NFL's 5 best trade chips

Kirk Cousins, others could bring solid returns in an offseason deal

Updated: December 23, 2012, 7:51 PM ET
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider
Kirk CousinsRon Schwane/USA TODAY SportsYou can almost hear other teams calling about Kirk Cousins.

Go through every trade of an active NFL player in 2012, and you won't find much to get excited about. I did, and counted 37 trades involving active players (an unofficial total), and that includes two entries from The Jeff Otah Chronicles. The reenactment won't exactly get your heart racing.

The names traded were rarely notable, the value in return was typically light, and the results have been just so-so. Vontae Davis is a name, and Miami secured a second-round pick from Indy for his services. It was a good haul for a player who wouldn't have been a Week 1 starter in Miami. Now the Colts know why: QBs throwing at Davis in 2012 have a passable 127.4 passer rating.

DeMeco Ryans was shipped to Philly, and was had for a fourth-rounder because he was replaceable in Houston. Jason Smith (Rams) straight up for Wayne Hunter (Jets) didn't exactly shut down the Internet either.

The most significant deal actually involving a decent return package happened when Chicago shipped two third-round picks to Miami for Brandon Marshall. The Dolphins got decent value for a player they were determined to move for reasons that go beyond football, and Marshall already has the most catches (107) by a Bears receiver in a season, and will destroy Chicago's single-season receiving yards mark. But that's really it. The deal that got the Redskins Robert Griffin III involved the greatest haul of draft value ever (really), but the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft is worth that much under the current CBA. It also wasn't a deal for an active player.

Deals involving players for valuable draft picks will continue to be rare, because trading NFL players, who are pegged to systems and always an injury away, makes any buyer suspicious. The same is true in free agency. That a player is even available destroys value -- Marshall is a perfect case. And draft picks have more value than ever. The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year might be a third-round pick that Seattle will pay a total of $2.99 million through 2015. That's what Mark Sanchez makes in five weeks.

A third-round pick feels more and more like a $1 lottery ticket with 20-1 odds.

So how can any trades of current players happen and return real value? You need a perfect intersection, and market perception matters:

1. The player appeals to a cross-section of teams, creating competition.
2. The player should be blocked or replaceable on his own team -- positional redundancy.
3. The team dealing doesn't expect to drop off without the player, making him expendable.
4. The contract can't be a disaster. Nobody is going to deal to pick up a huge guarantee.
5. The player must appear to have great value to his own team.

Got it? Let's look at what might make some sense. (And remember, I was right on MJD.)

Kirk Cousins

Cousins

Why you shop him: It's absolutely fair to say Cousins means plenty to the Redskins. RG III has more carries (112) than any other NFL QB, five more than Cam Newton, and in one fewer game. He's had two scares this season, and his health will be a concern going forward. But an evaluator who has worked with Cousins told me, "He could start for four to five teams now, and that number will grow." The Redskins know it, and will have to test the market given two factors. One, a healthy RG III means a Redskins team that is ready now to challenge deep into the playoffs -- if they can fill holes. But the trade to get RG III gutted future drafts and they need picks to fill those holes, particularly in the secondary. Two, the need for a starter is about to shrink -- five rookie QBs are starting and playing well, reducing the market significantly from where it was 10 months ago. If Arizona, the Jets and Kansas City find solutions at QB for 2013, the Redskins' current leverage is gutted. Third, Mike Shanahan's system can be run effectively by a veteran backup in spurts when needed, one the Redskins hope they don't need. Cousins isn't required.


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