The 2022 NFL season might go down as the year of the trade. Star players like Russell Wilson, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper were all traded in the offseason. Standouts like Christian McCaffrey, Roquan Smith and Bradley Chubb were dealt during the campaign.
Not every trade worked out, but trade acquisitions helped the Baltimore Ravens (Smith), Miami Dolphins (Hill, Chubb) and Los Angeles Chargers (Mack) reach the postseason. The San Francisco 49ers reached the NFC title game with McCaffrey leading the way.
The Kansas City Chiefs used the draft capital from the Hill trade to reload a roster that's headed back to the Super Bowl.
With franchises seemingly more willing to make blockbuster trades than ever before, we can expect similar movement in the 2023 offseason. Some trades could reshape the league just as a few from the past calendar year did.
With this in mind, let's examine five hypothetical trades that would make sense—based on factors like team needs, past performance, roster construction and any relevant buzz—and could help lift teams to contender status in 2023.
Derek Carr to the Indianapolis Colts
Colts Get: QB Derek Carr
Raiders Get: 2023 Third-Round Pick
Newly-minted Pro Bowler Derek Carr has reached the end of his Las Vegas Raiders tenure. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Raiders began "the process" of evaluating Carr's trade market, and he'll either be traded or released in the coming weeks.
Carr's base salary hit of $32.9 million in 2023 will become guaranteed on February 15—along with $7.5 million of his 2024 salary.
Las Vegas cannot expect to get much in a deal because Carr—whose contract carries a no-trade clause—holds all the leverage. Teams know that if Carr doesn't agree to a deal, he'll likely be released outright.
This won't stop teams from making a bid, though, in the hopes of jumping the market. The Indianapolis Colts are a franchise that needs a steady quarterback like Carr, and they're in a situation that could entice him.
Granted Indianapolis hasn't settled on a new head coach yet, and that could alter things for Carr. However, Indy has building blocks like Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr., the fourth-overall pick in the 2023 draft and a defense that ranked 15th in yards allowed last season.
The Colts also reside in the AFC South, a division the Jacksonville Jaguars won with a 9-8 record. Carr should have a relatively clear path to the postseason in Indianapolis.
While Indianapolis is projected to have just $11.9 million in cap space available, that number will grow once quarterback Matt Ryan is released. The Colts can clear $17.2 million off the books by cutting Ryan, meaning they'd only need to generate a little more room to absorb Carr's contract as written.
Brandin Cooks to the Buffalo Bills
Bills Receive: WR Brandin Cooks
Texans Receive: 2023 Fourth-Round Pick
Houston Texans receiver Brandin Cooks has no interest in being a part of the franchise's rebuild in 2023, and he's looking to land elsewhere.
"That's why I trust my camp and my representation to be able to get a map from here to there and to see what that looks like to be a part of something that has a trusted plan," Cooks said, per ESPN's DJ Bien-Aime.
While the Texans can't expect a ton for a player who doesn't want to be there, it can get $18.5 million in cap relief by trading Cooks. The Buffalo Bills should be very interested in making a deal work.
Buffalo got blown out in the divisional round after it couldn't stymie the Cincinnati Bengals pass rush or keep pace with the Bengals' offensive stars. This is something general manager Brandon Beane acknowledged after the loss.
"Yeah, I mean I'd love to have the perfect line and I'd love to get as many weapons," Beane said, per Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News.
Cooks missed time with a calf injury in 2022, but he was a 1,000-yard receiver in a bad Texans offense in 2021. He'd be a very valuable complementary receiver next to Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis in Buffalo.
The challenge for the Bills would be clearing some cap room and convincing Cooks to restructure his contract upon arrival—Buffalo is set to be $20.5 million over the cap. A shot at a Super Bowl, though, could be enticing enough for Cooks to agree.