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NFL Free Agency Is a Time for 'Self-Trades'

The Kansas City Chiefs last week released veteran offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. Earlier this week, even before the 2021 NFL year officially began on Wednesday, the Chiefs turned around and signed guard Joe Thuney. Technically, Thuney counts as a free-agent signing, but it might as well be called a self-trade.


“They basically traded their old contacts for the new one,” said former Eagles team president Joe Banner. Think of it as teams trading with themselves. As teams evaluate their own players whose contracts are up, they must weigh the benefit of trying to re-sign those players vs. upgrading via free agency. In some cases, they may choose to downgrade, if it means freeing up money for a more pressing need.


“Cutting players and turning around and spending the same money on someone else,” said Banner. “In other words, they felt they could spend the money better by getting rid of their guy and signing somebody else’s guy. That’s how I would define this kind of trading with yourself… I can keep so-and-so or I can use the same dollars to get so-and-so.”


A good example of these “self-trades” occurred in Tennessee this week. The Titans released cornerback Adoree Jackson and signed veteran CB Janoris Jenkins. Jackson missed much of last season due to injury, so that might be one reason the moves made sense.


Miami essentially made a self-trade at quarterback, letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go and signing Jacoby Brissett for about half the money they would have had to pay Fitzpatrick.


However, a self-trade doesn’t have to involve players at the same position.


“It can be a trade of dollars from one player to another or one position to another,” said Banner, who added that he often used the term “self-trade” when he was in the league. “It happens all the time, just a little more now than usual.”


The Las Vegas Raiders made a self-trade in which the dollars lined up perfectly. They chose not to re-sign wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who was their second-leading receiver behind TE Darren Waller last season. Agholor signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Patriots. Coincidence or not, the Raiders then signed DE Yannick Ngakoue. The deal? Two years, $26 million.