Before the beginning of the 2021-22 NFL season, two first-round picks from the 2020 Draft have been released and now another may be traded. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson may be on the trade block.
A surprise: Multiple team execs believe #Jaguars corner C.J. Henderson — the ninth overall pick in 2020 — is available via trade. Jacksonville has given impression in some league circles that it's shopping Henderson, a high-pedigree player one year into rookie deal.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 8, 2021
The Jaguars took Henderson ninth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft to fill the void left by Jalen Ramsey who they traded to Los Angeles in the middle of the season prior. Henderson played well at the beginning of the season but began to struggle as the season went on. He only started and played in eight games last season due to a groin injury that forced him to finish the season on Injured Reserve. Henderson finished last year with 36 combined tackles (27 solo tackles), six passes defended one forced fumble, and a Week One interception that he returned for a touchdown.
Jacksonville shopping Henderson has less to do with Henderson’s performance and more to do with what type of players the new brass running the Jaguars want in their secondary. To some this may be a surprise, but the idea that new head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke weren’t fans of Henderson when they drafted Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell 33rd overall this past draft. It wasn’t just the addition of Campbell that signaled this, it was that they took a cornerback in the second round and signed former Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a three-year $40 million deal this offseason. None of Henderson, Campbell, or Griffin are nickel corners so there will likely be an odd man out of the three. That odd man out was Henderson.
Here are the teams who should take advantage of the former top-10 pick being available via trade:
Retooling the league’s best defense
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Compensatory Third Round Pick
It is fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the biggest losers of the 2021 NFL Offseason. Due to a small amount of salary cap space and other issues, the Steelers have lost ten starters across their roster this offseason. Two of their largest losses were cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton. Hilton signed with division rival Cincinnati Bengals during the first few days of free agency. While Nelson signed with the instate Philadelphia Eagles fairly recently after being cut much earlier in the offseason.
Those losses are massive considering who the Steelers are left with at cornerback. Their current depth chart lists Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton starting on the outside while 2020 sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. is listed as their starting nickel back. It is fair to say that cornerback is the weakest position group on the Steelers defense which has expectations to be among the league’s best once again.
Since Pittsburgh has brought back Ben Roethlisberger for another season they are still in win-now mode for at least another year. So the Steelers should do everything in their power to equip their roster to be Super Bowl contenders. Not too long ago the Steelers traded their first-round pick in 2020 for a disgruntled former first-round pick cornerback during his second season. That player was Minkah Fitzpatrick who has established himself as one of the league’s best ballhawks and safeties since joining Pittsburgh. The Steelers should mimic what they did two seasons ago and attempt to add the former first-round pick to their talented defense.
A secondary composed of C.J. Henderson opposite Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton in the slot, and both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds lined up at safety could be one of the best in the league. Henderson as CB1 upside that the Steelers will have to look for soon since Haden is not the player he once was. Adding Henderson to the group of veterans that Pittsburgh added this offseason including Trai Turner and Melvin Ingram may fix enough on this roster for this team to be competitive next season. It could also change the view of the Steelers offense that has been ridiculed by many over the last few weeks.
Fix the weakest cornerback group in the league
Team: New York Jets
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Fourth Round Pick (via Carolina Panthers)
It is extremely fair to say that the New York Jets cornerback group could very well be the worst positional group in the entire league. Going into this season the Jets have Blessuan Austin and Bryce Hall projected to start on the outside while Javelin Guildry replaces Brian Poole as the team’s nickel back. Both Austin and Hall have shown potential to become solid corners. But they have not done enough to prove that the Jets should be comfortable having either of them cover a rival team’s number one receiver.
Adding Henderson to this defense won’t be the last piece for the Jets to become a playoff contender. It likely won’t change the team’s final record this season. However, a player like Henderson could be a valuable piece of their rebuild. Henderson could become a franchise cornerstone if he reaches his potential and lands with the Jets. His presence and upside will help this defense avoid getting destroyed by opposing passing offenses next season.
