- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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NFL teams are no longer handcuffed when it comes to trades.
In the formative years of the salary cap, trades were difficult. Trading a player forces a team to take a cap hit for the remaining proration of the traded player's signing bonus. When the cap was smaller and franchises were operating near the limit, that made trades difficult.
With an uncapped year scheduled for 2010, all salary-cap hits are taken in 2009, but there is so much room it hardly matters. Eleven teams have more than $20 million of room. The Eagles and Bucs each have more than $40 million.
Expect a busy trading season.
So far, eight players have been moved in trades. Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel were traded by the Patriots to the Chiefs. Kellen Winslow went from Cleveland to Tampa Bay. Former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard is now a New York Jet. The Cowboys traded cornerback Anthony Henry to Detroit for quarterback Jon Kitna. Sage Rosenfels left the Texans for the Vikings. The Patriots picked up Eagles wide receiver Greg Lewis.
Over the past two years, an average of 16 players moved in trades before the draft. Even though Kurt Warner is returning, I still believe the Cardinals will trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
The Giants and Eagles are still the most logical trading partners. The Eagles have $40.5 million of cap room and a dozen draft choices, including two first-rounders. With the additions of Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty, the Giants now have four defensive linemen making in excess of $4 million a year. Could Osi Umenyiora be used as trade bait for Boldin?
Meanwhile, the Rams are trying to move left tackle Orlando Pace and wide receiver Torry Holt for any kind of trade value they can find to clear $15.2 million of cap space. Holt has a $1.25 million roster bonus due this week, so something will happen. He will either be traded or cut.
Two waves of free agency have come and gone, so most of the valued acquisitions are off the market. Teams with pressing needs will go the trade route to find answers to their roster problems.
If history holds up, at least eight more players will be moved in trades before the draft, but don't be surprised if the number is higher than that.
Let's dive into the mailbag:
From the inbox
Jay in Toledo, Ohio
A: I don't see the Lions going for Leinart because I still think they are going to draft Matt Stafford. They have their veteran quarterback in Daunte Culpepper. Stafford hasn't worked out yet, but he has a strong arm. It's hard to say what Leinart's trade value is. He's struggled with accuracy and his throwing mechanics. He probably does need a change of scenery. It's pretty apparent coach Ken Whisenhunt has lost confidence in him.
Q: Now that Jerry Jones has freed up cap space by releasing T.O. and Roy Williams, do you see the Cowboys becoming more active in the offseason by signing any difference-makers? Maybe trading for Julius Peppers or picking up a young receiver.
From Zack in Newark, Del.
A: I don't see them being a big player at all. They probably will be looking for bargains, though. You had to figure they knew they were going to release T.O. at the beginning of free agency. Instead of pursuing Ray Lewis, they held to a $2.6 million-a-year budget for an inside linebacker and signed Keith Brooking. The Peppers move won't work because they are trying to do a contract extension for DeMarcus Ware. If they do anything at wide receiver, it would be a low-priced veteran or a draft pick. This won't be a big shopping offseason for the Cowboys.
Q: John, If the Bengals were looking to trade Chad Johnson, what do you think his value is?
Dave in Cincinnati
A: It will be hard for the Bengals to get what was on the table from teams last year. Because of last season, his value might be down to a second-round pick. I'm still not sold they are going to trade him. Sure, if they take Michael Crabtree, then I can see a Johnson trade happening. Carson Palmer needs weapons, so giving Johnson up cheaply isn't good business. As you saw last year, he might complain and demand a trade, but he still showed up. His numbers will improve just with the return of Palmer. Of course, he might not be happy about the idea of staying, but he doesn't have a lot of choice in the matter.
Q: John, the Denver Broncos have been signing some quality veterans at a much faster pace than in years past. Players like Brian Dawkins and Correll Buckhalter have gotten me excited for this year. However, I'm a little worried about the Broncos' defensive front. With the possible switch to a 3-4, who can they realistically bring in to fit the defense?
Clay in Lexington, Ky.
