The start of the NFL preseason signals the approaching start of the regular season. Every year, players move from one city to another, sometimes via trade. Some of these trades have monumental impacts on teams’ short- and long-term fortunes. With that in mind, let’s examine five NFL players who realistically could be traded in 2023 — and the circumstances that could lead to these outcomes.
5 NFL Players To Potentially Be Traded in 2023
We’ve witnessed significant trades in recent years. Some have panned out. Others simply haven’t. Last year alone, the Jaguars’ “buy-low” acquisition of Calvin Ridley could help elevate them to legitimate Super Bowl contenders this season. The Vikings’ addition of T.J. Hockenson filled a gaping offensive hole en route to a 13-4 record.
One year earlier, the (at the time) undefeated Cardinals secured Zach Ertz, in what appeared to be the final piece of a Super Bowl run. Most notably, the 2021 Rams traded for Matthew Stafford, Von Miller, and Sony Michel, contributing to the franchise’s first title in more than two decades.
When it comes to NFL trades, the ends often justify the means. If it works out, it was worth it. If it doesn’t, then perhaps it was a mistake. But in real time, they can dramatically alter the NFL landscape.
The following five big-name players realistically could be dealt before the 2023 trade deadline. Here are the conditions by which they could be moved.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee was the AFC’s No. 1 seed two years ago. But in one of the biggest collapses of the modern era, they lost their final seven contests last season, including a Week 18 loss to Jacksonville (on a “fumble-six” with less than three minutes remaining) to keep them out of the playoffs.
While the Titans’ defense can keep them competitive, they’re increasingly outmanned by the ascending Jaguars. The sheen on Ryan Tannehill has long since faded, and as the AFC has grown more competitive, Tennessee appears to have only the slimmest hopes of reaching the playoffs, with a relatively easy strength of schedule working in their favor.
MORE: What Will Derrick Henry’s Next Contract Look Like?
But here’s the plain reality. Derrick Henry will turn 30 in January. Among starting running backs, he’s the active career leader in regular-season rushing attempts with 1,750 — 37% more than No. 2, Dalvin Cook. On a team that’s in partial rebuild mode, Henry’s value has nowhere to go but down.
It would border on lunacy for Tennessee to gradually run out the clock on Henry’s contract without fetching draft capital for him. As they focus on 2024 and beyond, expect the Titans to unload their star RB — one of the best of his generation — as they retool their offense around Treylon Burks, Will Levis, and perhaps even Tyjae Spears. Henry is the past and present. They have to look to the future.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
When he entered the league, Austin Ekeler didn’t profile as a future starter, much less a future bell cow. He’s been one of the biggest offensive surprises in decades — one of the best at his position, period.
However, Ekeler probably won’t return to L.A. after this season. The Chargers don’t want to give the 28-year-old (turning 29 next offseason) a long-term contract. If Los Angeles believes they can overtake the Chiefs, then, assuredly, they’ll hold onto Ekeler. When healthy, this team proved last year and the year before that they can compete with anyone.
But if the Chargers start slow, keep an ear on the buzz surrounding this franchise. A half-dozen or more teams would love to rent Ekeler for the right price. He could be a difference-maker for a team eyeing a Super Bowl run. If the Chargers stumble through the first six weeks, they might start shopping their long-time star.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Much of what was written about Henry can be applied to Cooper Kupp, who will turn 30 in June. Kupp’s value can’t get any higher, and the Rams’ 2023 prospects can’t get much lower. They won their title. Trading their future for the present in 2021 paid off. Now they’re living with the consequences.
Kupp’s greatness aside, L.A. has major question marks at quarterback (is Stafford officially declining?), the backfield (can Cam Akers finally put it all together?), and on defense, which used to be their calling card. The Rams are also thin at receiver beyond Kupp, which was made clear last season after the all-world wideout was knocked out midseason.
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Like the Titans, the Rams need to rebuild. But unlike Tennessee, they have more salary cap restraints.
Kupp is signed for four more seasons, although the team has an out after two years. Still, with the Rams treading water at best in the NFC, it would behoove them to unload one of the game’s top receivers to a team with the cap space and title prospects to warrant a “final piece of the puzzle” acquisition.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
If you think DeAndre Hopkins is nearly finished, consider his 64-717-3 receiving line in only nine games last year, with a majority of that production coming on throws from backup quarterbacks. He can still be a near-elite NFL wide receiver, at least for one more year.
The Cardinals were the last undefeated team only two years ago. Like the Titans, they appeared to be well on their way to Super Bowl contention. However, Arizona’s injury-plagued collapse (among other factors) has left them as the ultimate longshots to win the title this season.
With Kyler Murray potentially out until midseason, it’s hard to justify keeping Hopkins around. Coincidentally, they appeared close to trading him to the Titans before this year’s draft.
There’s still a market for an alpha receiver who can help elevate a passing attack. Depending on how things shake out in the first month of the season, one or more teams might find they need Hopkins more than ever. And the Cards would be all too happy to cash out.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
There’s plenty of buzz this offseason about Dalvin Cook’s future in Minnesota. He moderately regressed last season, and as he enters his age-28 campaign, the long-time bell cow isn’t likely to become more valuable in 2023.
The Vikings are in an interesting spot in the NFC North, and in the NFC in general. The Lions and Bears are improving. Minnesota still has a good shot at winning the division and making a postseason run. Alexander Mattison presumably could step into the starting role without too much of a hit to the Vikes’ offense. Or at least, that’s the theory.
But the return needs to be worth it. Cook still holds plenty of value as a running back who could immediately transform a middling backfield into a very good one — or a great one if he rebounds.