American Football

Will Rams get involved in the veteran wide receiver carousel?


Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

There is sure to be a lot of WR movement in the next month, will the Rams be involved in a big trade?

Will the Los Angeles Rams trade Cooper Kupp this year? I know we’d all like answers to questions like that to be very simple, but there are always conversations and considerations to be had with players every offseason. Especially the most expensive ones.

But I’ll put your mind at ease: No, the Rams are not likely to trade Kupp in 2024.

The fact is that Kupp’s contract would be difficult to trade right now and he provides more value to L.A. than he would anywhere else in the league. He’s a Sean McVay lifer and if the tough, physical Puka Nacua is forced to miss any action next season, nobody could be a better receiver to have at that time than Cooper Kupp.

Instead, the Rams are more likely to acquire a starting receiver than to part ways with one.

It’s been two years since Les Snead and McVay were able to add a high-profile receiver and I’m sure they’re itching to go back at it again after having to sit 2023 out due to cap constraints. There’s also a wide and talented market of ones who are probable to be available. This is a comprehensive rundown of all the options, what I expect to happen with each of these situations, and maybe two or three who make sense for the Rams.

Trade Market

Justin Jefferson, Vikings

If the Vikings put Justin Jefferson on the trade block, the Rams have proven time and time again why they merit consideration as a team that would trade for a star of his caliber. But unfortunately if you wish that would happen—or fortunately if you want L.A. to keep all its assets and build through the draft—Minnesota can’t really be so stupid that they would prioritize Kirk Cousins over Justin Jefferson, right?

Jefferson is 24 and he’s proving to be the best receiver in the NFL, arguably since he was drafted in 2020. While the Cowboys picked CeeDee Lamb over him, the Raiders, Broncos, and Eagles—Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Reagor—will always be left to wonder, “What if?”

Jefferson missed seven games and had to spend part of the season with Nick Mullens (almost half of his target came from Mullens, while he barely spent time with Josh Dobbs or Jaren Hall) but kept his 1,000-yard streak alive. Minnesota is expected to pay Jefferson and to not lose a star receiver too early as they did with Randy Moss and Stefon Diggs. (Although in Diggs case it worked perfectly, as they drafted Jefferson with the pick.)

My advice to the Vikings is to give Jefferson the “unprecedented” receiver contract he seeks, which could be in the range of let’s say a fully-guaranteed three-year, $93 million deal, and part ways with Cousins. Basically they’re giving the Cousins money to Jefferson, but it was kind of proven last season that Jefferson is more valuable than the QB.

Former Rams OC Kevin O’Connell is the person most pushing for Cousins to be re-signed, but the front office needs to overrule him and give KOC assurances that he won’t be fired if the offense goes through some growing pains with a new quarterback. Options who previously worked in a McVay offense would include Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, or even a trade for Jake Browning.

To summarize all of that: No, I don’t think the Rams or any team will trade for Jefferson. But stranger things have happened.

Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

Conversely, Brandon Aiyuk seems far more certain to be traded but we can also say with confidence that he’s not going to the Rams. Still, this is a potentially idiotic move for the 49ers.

Aiyuk is a better receiver right now than Deebo Samuel. He’s younger, he runs better routes, he blocks. But since Deebo is already paid and Aiyuk is up for a new deal coming off of a 1,300-yard season, the Niners could be forced to part with the better player as they did when they chose Arik Armstead over DeForest Buckner.

We should see Aiyuk looking for a contract near four years and $104 million, topping the $25 million per year for A.J. Brown. I also wonder if the same team that got Buckner will want Aiyuk: Imagine the Colts pairing Anthony Richardson with Aiyuk for the next five years.

Indianapolis would send pick 15 to the 49ers for Aiyuk.

If San Francisco can manage it though, they might re-sign Aiyuk and try to trade Deebo in 2025. The problem there is that Deebo has a $21 million salary in 2025 and he’ll be 28 going on 48. They might not get the first round pick for Deebo that they’ll get for Aiyuk and that’s only if they can trade Deebo, period. I expect Aiyuk to be traded to the AFC.