Since New York has two second-round picks in this upcoming draft thanks to the Sam Darnold trade they could easily put together a package for a player like Henderson. Packaging one of their second-round picks with Carolina’s fourth-round pick may be enough to acquire Henderson. When the 2022 NFL Draft concludes essentially the Jets could have traded Sam Darnold for C.J. Henderson and a 2020 sixth-round pick (used to trade up to select Jonathan Marshall). That would be a huge win for the Jets to turn a disappointing quarterback into a promising young cornerback that could be under team control for the next four seasons.
A defensive back group featuring C.J. Henderson, Blessuan Austin, Bryce Hall, Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis, and Lamarcus Joyner sounds like a unit that is ready to grow, develop, and show flashes that they could be the long term pieces of the team’s secondary.
Bring in a legitmite CB1
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Compensatory Fifth Round Pick, 2023 Third Round Pick
It was the end of an era when three-time First-Team All-Pro and former five-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson decided to leave the Arizona Cardinals after a decade with the team and signed with the Minnesota Vikings. This left a massive void at cornerback for the Cardinals to fill. The Cardinals filled the void by signing veterans Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, and Darqueze Dennard to join 2019 Second Round pick Byron Murphy. For a team who is trying to make the playoffs in arguably the hardest division in football that secondary seems alarming.
Arizona has been no stranger to making huge additions to their defense over the last few seasons. The past few offseasons they have added J.J. Watt, Markus Golden, Jordan Hicks, and Jordan Phillips to a defense that features Pro Bowlers Budda Baker and Chandler Jones. Not to mention they’ve drafted versatile defenders Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins in the first round of the past two drafts. Arizona could add the final piece this defense needs to become a playoff contender by adding a young talent like C.J. Henderson to their secondary.
The truth is that the veteran cornerbacks Arizona brought in are way past their prime and Byron Murphy is an extremely talented nickel back who has struggled when lined up outside. Henderson could fill the void for a cornerback talented enough to line up against all the talented wide receivers in the NFC West twice a year. A strong secondary is extremely important for any team attempting to win the NFC West. The Cardinals have to play DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel twice a year. Adding a cornerback like Henderson would give Arizona a player talented enough to cover those elite wide receivers.
Correctly fill a major void on one of the league’s best defenses
Team: San Fransisco 49ers
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Fourth Round Pick
After an off-year filled with injuries all over the roster, the San Fransisco 49ers are ready to get back to the Super Bowl this season. Their roster is extremely similar to what it was two years ago when they were close to their ultimate goal. The biggest difference to this roster possibly could be the absence of Richard Sherman in the secondary. Not only was Sherman the leader of their young talented defense, but he played at a Pro Bowl level during that season. Sherman was also named Second Team All-Pro that season as well.
This offseason the 49ers let Sherman walk in free agency and it seems extremely unlikely that he will return to the team before the start of the season. The 49ers cornerback group will feature former Pro Bowler Jason Verrett, Dontae Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley, 2021 Third Round Pick Ambry Thomas, and nickel back K’Waun Williams. Though the veterans have shown to be solid starters and contributors, none can be trusted to fill Sherman’s void on this defense.
Adding Henderson could be exactly what the 49ers need to ensure that their defense is as dominant as it was two seasons ago. He may not be All-Pro or Pro Bowl-caliber at this point of his career, but he has massive upside and has a lot of room to develop playing behind San Fransisco’s outstanding pass rush. He could be the number one cornerback tasked will covering the extremely talented group of receivers in this division that the 49ers do not have on their roster currently.
Trading their second-round pick may be a big deal considering they are without their first-round pick this year (and in 2023). However, it may be in the 49er’s best interest to move it in a deal for a player of Henderson’s caliber because they may get a second-round pick or better in a trade that may occur later this year or this offseason. It is no secret that Jimmy Garoppolo’s days are limited after trading up to the third overall pick to select Trey Lance. Garoppolo has played well since becoming the 49er’s starter late in the 2016-17 season his biggest issue has been his health. He has a 24-8 record as a starter (including his time in New England) and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.
