June 23, 2021

Trade or Keep: How Every Major NFL Holdout Situation Should Play Out

The 2021 organized team activities (OTAs) period has been underway for the NFL over the last month, and the attendance reports are always interesting. We don't want to overreact to veterans skipping out on voluntary events. However, there are instances where there's smoke from an incoming fire.  

Oftentimes a veteran wants to see their contract situation addressed. This doesn't always mean a fat, new contract, but rather a new piece of paper that simply guarantees more money. NFL contracts are essentially worth about half their value, and the guaranteed money goes away after Year 2 of most deals.

We see catastrophic injuries all of the time and players don't want to be left in the dust financially. Others may sit out OTAs to get a more advantageous situation elsewhere. Whatever their reasoning, we've scoured the reports from around the league to project whether key veterans will be kept or traded elsewhere amidst their holdouts. 

Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins' prized cornerback is one of the most interesting players to watch this offseason. His guaranteed money ran out on his giant five-year, $75 million deal, and now he wants more greenbacks. It's easy to understand why considering his past knee issues and past trade rumors.

Miami hedged against Howard shortly after extending his deal when they landed Byron Jones for more money, then drafted Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Igbinoghene barely played as a rookie, though, and Howard led the league in interceptions. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.

Miami should try to restructure Howard and keep him for another two years. His knee has durability concerns but he's a rare playmaker who changed the way the defense operated. It's unlikely they'd get back what they'd need to move him elsewhere.

Prediction: Keep

Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Injuries can be a devastating blow to any player. Chandler Jones has quietly put up numbers at a Hall of Fame pace in Arizona, and he'll join the 100-sack club in 2021. But at 31, he's coming off a season-ending biceps tear and he wants a new deal.

It's tough to justify from the Cardinals' perspective. Arizona hasn't been winning, and though Jones is a phenomenal talent, he had only five tackles and one sack in the four-plus games he participated in last year. Dropping from a 19-sack star to barely hitting double digits seems impossible but that's the rate he was at last season. 

The Cardinals should meet Jones in the middle and re-do the last year of his contract while adding an additional guaranteed year. He's underpaid at $15.5 million this season and he's an integral piece to their success. Any team that would acquire Jones would need to give him a new deal.

A four-year, $80 million contract with about $30 million guaranteed between this year and next makes more sense than a trade for both parties. 

Prediction: Keep

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

It’s surprising we haven’t already seen Zach Ertz traded or released to this point. His big $8.5 million base salary would be a welcomed subtraction off the Eagles’ cap sheet, and the franchise is ready to reboot without the veteran. There’s also a major need for tight ends around the league.

Philadelphia won’t get much in return for Ertz after injuries slowed the star in 2020. Teams believe he’ll be cut if they wait, so getting a flier pick in return is the best they can expect. They may even give Ertz some power as to where he’ll end up.

The Bills and Jaguars are obvious landing spots for the veteran. Teams with young quarterbacks should be willing to give up a 2022 mid-round pick to get the possession target. 

Prediction: Trade

Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots

The Patriots have been dangling the former All-Pro cornerback in trades for over a year in hopes to get a significant return. They missed their window to maximize his value as they tried to reach the playoffs with a barren roster in 2020. Gilmore is in the final year of his contract and will expect a new deal before the season, and he’s turning 31 in September.

He’s still worth trading for on a short-term deal. His game relies on physicality, ball skills, and length. His ability to play in zone as an outside corner and man in the slot will help him age gracefully like Richard Sherman.

New England always seems to move on from their stars and I think it'll happen again if they get the right offer. The Falcons, 49ers, Colts, Cardinals, and Washington Football Team have the need and cap room to get a deal done. 

Prediction: Trade

Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears

Timing is everything in the NFL, and unfortunately for Akiem Hicks, his timing couldn't be worse. He's entering the last year of his four-year, $48 million extension at 32 years old. And the Bears are right up against the salary cap despite trying to address needs at tackle and cornerback.

Hicks is a unique defensive playmaker at 6-foot-4, 352 pounds. He's a legitimate pass-rush threat while being stout against the run. Few trench defenders are as dominant as he is thanks to his surprising quickness and obvious power.

His days of getting seven sacks or more are in the rearview mirror. Though still a stalwart for the unit, Hicks should sign a team-friendly deal that adds some guaranteed money for 2022. Anything more would be superfluous considering his age. 

Prediction: Keep

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