Mike Williams, Chargers

There would seem to be a 1% chance that Mike Williams stays with the Chargers and that’s only if he agrees to take a pay cut, which wouldn’t make any sense for him. Williams missed virtually the entire season, he’s 30, he makes entirely way too much money. I don’t think a team will agree to give up a draft pick for a $17 million salary, so I’d look for Williams to be released prior to receiving his $3 million roster bonus in March.

The Allen Robinson disaster should have taught the Rams to stay away from receivers like this.

Diontae Johnson, Steelers

To me, it’s not hard to figure out why the Steelers might trade Diontae Johnson. You honestly don’t need to have sources other than Just look at the contracts! Johnson is 28 and going into the final year of a deal that doesn’t have any guaranteed money. It’s not that complicated.

Johnson may still have the potential to gain 1,200 yards in a better system with a better quarterback and he doesn’t want to go through another year like the last two with Kenny Pickett. New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith isn’t going to help him fix that.

I think Diontae Johnson and the Steelers “mutually part ways” with a team agreeing to let him seek a trade and then getting a third round pick for him. I mean, if the Steelers do decide to give Justin Fields a spin, it would make sense to include Johnson in the deal going to the Bears. I give it low odds that Diontae is a Steeler in 2024.

Jerry Jeudy, Broncos

We’ve been dancing around this trade for two years, it’s time to finally get it done. But fans still need to come to terms with the FACT that Jerry Jeudy is not that good. You have to think of Jeudy the same whether he was a first round pick or a fourth rounder and if he was a fourth rounder there’s just no way that ANYONE would be that anxious to acquire Jerry Jeudy.

Yeah, he hasn’t turned 25 yet. But he still needs to prove something and you can say ‘boo’ about Russell Wilson or Nathaniel Hackett or Drew Lock because at the end of the day we’ve seen how great receivers always transcend terrible situations. At least to some degree.

Given that Jeudy has the $13 million fifth-year option in 2024, I don’t even know that you could get a team to trade for him. He’s not worth $13 million, so Denver would have to pay a big portion of his salary or take a bad contract in return. It’s most likely the Broncos have to keep Jeudy for that reason and see if year two of Sean Payton is kinder than year one.

Amari Cooper, Browns

Cooper is 30 and entering the last year of his contract. He might prefer to stay in Cleveland because he knows that they need him and $20 million is a lot of money for a player of his caliber at his age. He’s not a top-10 receiver but he is easily the best option that the Browns have right now. The number two receiver in Cleveland is Elijah Moore, not including tight end David Njoku.

The Browns don’t have a first round pick or a lot of cap space because of the Deshaun Watson mistake, so there is a chance that they see an opportunity to trade an asset and Cooper sees a chance to get a new contract if he’s put on the market. He can make $20 million if he stays with the Browns, but maybe he could get $40 million guaranteed on a new deal and be paid one more time before turning 31. Who knows what will happen to him next season.

Cleveland would not get a first round pick for Cooper. They might get a second. It seems to be a relatively deep receiver draft class though, so maybe the Browns take that offer to save cap space and start the clock on a new offensive weapon. It’s a huge risk though because after that they’d arguably have the worst WR room in the NFL.

Hunter Renfrow, Raiders

Two options for Renfrow: Accept that you WILL be released by the Raiders. Or take a massive pay cut to stay in Las Vegas and play for Antonio Pierce. Renfrow was a horrible fit for Josh McDaniels and he barely played in the past two seasons, but could still be a good slot player for the right coach. I think we might see him agree to the pay cut.

DeAndre Hopkins, Titans

Hopkins got to 1,000 yards last year (barely) because Tennessee kept feeding him the ball. He only caught 54% of his targets and even if you want to blame Ryan Tannehill or Will Levis for that, the Titans are sticking with Levis. Does Hopkins want to be a part of that again? Better yet, does Tennessee really need to pay $16 million for Hopkins? (Half of that is in bonuses.)

