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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Who really won these recent NFL trades? Barnwell reevaluates 18, from OBJ to Mack


It is, to put it mildly, an inexact science to evaluate NFL trades in the heat of the moment. Teams have a greater amount of information about their players than the general public. Even the most honest organisations in the NFL will admit that they have no idea how a player they are considering for acquisition will fit into their offensive scheme or with his new teammates. Some of the league’s most intelligent organisations have made some extremely poor trades. Deals that appeared to be steals at the time have turned out to be far less so when viewed from a two- or three-year perspective.

Consider taking a step back and evaluating 18 trades from the 2018 and 2019 seasons to determine who truly benefited from the transaction. I wrote about many of these transactions at the time they occurred and expressed my opinion at the time, and in each case, I’ll share my perception of how they were perceived by the broader NFL audience at the time they transpired, if any.

Afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll look back on what happened and where both the general public and I went wrong or right in our evaluations of the situation at the time. In some cases, what was perceived as a clear victory for one side in the past has actually turned out to be a loss for the other side. The situation has been completely reversed in other instances as well.

In those two years, I selected the most significant trades, and we’ll begin with the first one in 2018 and work our way through the rest of the year in reverse chronological order.

The date: Feb. 23, 2018

Rams got: CB Marcus Peters, 2018 sixth-round pick
Chiefs got: 2018 fourth-round pick, 2019 second-round pick

Rams draft pick became: Part of the package going to the Dolphins with Robert Quinn in exchange for center Brian Allen
Chiefs draft picks became: S Armani Watts, S Juan Thornhill

According to the Rams, this was the first of two major trades they made during the 2018 offseason, as they acquired a star cornerback who, for some reason, appeared to be available for a low price in exchange. In his first three seasons with the Chiefs, Peters had intercepted 19 passes. However, the Chiefs had grown tired of Peters, who had been suspended for a game by the team and had reportedly been less than fond of physical contact. It was widely considered a coup for the Rams to land Peters without having to give up a first-round pick — or even a second-round pick — in the 2018 NFL draught.

It all came down to this: Peters had an inconsistent year and a half with the Rams, never appearing comfortable or dependable in Wade Phillips’ defence. While the ball hawk did intercept five passes over the course of 22 games, the Rams eventually traded Peters to the Ravens in what amounted to a salary dump at a time when they were about to acquire Jalen Ramsey. (At the very least, Los Angeles resisted the temptation to grant Ramsey a significant extension of his contract.) We’ll get to the bottom of both of those transactions later. Thornhill, a former second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, has been an above-average safety when he has been healthy.

In hindsight: Win for Chiefs

The date: March 17, 2018

Jets got: 2018 first-round pick
Colts got: 2018 first-round pick, two 2018 second-round picks, 2019 second-round pick

Jets draft picks became: QB Sam Darnold
Colts draft picks became: G Quenton Nelson, OT Braden Smith, EDGE Kemoko Turay, RB Jordan Wilkins, CB Rock Ya-Sin

At the time, the Jets had moved up three spots in the first round to secure their quarterback, but was it enough to secure him? Former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s team only moved up to the No. 3 spot, leaving the possibility open that the Giants could select Darnold at No. 2 and force the Jets to consider a different quarterback option. Fortunately, whether the Jets were aware of what was about to take place or not, the Giants selected Saquon Barkley and the Jets selected Sam Darnold. The Indianapolis Colts were fortunate to have Andrew Luck as their quarterback for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that he had missed the entire 2017 season. This appeared to have the potential to be a win-win situation.

What happened was a win-loss situation. The Jets were unable to surround Darnold with talent due to a lack of draught picks, but even when he had a clean pocket, Darnold was simply not very good during his three seasons with the organisation. The Panthers were just relieved of Darnold by the new regime, who will replace him with Zach Wilson.

The Colts turned the four draught picks they received from the Jets into five players, three of whom have established themselves as regular starters. Just getting Nelson in the first round would have been a major accomplishment, as the guard is three seasons into what appears to be a Hall of Fame career. A superior tackle in Smith only added to the haul, though Turay and Ya-Sin haven’t always lived up to the high expectations placed on them as second-round picks. Even if general manager Chris Ballard had been aware that the Colts would require a quarterback after Luck retired, it’s not clear if Darnold would have been the best option at the time of his hiring.