It is fair to say that as long as Garoppolo doesn’t play abysmal or have another catastrophic injury he should be able to net the 49ers at least second-round pick in return. In 2018 a 33-year-old Alex Smith was traded to Washington for Kendall Fuller and a third round pick. After a brutal season filled with head-scratching errors and too many turnovers, Carson Wentz was traded to Indianapolis for a 2021 Third Round Pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that could become a first-round pick. An extremely disappointing Sam Darnold was traded to Carolina for a 2021 sixth-round pick, 2022 second-round pick, and 2022 fourth-round pick for the upside he had coming out of the draft back in 2018.
The 49ers should have no issue reacquiring the assets they would give up in a C.J. Henderson deal. It would be extremely worth it for a team looking to contend this season and beyond to acquire the former top-10 pick and add them to their extremely talented defense.
Replace a Former Pro Bowl Cornerback
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Fourth Round Pick (via New York Jets), 2023 Fifth Round Pick
It feels like an extremely long time since the Seattle Seattle Seahawks were the defense-first team that won the Super Bowl back in the 2013-14 season. After veterans Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett have left the team over the years, Seattle has failed to replace them and recreate a Legion of Boom 2.0. Instead, their defense has been abysmal over the last few years despiting featuring talented players like Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Jarran Reed, Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquil Griffin, Quandre Diggs, and Jamal Adams throughout the years.
Adding a former top-10 pick in C.J. Henderson to their current defense may be a spark Seattle needs for their defense to play at a higher level. They have invested a lot of assets into young players currently on their defense including former first-round picks L.J. Collier and Jordyn Brooks and former second-round picks Marquise Blair and Darrell Taylor. Despite the young talent on this roster, their cornerback group got weaker this past offseason after being one of the worst units in the league this past year. Seattle lost Shaquill Griffin to Henderson’s current team the Jacksonville Jaguars. It may be in their best interest to contact their former Pro Bowl cornerback’s new team and attempt to acquire Henderson.
Seattle’s front office has not been afraid to make big moves in the past. They’ve traded plenty of high draft picks for veterans including Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, and current Seahawk Jamal Adams. Henderson may not be an established veteran like the previously mentioned were when Seattle acquired them, however, he is a player who could be a difference-maker on a roster who is closer to the middle of the pack than a Super Bowl. Not to mention Henderson is relatively inexpensive since he is still on his rookie deal and will be on it for the next three seasons (not including fifth-year option).
The Seahawks’ current cornerback group right now features former 49er Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, Pierre Desir, DJ Reed, and 2021 fourth-round pick Tre Brown. Seattle’s defensive scheme has a history of turning afterthoughts into stars at the cornerback position. But Seattle has not been as successful at developing players to that point in recent years. Henderson is a former top-10 selection that could have an extremely high ceiling if developed correctly by this coaching staff if he was to land here.
Continuing to rebuild a young secondary
Team: Minnesota Vikings
Compensation: 2022 Second Round Pick, 2022 Fourth Round Pick
The Minnesota Vikings have invested a lot of assets into the cornerback position over the last few seasons. Since 2013, Minnesota has taken a cornerback in the first round four times. They have also taken a cornerback once second and third rounds respectively within that time span. Last offseason they have decided to rebuild their secondary by letting go of former first-round picks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mike Hughes (via trade). Then Minnesota drafted Jeff Gladney 31st overall and Cameron Dantzler 89th overall.
After their rookie seasons, Gladney appeared to be the team’s future starting nickel back and Dantzler found a home covering receivers on the outside. Their transitions to the league were a little rough, but they also had flashes showing why they were high selections. Minnesota then decided to sign former Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson, former Kansas City Chief Bashaud Breeland, and former Cincinnati Bengal (and Minnesota Viking) Mackensie Alexander to their cornerback group to push the young guys and ensure that that group doesn’t hold this team back.