If I’m the Titans, I release Hopkins prior to his March roster bonus of $4 million. Another team isn’t likely to trade for that contract.

Davante Adams, Raiders

Say what you want about Aaron Rodgers, I’m confident that at least one thing is true: He’s DESPERATE to win another Super Bowl before he retires just so he can sink one last shot against his detractors. That’s his dream and he’ll do whatever it takes to get there. The next step in that process is telling the Jets to trade for Davante Adams, and we already know that they’ll do whatever he tells them to do.

A reasonable trade might work out similar to the one used to acquire Rodgers last year:

The Raiders get pick #10 and a 2025 conditional second

The Jets get Davante Adams, pick #13

If New York is suddenly brilliant overnight, they also make Las Vegas take Zach Wilson.

Tyler Lockett, Seahawks

With Seattle picking Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round last year, it sets them up to have an in-house replacement for Lockett, who is now coming off the worst season of his career in many ways. Lockett is still a valuable receiver who will find a home, but he’s not worth the $27 million cap hit he’s owed in 2024 if the Seahawks don’t part ways with him.

Unless Lockett says, “Look, I don’t want to play anywhere else in my career, my life is in Seattle, I’ll take less money” then the Seahawks have to part ways. They can’t trade DK Metcalf for any savings, although that’s something the team might consider next year. For now, Lockett is the most likely receiver to leave Seattle and his salary ($15m) is too great for a team to pick up. He’s a probable cap casualty. He would certainly be more of a valuable complement to Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua than most receivers in this article.

Stefon Diggs, Bills

Both sides are claiming right now that they don’t want to make a change and that’s probably true. Especially because Buffalo could lose Gabe Davis and they can’t possibly trade Diggs without going out and getting another number one receiver for Josh Allen. That isn’t going to happen and the Bills only pick 28th, not early enough to be sure that you’re drafting someone ready to start.

Diggs caught 107 passes for 1,183 yards last year, but at 30 his numbers were still slightly down from his first three years in Buffalo. That’s got to be concerning for a guy who didn’t exactly sign a player-friendly deal with the Bills: He has four years left but the Bills can even cut him right now and save money. That’s a very bad contract for a player of his caliber.

However, his biggest issue is that he’s becoming expensive at a time that many teams will assume he’s on the downside of his career.

If Diggs is most interested in money, I might have to go to the Bills and say, “Guarantee my next two years or trade me to a team that will.” That’s essentially what Jalen Ramsey did to the Rams a year ago. He has no guaranteed money left and he doesn’t make much in bonuses. He also has the Bills over a barrel because they could lose Davis and that would make Khalil Shakir the WR1 for now.

Is there a team that feels like they just need a WR1 to take the offense to the next level but they’re not picking early enough in the first round and they have cap space?

What if the Detroit Lions trade Jameson Williams and the earlier of their two third round picks for Diggs? Yes, Williams is young and he was such an exciting prospect, but he hasn’t shown it yet through two years. Giving Jared Goff a duo of Diggs and Amon-Ra St. Brown could be a major get for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

On Buffalo’s end, they get younger and cheaper at receiver, re-sign Davis, and let Josh Allen be the one to bring the most out of Jamo.

Extension Candidates: Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, CeeDee Lamb, Amon-Ra St. Brown

These players would be on the trade block if it wasn’t so likely that their teams will pony up the cash to keep them. I guess Justin Jefferson would belong here too but at least we know there are some rumors there and that he’s going to cost the most amount to keep.

So I think all these players will be extended, however I would remind you that the Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles when the right thing to do would have been to give him a new contract.

Imagine the cap-strapped Dolphins (they’re about $45-$50 million OVER) getting a phone call about Jaylen Waddle: “Hey, we’ll give you a first and a second.” It may be too good to pass up. Would the Falcons, being out of position for a QB or one of the top-3 WRs in the draft, be willing to trade pick 8 for Waddle?

