By Matt Citak
We are just a few days away from Super Bowl LII, which means the official start of the 2018 NFL offseason is right around the corner. Free agents cannot technically sign with a new team until 4 PM on March 14th, which also represents the start of the league's trading period. While there are numerous notable free agents that are likely to find new homes this offseason, several teams will choose to fill some of its roster holes through the trade market.
Trades cannot be made official until March 14th, but teams can already begin to agree on deals. We saw this come to fruition last night, as the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller. Smith was the top quarterback available on the trade market, and his four-year extension with Washington ensures that Kirk Cousins will be finding a new home in 2018.
The trade between the Chiefs and Redskins was the first big domino to fall in the 2018 NFL offseason, but it certainly will not be the last. Here are several other players around the NFL that could be traded in the coming months.
QB Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
With Alex Smith already on his way to Washington, Taylor becomes the best quarterback available on the trade market. 2017 was a weird season for the mobile quarterback. Taylor completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,799 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions in 15 games this season. While his passing numbers were a bit lower than you'd typically want from your starting quarterback, the 28-year-old showed just how impressive he can be as a runner. Taylor gained 427 yards rushing on 84 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, with 26 of his rush attempts resulting in a first down. Taylor was benched for fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman late in the season, but the benching did not last long as Peterman threw five interceptions in one half and was moved back to the sidelines in favor of the veteran.
Taylor's benching for Peterman, although only temporarily, showed that the Bills front office likely does not have full confidence in the veteran as the team's starting quarterback moving forward. Buffalo has been linked to some of the free agent quarterbacks (especially Kirk Cousins), along with some of the top QBs in the draft, meaning Taylor's time in upstate New York may be coming to an end. Before simply releasing the quarterback (which would save the team about $10 million), Bills GM Brandon Beane will surely attempt to deal Taylor to one of the teams that lost out on acquiring Smith. The Bills won't get as much in return for Taylor as the Chiefs did for Smith, but it's possible a team gives up a mid-round pick for the quarterback on the last year of his deal with a cap hit around $18 million. The 28-year-old Virginia-native was more than serviceable in 2017, and could serve as a stop-gab QB for a team looking to add a rookie quarterback in the draft. The Browns and Cardinals come to mind as potential fits for Taylor.
CB Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Heading into the 2017 season, Sherman had a very impressive, 96-game active streak going. In fact, he had not missed a single game in his first six years in the NFL. That all changed in Week 9 though, when the cornerback suffered a season-ending Achilles injury during Seattle's win over Arizona. Prior to the injury, the veteran CB was enjoying another solid season. In nine games, Sherman collected 35 combined tackles, seven passes defended, and two interceptions, continuing his streak of multiple interceptions in every season he has played in the NFL.
The Seahawks front office attempted to trade Sherman last offseason, so it should come as no surprise that they are going to attempt to do the same thing in 2018. The four-time Pro Bowler will turn 30 at the end of March, and is coming off two surgeries- one to repair his torn right Achilles tendon, the other to remove bone spurs on his left ankle/heel. Between his health and questionable health status, Seattle may have trouble finding someone willing to take Sherman and the final year of his contract. But Sherman is just one year removed from a four-interception season, and while he may no longer be the shutdown corner he once was, he could still prove to be a solid corner on a contender. Whether he gets traded or not, the longtime Seahawk will likely be donning a new jersey next season.
CB Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
Talib is coming off a great 2017 campaign. The 31-year-old corner registered 31 combined tackles, one forced fumble, one interception (which he returned 103 yards for a touchdown) and seven passes defended. He earned his fifth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl, and finished the season ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 15 cornerback in the league. Talib is just one season removed from being named a first-team All-Pro selection, and is set to cost $12 million against the cap in 2018 and $8 million in 2019.
It is already being reported that Talib will not return to Denver next season. The Broncos have almost $18 million in cap space tied up between Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby next year, who both provide the team with younger, cheaper options at CB. If they are unable to find an appealing trade, Denver will likely cut Talib, which would cost them a mere $1 million. But John Elway will certainly at least try to trade the talented veteran corner before cutting him, and one team to keep an eye on is the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers showed a lot of promise at the end of the season once Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starting quarterback, and may not be as far away from contending as some people think. Talib can clearly still compete at a high level, and with San Francisco having the most cap space in the league, as well as a need for cornerbacks, a match between these two teams makes a lot of sense.
WR Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
It may seem surprising to see Thomas' name on this list, but due to the Broncos' cap situation and their obvious desire to clear cap space to make a run at Kirk Cousins, it's possible the team's No. 1 receiver is playing elsewhere in 2018. The 30-year-old wide receiver is coming off his worst season since 2011. For the first time in six years, Thomas failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards on the year, finishing the season with 949 yards on 83 receptions with five touchdowns. However it's hard to blame the veteran receiver for his struggles considering the level of quarterback play the Broncos received in 2017 from Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch.
Thomas has been a reliable receiver for the Broncos since they drafted him 22nd overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. But because of their lack of cap space, Elway will have to find creative ways of increasing the amount of money the team has to spend this offseason. One of the easiest ways to do this would be trading one of the team's top receivers- either Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas is set to make $12.5 million next season, while Sanders will earn $8.25 million. Thomas has been the better receiver over the last few seasons, but because they are the same age, Elway could choose to keep Sanders due to his lower cap hit. Denver will need to keep some attractive pieces on offense if they want to convince Cousins to sign as a free agent, meaning it's possible they bring back both Thomas and Sanders. But don't be surprised to see one of these two receivers wearing new colors next season, and Thomas is likely to bring back a better return in a trade than Sanders.
CB Eli Apple, New York Giants
After showing some promise during his rookie season, Apple's second year in the NFL could not have gone much worse. He appeared in just 11 games in 2017, and finished the year with 49 combined tackles, two passes defended, and two fumble recoveries. Apple was inactive for four games this season and played only special teams in Week 16 after it appeared, on multiple occasions, as if the young corner was lacking effort during losses to the Rams and 49ers. Apple's season ended with a suspension in Week 17 after reportedly getting into an argument with a coach about playing with the scout team in practice. If that weren't enough, New York's Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins referred to Apple as a "cancer" to the media.
Despite all that went on between Apple and the Giants last season, new GM Dave Gettleman has made it clear that it's possible Apple returns to New York next season. Numerous members of the Giants, including Collins, have said that the relationship between the young corner and the rest of the locker room can still be repaired, as long as Apple fixes his attitude. Reports state Apple was also dealing with personal issues involving his family throughout the entire season, which could have played a role in his bad attitude. Nonetheless, there's no question that teams will come calling about the 22-year-old corner, who is just two years removed from being the 10th overall pick in the draft. It remains to be seen what New York could get in return for Apple, but the best scenario would likely be around a third-round pick. If that's the case, Gettleman will have to decide if it's worth it to bring Apple back and risk him causing trouble in the locker room again, or take the pick and wash their hands clean of the troubled corner.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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