5 Marquee Veterans Who Could Be Traded Before or During 2023 NFL Draft

Trades always spice up the NFL Draft. They usually involve swapping draft spots for teams to move up or down, but sometimes veteran players are part of the deals.

Here are five marquee veterans who could be on the move between now and the end of the 2023 NFL Draft. 

5 Players Who Could Be Traded

Trey Lance, QB, 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers reportedly have been receiving calls on the third overall pick from the 2021 draft. They invested a lot when they traded first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023 plus a third-round pick in 2021 to move from No. 12 to No. 3 and select Trey Lance

He has only four career starts. He backed up Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie and moved into the starting job in 2022 until he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. That opened the door for Garoppolo until he broke his foot, and then rookie sensation Brock Purdy, who won his first seven starts before suffering his elbow injury on the first series in the NFC title game in Philadelphia. 

Lance is projected to be fully recovered for the upcoming season while Purdy’s timeline is less certain, giving Lance a chance to be the Week 1 starter. The 49ers also signed veteran Sam Darnold to compete with Lance or hold the spot until Purdy is ready if Lance is traded. 

Purdy is the cheaper option as a seventh-round pick. Entering his second season, he carries an $889,000 cap hit in 2023 and $1 million in 2024 compared to Lance, who carries a $9.3 million cap number in 2023 and $10.9 million in 2024 — still cheap as starting quarterbacks go. Going with Purdy and trading Lance would free up a lot of money for Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa’s looming — and expensive — extension. 

It would cost the 49ers $1.7 million more in cap space due to an $11 million dead money hit if they trade Lance before June 1, and they can save $3.8 million against the cap with a post-June 1 trade.

If the 49ers find a team that had a high first-round grade on Lance entering the 2021 draft and is willing to give up a first- or second-round pick (with an extra high pick on a conditional basis if Lance performs well at his new team), then the 49ers might be willing to trade Lance if they believe Purdy has a bigger upside. 

It would be a risky move for 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan to let Lance go so early in his career. Remember the case of Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf trading a first-round pick to Atlanta in 1992 for an unproven Brett Favre, who was the Falcons’ second-round pick the year before and rode the bench as a rookie? That turned out pretty well in Green Bay. 

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

>> UPDATE: The Packers traded Rodgers to the Jets on Monday.

As the Beach Boys once sang, “Wouldn’t it be nice” if the Packers and New York Jets finally could reach an agreement on compensation so both teams — and their fan bases along with the rest of us — can stop wondering when this trade will be completed? It also would be nice to no longer hear Aaron Rodgers pontificate on his future and continue to blame the Packers’ compensation demands for causing the delay. Jordan Love surely would like to have Rodgers officially out of Green Bay, as would the Packers brass so they no longer have to deal with Rodgers’ drama. 

Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst probably wants one of the Jets’ two second-round picks (No. 42 or 43) on April 28 as part of a deal for the four-time MVP. It’s possible he prefers to stretch this out until after June 1 to reduce the dead money hit by $25 million this year. It would cost the Packers about $9 million more in cap room to trade Rodgers pre-June 1 compared to his current $31.6 million cap number, which the team can absorb with $22.2 million of cap room. 

The Jets want their new quarterback into the team’s offseason program as soon as possible to begin working with his new teammates. But it’s likely the Jets want to avoid giving up a first-round pick in 2024 unless it’s conditional on Rodgers leading a deep playoff run in 2023 and returning in 2024.

It wouldn’t be surprising if this deal gets done before or during the draft or if it stays on hold until post-June 1.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals can save $8.15 million against this year’s cap by trading DeAndre Hopkins before the draft or nearly $19.5 million with a post-June 1 trade. Hopkins has been linked to several teams, including the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants. Both teams would need to restructure his $19.45 million base salary for 2023 to fit him under their cap. 

