NFL draft trade candidates: Which teams look primed to trade up or down in first round?

Trades are going to occur Thursday night, when the 2024 NFL draft kicks off in downtown Detroit with what should be a highly entertaining first round. In fact, some have already happened.

Last month, the Minnesota Vikings picked up an extra selection in Round 1 by dealing with the Houston Texans – a transaction many draft observers believe could be a precursor to another move by the Vikes. For now, thanks to previously executed swaps, they’re one of three teams – along with the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals – set to pick twice Thursday. (The Texans, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns do not presently have first-round slots, though that’s subject to change.)

And NFL general managers typically want you to know their phone lines are always open.

"The easy answer is, yeah, you always want more picks. But we need players. It's more opportunity-based," said Monti Ossenfort, who masterfully manipulated the first round's top 10 on the fly last year, his first as general manager of the Cardinals.

"The way I look at it is … I love my house. I love where I live. My wife loves where we live. If all of a sudden I'm at my door, and someone is going to offer me something, I'm going to look and see what they are offering me. If I open that up and it's something I'm not expecting? 'Hey, Shannon, pack up, it's time to roll.' That happens beforehand, it happens on the clock, but I think different teams have different motivations and we'll see how that plays out."

Unlike Ossenfort, first-year New England Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf – he has the third overall pick, one spot ahead of Arizona – does not have a franchise quarterback. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean Wolf will stick and pick to get one.

"We’re open to anything," he said. "Moving up, moving down. We’re open for business in the first round and in every round. We have some holes we feel like we need to fill in the draft. We’re drafting to develop the team. The more picks we have the better."

Naturally, any team trying to accrue picks with a drop down the board requires a collaborator elsewhere who's willing to come up – typically a club that needs a quarterback or is targeting a very specific player.

"I think just because something's risky, doesn't mean you have to stay away from it," said Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah about the potential move up many anticipate he’ll eventually make.

"It's something that is hard to grasp but if you grasp it, you know what the rewards are, right? And that's something you have to weigh and measure."

Gonna be lots of weighing, measuring, haggling, fretting and agonizing in draft rooms Thursday night (and beyond) – and, make no mistake, all 32 teams will be lining up and/or considering potential options. Or, as Ossenfort said, "We'll have our popcorn ready for what goes on in front of us."

But who’s most likely to pull the trigger on a draft night deal in the first round? Here are eight clubs that are logical candidates to trade up, and eight that could be especially willing to drop back:


Minnesota Vikings

The departure of QB Kirk Cousins to Atlanta and subsequent trade with Houston has seemingly telegraphed an eventual move by the Vikes to target another potential franchise passer in this draft. Presuming that’s true, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to initiate another swap until Thursday, when Adofo-Mensah can clearly survey the lay of the land and his options.

Washington Commanders

No, there’s not an expectation they’ll climb from the No. 2 overall spot to No. 1 – nor much expectation they’ll move out of the second spot (sorry, Raiders). But aside from the first-rounder, new Commanders GM Adam Peters has five more picks in the top 100 this year, including the 36th, 40th, and 67th. Could be a golden opportunity for Peters to re-enter the first round and potentially get a top offensive lineman to protect the quarterback he’s doubtless taking second overall.

Las Vegas Raiders

It’s no secret new HC Antonio Pierce would love to reunite with LSU QB Jayden Daniels, who played for him when both were at Arizona State. But getting from No. 13 into the top five – more likely the top two – is a steep climb and assumes the Commanders or Patriots would be willing to vacate. However it does seem feasible that Pierce could convince new GM Tom Telesco to come back into the first round for another quarterback – maybe Washington's Michael Penix Jr.? – if the Silver and Black go with the best player available route (non-QB) in their organic slot.

Buffalo Bills

They’re all the way down at No. 28. And they’re down to players more accustomed to the WR3 role – Khalil Shakir and Curtis Samuel – after trading Stefon Diggs and letting Gabe Davis go in free agency. It would likely take a Julio Jones-level move for the perennial AFC East champs to get into position for one of this draft’s elite receivers – Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze and LSU’s Malik Nabers. But they could more reasonably move up – and might have to – to potentially get a pass catcher like Nabers’ former teammate, Brian Thomas Jr., one of the Texas twosome of Adonai Mitchell or Xavier Worthy or possibly even Georgia’s Ladd McConkey.

Los Angeles Rams

They’re set to make their first Round 1 choice since selecting QB Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016. But if they don’t take a quarterback with this year’s 19th pick – a solid assumption – might LA consider moving back into the first round for one, say Penix or Oregon's Bo Nix? Veteran Matthew Stafford, 36, is entering his 16th season and his last with guaranteed money on this contract, which runs through the 2026 campaign.