And the Eagles aren’t exactly setup to pay DeVonta Smith an extension, although I think that’s what they will do anyway.

Rams targets

Of all these names, the standouts for me would be Diontae Johnson and Tyler Lockett, simply because they’re different types of receivers to what L.A. already has and they won’t cost much.

Free Agents

Mike Evans, Bucs

You will hear many theories of what the Bucs will do with Evans, but at the end of the day if they don’t give him the franchise tag then they are most likely to lose him. I could see him following his 2023 OC Dave Canales to the Carolina Panthers.

What is Tampa Bay really expecting to accomplish by signing a 31-year-old receiver to a $22-$24 million AAV contract? They aren’t likely to become a Super Bowl threat next year just by bringing back Baker Mayfield, Evans, and running it back.

On the contrary, the Panthers have proven to be the most desperate team and they don’t have a first round pick to select a receiver for Bryce Young. So I expect them to be the most aggressive in receiver free agency.

Tee Higgins, Bengals

The Bengals have a lot of cap space and there are three people who I think they want to keep happy: Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins. I expect Cincinnati to either tag or extend Higgins and then also extend Chase. That leaves out Tyler Boyd, who I expect to leave in free agency.

Tyler Boyd, Bengals

He might actually be the type of player who the 49ers target as an Aiyuk replacement. He might get that Michael Gallup deal, looking at about $11 million per season. Maybe a realistic two-year, $23 million contract.

Michael Pittman, Colts

If my previous idea for acquiring Aiyuk works, then the Colts have the option to let Pittman leave or enough money to sign both. Having a duo of Pittman and Aiyuk would be perfect for Richardson. I think Alec Pierce has proven to be more of a WR4, while Josh Downs would make a great WR2 or WR3.

I think Pittman is looking at Christian Kirk money: About $18-$19 million per season.

Marquise Brown, Cardinals

Since being the first receiver drafted in 2019 and then gaining 1,000 yards in his third season, it hasn’t been the road that Hollywood Brown was hoping for when he forced his way out of Baltimore. Brown had a disastrous season in 2023 and enters free agency on a low note, catching 50% of his targets and gaining only 574 yards.

He’s only 26, he still seems to have the physical tools, so Brown might seek a one-year, $14 million type of contract to try and boost his value in a good offense with a great quarterback? The Rams might actually not be a bad choice, if that’s the case.

But he could also try and get his agent in a room with Chiefs GM Brett Veach and find a way to make it work with Patrick Mahomes.

Calvin Ridley, Jaguars

If the Jaguars give Ridley an extension, they end up sending a second round pick to the Falcons. If they let him go to free agency, they only give up a third. Ridley got 1,000 yards in his first season with Jacksonville but overall seemed to struggle and wasn’t the perfect fit that many were advertising him as in training camp. Ridley had a few productive games but basically disappeared in at least half of the games.

I’m thinking he seeks a desperate team in free agency that will overpay him like Carolina or Chicago.

Gabe Davis, Bills

All signs point to a split between Davis and Buffalo, with perhaps the only save being that trade possibility I mentioned earlier with Diggs. There were five games last season in which Davis played basically the whole games and didn’t have a single reception. He maybe goes to a team like the Commanders for a one-year, $6 million contract with incentives.

Darnell Mooney, Bears

We haven’t gotten to see the real Darnell Mooney in the last couple of seasons. When the dust settles, could he be the Calvin Ridley replacement in Jacksonville? His previous OC, Luke Getsy, is now with the Raiders. There will be options out there for Mooney.

More: Parris Campbell, Josh Reynolds, Laviska Shenault, Chase Claypool, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, OBJ, Nelson Agholor, Curtis Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, DJ Chark

Someone like Michael Thomas stands out for past accomplishments, but those were a long time ago. I guess you never really know what you might get, this group isn’t very likely to move the needle for a team and most of them are probably waiting until after the draft to find teams that could still need help.

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