taking a nice package from a QB chaser angling to get one of the top four arms if he slips out of the top five.
Dolphins chase a QB
No. 11 and No. 73 to Buccaneers for No. 7
If the teams in the top six are unwilling to trade down and miss out on a blue-chip prospect, it's possible we see a QB fall to No. 7 or beyond. Picture the top six going QB, QB, QB, Barkley, Nelson, Chubb. That leaves none of the big-three non-QBs on the board, but one of the four top-tier QBs available. The Bucs would be wise to trade their pick to the highest bidder. I ultimately think that would be the Bills, since they'd have been unable to move up before this point, but the Dolphins would also be in play for a QB. This is the highest I think they can get.
What's the deal?
This one is a little too far-fetched for me. If anyone is moving up from the teens for a QB, it's the Bills.
Bills get it done
No. 12 and No. 53 to Colts for No. 6
We looked earlier at what it would take the Bills to get to No. 2, No. 4 or No. 5. But if those teams balk at moving down, the Bills could still get lucky and see their preferred QB target slip out of the top five. If that happens, there's a good chance the Colts struck out on their preferred options, as the two non-QBs off the board would most likely be Bradley Chubb and Saquon Barkley. The Colts could then examine another trade down -- it's not like they don't need starting-caliber players up and down the depth chart. Outside of the top five, a deal becomes easier for the Bills to make from a matching value standpoint. If they also have to kick in a Day 3 pick this year or next to outbid another team, so be it.
No. 12 and No. 65 to Buccaneers for No. 7
A similar deal to the one above, but instead trading the Tyrod Taylor pick to move up for their guy.
No. 12 and No. 65 to Bears for No. 8 and No. 145
The Bears don't have a third-round pick, so getting one hear could have some appeal if their preferred target isn't on the board.
No. 12 and No. 96 to 49ers for No. 9
The 49ers showed last year they're willing to move back, and adding No. 96 gives them ammo to move up in the second round as well. Using the pick in a trade could get them from No. 59 to around their original second-round pick of No. 43 (traded for Jimmy Garoppolo). If they use one of their earlier thirds instead, they might be able to move up to the top of the second round.
What's the deal?
I had the Bills trading up to No. 2 earlier, so these deals are moot in that scenario.
Ravens land a QB
No. 16 and No. 83 to Redskins for No. 13 and No. 142
CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora has reported the Ravensthis year, and they could be targeting Mason Rudolph at No. 16. But if four QBs go in the top five and none are the result of a trade up, it's possible the QB well will dry up before the Ravens are on the clock. If the Browns, Giants, Jets and Broncos all draft a QB early, the Bills and Cardinals could snap up Rudolph and Lamar Jackson in some order, shutting the Ravens out. If they see that scenario developing, they may look to get aggressive to get in front of the Cardinals, and it would take a deal like this to make it happen.
No. 16 and No. 118 to Packers for No. 14
A similar but simpler deal to the one above, with the Ravens hopping the Cardinals for a QB, likely Rudolph.
What's the deal?
If four QBs go in the top five and the Bills don't get one, I like the chances that the Packers deal above happens. It may anyway if the Ravens are locked in to Rudolph and are worried the Cardinals would take him over Jackson.
Seahawks shop around
No. 18 and No. 156 to Titans for No. 25, No. 89 and No. 125
This is a little bit of a change from the deals above, which involve a team moving up for a particular prospect. Here the Seahawks do what they can to move down and address the fact they have no picks on Day 2. This would give them a third, two fourths and three fifths instead of no thirds, one fourth and four fifths. They'd also be in position to make another trade down from No. 25 for additional picks. The Titans don't have many needs, but hopping up to this range could put them in play for a linebacker who might not be there at No. 25.
No. 18 and No. 168 to Steelers for No. 28 and No. 60
The Steelers have a huge need at linebacker but no guarantee that any of the top four prospects will make it to them. If they want to jump up for a particular linebacker, getting ahead of the Cowboys at No. 19 would be smart. Teams like the Bills, Patriots and Titans could also be eyeing linebackers in the 20s, and even if two of those are moving up, trade-down candidates like the Giants and Colts would also be in the market for the position.
No. 18 to Vikings for No. 30 and No. 62
The Vikings don't have many needs, so it stands to reason they'd be open to moving up for the right guy. I think that could be a guard like Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez, and getting ahead of the Lions and Bengals would be smart.
No. 18 to Browns for No. 33, No. 64 and No. 114
The Browns have already been active in the trade market, depleting some of the pick stash they had previously built up. If they're willing to deal a few more picks, or if they move down from No. 4 and add some more selections, it could make sense to swing this type of deal to go up and get a left tackle ahead of Cincinnati.
No. 18 to Colts for No. 36 and No. 49
Earlier we discussed how the Colts could use the picks attained in the Jets deal to add some premium veterans on the trade market. They could also engineer a deal like this to get an additional first-round pick, perhaps putting them in better range for a linebacker, a guard or a pass-rusher if they miss out on Chubb.
What's the deal?
I like the Seahawks to take the Titans deal and then angle for another move down out of the first round altogether. Perhaps they could get No. 36 and No. 67 from the Colts for No. 25 and No. 146. That would give the Seahawks No. 36, 67, 89 and 125 instead of No. 18, 146 and 156, and they'd still have No. 120, 141 and 168 along with two seventh-rounders. Seems like a worthy trade-off.