San Francisco 49ers

Over the past five seasons, they’ve lost twice in the Super Bowl and twice more in the NFC title game. The Niners remain oh-so-close to an elusive sixth Super Bowl victory – yet might need to up the ante next season, the last one that QB Brock Purdy is likely to play on his dirt-cheap rookie contract. GM John Lynch has 10 picks this year, though seven are on Day 3, but this could be the time to bundle a few to target another elite player who probably wouldn’t be available when San Francisco is scheduled to pick 31st.

New York Giants

Slated to pick sixth, they’re in a prime location – unless they want a quarterback to replace Daniel Jones, and the Giants have done ample scouting of the position. If a passer – North Carolina’s Drake Maye? Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy? – they covet slips into the third or fourth spot, the G-Men wouldn’t have to go far to secure him.

New York Jets

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) celebrates a touchdown pass against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) celebrates a touchdown pass against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

Perhaps no team is under more pressure to win in 2024 than this one. Could that mean advancing just a few spots to get QB Aaron Rodgers another weapon – maybe Odunze or Nabers to further complement WRs Garrett Wilson and Mike Williams – or perhaps another bodyguard in a draft loaded with promising offensive linemen, a position GM Joe Douglas has always put a premium on?


New York Jets

Perhaps no team is under more pressure to win in 2024 than this one. But could that mean retreating just a few spots – and maybe picking up the second-rounder they currently don’t have due to the Rodgers trade – while still reeling in, say, Georgia TE Brock Bowers or a prime blocker?

Denver Broncos

It’s pretty clear they need a quarterback, even after Monday’s trade for Jets washout Zach Wilson. Currently slotted at No. 12, good chance they could take Penix or Nix, the latter’s skill set fairly analogous to HC Sean Payton’s longtime QB in New Orleans, Drew Brees. But Denver’s first-rounder is currently its only pick in the draft’s top 75, meaning not a lot of ammo for the Broncos to move up. Might be a lot more realistic to move back, add some capital, yet still have a realistic shot at Nix and/or Penix further down the board.

Atlanta Falcons

They don’t need a quarterback after signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million pact. They don’t need a receiver, either. Yet their position at No. 8 could be quite enticing to other teams targeting those positions or others. Sliding back a bit likely wouldn’t prevent the Falcons from obtaining blue-chip defensive help they do require.

Seattle Seahawks

GM John Schneider often gets a little antsy where he is, very often taking opportunities to deal down. That could be an especially attractive avenue this year given the Seahawks have no second-rounder yet plenty of needs – offensive line, defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, even quarterback – to address.

New England Patriots

It would probably take a lot to detach them from the No. 3 pick, one that should convey a premium quarterback prospect like Daniels or Maye. But if Wolf has lukewarm assessments of his options and/or another team blows him away with an offer that could accelerate what’s likely going to be an extensive rebuild, he and the organization will surely be compelled to give it due consideration.

Arizona Cardinals

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy points down the field during the second half of the College Football Playoff national championship game against Washington at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy points down the field during the second half of the College Football Playoff national championship game against Washington at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

Do they stay at No. 4, a spot likely to afford Ossenfort the opportunity to pick the draft’s best non-quarterback as a new cornerstone of his rebuild? Or does he bail out for the second straight year, presumably paid off by a team that wants McCarthy? And, don’t forget, the Cards also sit in the 27th position, which might be a juncture where another club could target Nix or Penix if they remain available.

Los Angeles Chargers

Do they stay at No. 5, a spot likely to afford new HC Jim Harbaugh and GM Hortiz the opportunity to pick the draft’s best or second-best non-quarterback as a new cornerstone of their rebuild? Or do the Bolts try and get out given their apparent interest in an offensive lineman – a deep position in this draft, and one that could present the opportunity to pick up draft capital while still getting a tone-setting blocker later in the evening … along with, potentially, another pressing need?

Chicago Bears

No, they won't make the No. 1 pick and opportunity to score former USC QB Caleb Williams available. But, considering GM Ryan Poles is working with a draft-low four choices, maybe someone targets that ninth overall selection. However it better be a strong offer since vacating probably costs Poles a topflight receiver, blocker or pass rusher. "It’s gonna be really hard to make this team," he said Tuesday. "That doesn’t mean you don’t want more shots later. We’ll always welcome a lot of picks. But it doesn’t force you to panic about the situation we’re in right now with how many picks we have.”


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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 NFL draft trades: Which teams could move up, down in first round?