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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Cameron DaSilva

Could Van Jefferson be a trade chip with Cooper Kupp set to return?

When Cooper Kupp went down with a hamstring injury during training camp and again just before the season began, Van Jefferson was viewed as the likeliest replacement as the Rams’ No. 1 receiver. Puka Nacua was expected to have a bigger role than anticipated in Kupp’s absence, but very few people (if any) thought he’d be the team’s leading receiver through four weeks.

Jefferson, on the other hand, has been a major disappointment. He’s been targeted 15 times and has just eight catches for 108 yards in four games, one of which was a 46-yard reception against the Bengals. Not to mention, he has two drops, as well.

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He’s still played the most snaps of any Rams receiver but he’s clearly the third option at the position, seeing far fewer targets than Nacua (52) and Tutu Atwell (35). Even Tyler Higbee (26) and Kyren Williams (22) have far more targets than Jefferson does this season.

With Kupp returning as soon as this week, Jefferson seems to be the odd man out. The Rams will have trouble giving him much playing time with Kupp, Nacua and Atwell as the top three, which raises the question of what Los Angeles should do with the fourth-year receiver.

Trading Jefferson is certainly a possibility, especially with Demarcus Robinson and Ben Skowronek also on the roster at wide receiver. So even if someone were to get hurt, the Rams would have Robinson and Skowronek to lean on. Plus, Jefferson is in the final year of his contract and given the emergence of Atwell and Nacua, it’s unlikely the Rams will re-sign him in the offseason.

Trading him now could net the Rams a Day 3 pick in the 2024 draft, which is probably more than they’ll get in the form of a compensatory pick in 2025 if he leaves in free agency. One team makes a ton of sense as a potential landing spot for Jefferson, too: the Carolina Panthers.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on Sunday that the Panthers are in the market to trade for a wide receiver.

“The Panthers already have been active on the trade front this season, sources say, calling several teams about a potential trade for a starting wide receiver,” Rapoport wrote.

Jefferson is a starting-caliber player and would help the Panthers this season, and they have multiple fifth-round picks that could be used to get a deal done. As an added bonus, Jefferson’s dad, Shawn Jefferson, is the Panthers’ wide receivers coach, so he would get to work with his dad and be closer to him than he is right now.

Los Angeles probably wouldn’t get more than a fifth-rounder in exchange for Jefferson, especially given his slow start to the 2023 season, but he’s also not going to get much playing time moving forward with Kupp back in the mix.

Trading him now might be the best move for both parties.

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