However, the rebuild hit a major bump in the road last week when Minnesota released Jeff Gladney after he was charged with domestic violence. Gladney was supposed to play a major role for the Vikings this season and going forward and now he is gone. The Vikings have the depth at the position to get them through the season. Their current depth chart has Peterson and Breeland lining up outside while Dantzler moved inside to nickel back. However, The Vikings need some long-term solutions at the position.
Minnesota could get a chance at redeeming their already failed first-round pick from the 2020 draft if they could acquire C.J. Henderson who was taken in the top-10 that year. Since Henderson is being shopped by the team he could likely be acquired at a premium. Minnesota could rationalize moving a second-round pick and a Day 3 selection for Henderson since it would have taken more than a package including those selections and the 31st pick used to select Gladney to move into the top-10 to be able to select Henderson. It is also very likely that Minnesota had Henderson higher than Gladney on their board, so in a way, they could look at this an upgrade.
The Vikings had poor luck last offseason taking a chance when they traded their second-round pick to acquire Yannick Ngakoue. When they realized that he wasn’t a part of the team’s long-term future they moved Ngakoue at the trade deadline to Minnesota for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 fifth-round pick. Henderson would be more than a rental, he could be a part of their rebuilding defense for many years.
On top of that acquiring Henderson would Minnesota the flexibility to try multiple lineups in their secondary. It mostly depends on how Patrick Peterson holds up. If Peterson returns to a borderline Pro Bowl form, Henderson could compete with Bashaud Breeland for reps next season and Dantzler can continue to play in the nickel. If Peterson continues his trend from last season the Vikings could try to transition him to an easier role in the nickel and have Henderson and Breeland line up outside. They could even experiment with formations where both Henderson and Breeland are on the outside, Dantzler is in the nickel, and Peterson transitions to free safety. Multiple former Pro Bowl and All-Pro cornerbacks have transitioned to safety late in their careers. Adding Peterson to this secondary could give the Vikings the option to try Peterson at free safety to fill the void left by Anthony Harris.
Add a great talent to a Super Bowl roster
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Compensation: 2022 First Round Pick, 2022 Sixth Round Pick (via Baltimore Ravens)
As the Kansas City Chiefs roster currently is set up they are widely regarded as Super Bowl favorites once again. However, the one glaring weakness on their roster is at cornerback. After losing veteran Bashaud Breeland in free agency the Chiefs don’t exactly have a number one corner. The best cornerback on their roster is 2020 fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed. However, Sneed isn’t a typical outside corner and is better playing in the nickel or lining up at safety. They also have Charvarius Ward, Rashad Fenton, and two former first-round pick in Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker.
The Chiefs don’t necessarily need a cornerback. But they have an opportunity to add a talent to their roster they would not be able to draft unless they trade a haul of selections to move up the draft board to select him. Adding a player of Henderson’s caliber to a Super Bowl roster could give them a foundational piece for when this team eventually gets too expensive to maintain. The most appealing part about adding Henderson would be the fact that he is still early within his rookie deal. The Chiefs would not have to designate a large part of their salary cap to their number one cornerback spot for a few seasons. Kansas City could use that salary cap space on retaining vital pieces to this roster.
Chiefs general manager has not been a stranger to trading first-round picks on players who can contribute to this roster right away. In 2019 they traded a haul of draft picks including their first-round pick that year to acquire pass rusher Frank Clark. Then this past offseason the Chiefs traded a haul of draft picks including their first-round pick for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. It wouldn’t take as large of a haul of draft picks to acquire Henderson at this point. Kansas City would have to move their first-round pick which will likely be between picks 25-32 for a player who was a top-10 pick a year ago and could be their best cornerback for the next 3-4 years. That sounds like a no-brainer for a team that is trying to become an NFL dynasty.