A: To be honest, I'm not sure what they are doing. The Broncos look like they are holding an expensive tryout camp. They have three new running backs. I'm also baffled why they are adding so many aging players to the defense. They need more help at nose tackle. Ronald Fields is a good rotational backup, but they should try to trade up in the first round and get Boston College's B.J. Raji. The Broncos appear to be doing what the Dolphins did last year, bringing in a lot of players. It worked for the Dolphins; we'll see if it works for the Broncos.
Q: As a longtime Colts fan, I'm concerned about both DT and LB. Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler might not be back, and Gary Brackett is coming off an injury. Everybody knows about the middle of the D-line. Have you heard anything about the Colts regarding free agents, or will they go solely with draft picks and undrafted rookies?
Don in Killen, Ala.
A: The Colts have been moving quietly. There is a good chance they will lose Keiaho. They might be able to get Hagler back. One thing the Colts have been able to do is find and develop young linebackers. The bigger concern is along the defensive line. They need to be bigger at tackle. The Seahawks paid more than $4 million a year for 330-pound defensive tackle Colin Cole. He becomes their main run-stopper. I thought the Lions received great value in signing Grady Jackson for $2.5 million a year. If the Colts don't get bigger on the defensive line in free agency or trades, watch for them to try to do that in the draft.
Q: I'm a big Falcons fan, but I'm a little worried right now. I understand they want to rebuild the defense through the draft, but is it a smart move to try and overhaul the whole defense in one offseason? We've already lost Michael Boley, Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy and Domonique Foxworth. It'll be hard to try and replace all of those guys with draft picks and backups.
From Matt in Lawrenceville, Ga.
A: Fair point. Don't forget about the loss of Grady Jackson at defensive tackle. Losing five starters from a playoff team can be dangerous because there aren't a lot of quality replacement parts out there. GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith are trying to establish a Patriots-type of roster. They have the quarterback, Matt Ryan. They did a great job rebuilding the offense last year with Ryan and Michael Turner. It looks as though they will be staking everything on the draft, and it doesn't appear to be a great draft on defense.
Q: I'm a diehard Eagles fan and I was wondering if the Eagles are really doing anything to improve this team from last year. They signed Stacy Andrews and let Dawkins go. To me it doesn't seem like they're making any major improvements. I know it's early in free agency, but by the looks of things, the rest of the division is making moves to get better. Are there any rumors that the Eagles are contemplating a big trade for somebody like Boldin?
Mike in Somers Point, N.J.
A: The Eagles are one of the most intriguing teams in football this offseason. I don't know if they are getting better, but they are stocking up for something. They have $40 million in cap room and now they have 12 draft choices. They are swinging for the fences on Andrews, who is coming off a major knee operation. The future of the Eagles' offensive line is Stacy and Shawn Andrews. The question is whether both can stay healthy. It's pretty clear they are trying to get younger by not bringing back Dawkins or Tra Thomas. The key to the offseason is getting help at wide receiver and tight end. If that doesn't happen, it will be a bad offseason.
Q: I have a few questions about the Titans. First, with the re-signing of Kerry Collins for two years, do you think Vince Young is willing to wait out that contract before getting his chance to start? Or do you think the Titans will try to move him? If the Titans do try to trade him, what is his value? Also, Titans fans have been saying for years that Tennessee should select a wide receiver in the first round, but I think this would be a mistake. Should they select a corner or defensive end with the 30th pick?
Chris in Clarksburg, W.Va.
A: The Titans should draft the best defensive player available at No. 30. It would help if it's a defensive lineman. Although they can't replace Albert Haynesworth's immense talents, it never hurts to give defensive line coach Jim Washburn another young lineman to develop. You're right about your reluctance to take a wide receiver. It's clearly a need, but if the Titans use a first-round pick on a receiver, they will be taking an underclassman who is ready to be a prime force during his rookie season. As for Young, I don't think there is a market for him, just like there isn't much of one for Leinart. Young has to win back his teammates, but he can do that only by playing. It's not going to happen this year as long as Collins is healthy.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Because several teams have excess cap room, expect a high number of trades before the draft, writes John Clayton in his latest mailbag.