The Cardinals acquired Hopkins and a fourth-round pick (No. 131) from the Houston Texans in 2020 for second- and fourth-round (No. 122) picks plus running back David Johnson. Hopkins delivered his fifth Pro Bowl season in 2020 with 115 catches for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns before hamstring and knee injuries limited him to 10 games in 2021.

He was hit with a six-game PED suspension last season but was productive upon his return with 64 catches for 717 yards, despite QB Kyler Murray’s absence in the final four games. 

>>READ: Hopkins Trade Talks Heating Up

Murray’s recovery from a torn ACL likely will cause him to miss the early part of the 2023 season. New Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort may feel this is a good time to trade Hopkins, pick up the cap savings and draft a receiver or sign a bargain free agent to join Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore.

Getting a third- or early fourth-round pick in return makes sense for a still-productive but 31-year-old receiver. Houston received fifth- and sixth-round picks from the Dallas Cowboys for Brandin Cooks, who turns 30 in September, and Hopkins is the better receiver now and much more accomplished in his career. 

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings

Dalvin Cook has not reported to the start of the voluntary portion of the Minnesota Vikings’ offseason program as rumors persist the team is trying to trade him to pick up additional draft picks and cap room. Or they may release Cook after re-signing No. 2 back Alexander Mattison for two years, $7 million. 

Cook, 28, is coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and is a four-time Pro Bowl pick, but his rushing average dropped last season to a career-low 4.4 yards per carry. He played in every game for the first time in his career despite a shoulder problem that required offseason surgery. 

Is he the latest example of the devaluing of running backs in today’s NFL, where Pro Bowl back Miles Sanders only received $6.35 million per year from the Carolina Panthers in free agency? Cook is a good enough receiving back — he had 39 catches in 2022, which adds to his value — but he’s scheduled to receive $11 million this year in base salary, roster bonus and workout bonus in the third year of a five-year deal.

The Vikings can gain $5.9 million of cap relief by releasing him or $7.8 million by trading him before June 1. They get $11 million of cap relief for a post-June 1 trade or $9 million if he’s released then.

>>READ: Why Running Backs Are Devalued

But what team would trade for Cook and be willing to pay him his scheduled $11 million this year? Christian McCaffrey is under contract with the 49ers for $12 million in 2023. They are one of the few teams — perhaps along with the Giants and Saquon Barkley’s franchise tag at $10.1 million and the Tennessee Titans with Derrick Henry at $10.5 million — who seem willing to pay eight figures to a running back and McCaffrey is the game’s best dual-purpose back. 

Perhaps Cook would agree to a slight pay cut and a trade to join the Miami Dolphins in his hometown. They could use a top back to take pressure off Tua Tagovailoa and the passing game. A third-round pick in return would make sense and help the Vikings, who have only five picks in the upcoming draft.

Montez Sweat, DE, Commanders

Something’s gotta give in Washington on its big-bucks defensive line. Daron Payne re-signed for four years, $90 million, and fellow Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen is entering the second season of a four-year, $72 million deal. Defensive end Chase Young, the second overall pick in 2020, likely will be a priority for an extension next year as he enters his fifth-year option. 

Like the other three Washington Commanders players, Montez Sweat was a first-round pick (in 2019) and will be playing under his fifth-year option this coming season for $11.5 million with no dead money hit if he’s traded. He’ll be a free agent next year without an extension (and the franchise tag likely would be too costly), so this is a good time to trade Sweat. 

Sweat registered eight sacks and 46 tackles last season. He’s a good player, but he’s also the most logical to be traded among the Commanders’ defensive linemen. At only 26 and with pass rushers always in demand, he should fetch at least a second-round pick.  

It doesn’t make sense for a team to have $52 million in salary cap room tied up in defensive linemen, which is the case for the Commanders. Washington has only $3.1 million of current cap room, and it will need additional cap space to sign its draft class and cover the entire roster when all players count — rather than the top 51 currently — after the final cut in September.

Trading Sweat and drafting a cheaper defensive end or signing a bargain free agent at the position can help with this issue.

Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.

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