In hindsight: Big win for Colts

The date: April 3, 2018

Rams got: WR Brandin Cooks, 2018 fourth-round pick
Patriots got: 2018 first-round pick, 2016 sixth-round pick

Rams draft pick became: LB Micah Kiser, EDGE Trevon Young, LB Travin Howard (minus a seventh-rounder sent out as part of another deal)

Patriots draft picks became: OT Isaiah Wynn, TE Ryan Izzo, CB Keion Crossen, pick used to move up three spots for Byron Cowart

To put it another way: The Patriots essentially loaned Cooks to the Saints for a year after trading a first-round pick to acquire the talented wide receiver, then traded him to the Rams for another first-round pick the following season. Cooks played one season for Bill Belichick on a rookie contract, while the Rams acquired Cooks in advance of what was expected to be a new contract with the Patriots. The Patriots appeared to have made a wise decision, and there was little criticism of the Rams’ decision to add another weapon to Jared Goff’s arsenal.

What happened was that the Rams gave Cooks and Todd Gurley massive contract extensions that summer, and both players turned out to be disasters on the field. I wasn’t as pessimistic about the Cooks deal as I was about the Gurley deal at the time, but the Rams committed a significant amount of money to Cooks, who was already being compensated for Robert Woods’ services. They also extended the contracts of Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee, making Cooks the most expensive third wideout on the roster.

The Rams won the Super Bowl in Cooks’ first season with the team, but a second season marred by concussions forced the team to cut ties with Cooks. Cooks was traded to the Texans in exchange for a second-round pick after the Rams paid him $38.5 million over two seasons of service. The trade resulted in $21.8 million in dead money for the Rams on their 2020 cap, which general manager Les Snead absorbed. However, you don’t trade a first-round pick for a wide receiver and then plan on trading him one year later after signing a $81 million contract extension with him. Cooks is a good wide receiver who was valuable in 2018, and the contract was only implicitly included in the trade. Landing Kiser in the middle rounds of the tournament helps only a little.

Wynn, the Patriots’ first-round pick from the Rams, is their left tackle of the future. Wynn’s biggest issue has been his availability, as he has missed 30 of his first 48 games due to injuries including a torn Achilles, turf toe, and ankle. He’s a talented player, but the 25-year-guaranteed old’s money for the upcoming season in 2021 is likely to total more than $40 million.

In hindsight: Win for Patriots

The date: April 26, 2018

Saints got: 2018 first-round pick
Packers got: 2018 first-round pick, 2018 fifth-round pick, 2019 first-round pick

Saints draft pick became: EDGE Marcus Davenport
Packers draft picks became: Most of the package to trade up for CB Jaire Alexander and S Darnell Savage in separate deals and part of the package to move up for LB Oren Burks

At the time, the Saints had just completed one of the most successful draughts in NFL history and had decided to ride the draught rush and put their faith in their draught board. The Packers’ trade of two first-round picks for edge rusher Marcus Davenport, despite the fact that they finished near the bottom of the first round, indicated that they regarded him as a candidate for a top-five pick in a typical draught. (According to Chase Stuart’s chart, this falls somewhere between the second and third choices.) Even though it was a high price to pay, the Saints had already proven themselves to be excellent draught picks with the class of 2017, and if this was the final piece they needed to win a Super Bowl, why not?

What happened: Davenport hasn’t been able to maintain that level of performance, in part due to injuries. However, the 14th overall pick has only 12 total sacks in his first three seasons and spent the majority of 2020 playing behind Trey Hendrickson on the defensive line of the New York Jets. This was a significant risk for a Saints team that was already on the verge of facing cap issues, in part because trading up cost New Orleans the opportunity to use that first-round pick in 2019 to add another cheap, cost-controlled player to their roster. For as good as the 2017 class was, one of the reasons it became so valuable was because the Saints had an extra set of picks with which they could play around with.

Despite the fact that judging the outcome is difficult, the Packers must be pleased with how things turned out. As a result of this trade, general manager Brian Gutekunst saw his team’s first-round pick drop from No. 14 to No. 27 in the 2018 first round, but the Packers used the 27th pick, as well as third- and sixth-round picks, to move back up to No. 18 and sign Alexander. The Saints’ fifth-round pick was used to move the Packers up a round and land Burks, and the Packers used the Saints’ pick and a pair of fourth-round picks to move up in the first round and land Savage in 2019. New Orleans traded up, but the Packers were able to secure the services of two of the best players in the deal.

In hindsight: Big win for Packers

The date: Sept. 1, 2018

Bears got: EDGE Khalil Mack, 2020 second-round pick, 2020 conditional pick
Raiders got: 2019 first-round pick, 2019 sixth-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2020 third-round pick

Bears draft picks became: TE Cole Kmet, G Arlington Hambright
Raiders draft picks became: RB Josh Jacobs, CB Damon Arnette, WR Bryan Edwards, sixth-round pick thrown in as part of pair of trade-downs

When it comes to the time: It all depends on who you ask. The acquisition of Mack appeared to be the most significant coup for the Bears, who obtained a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate and future Hall of Famer in exchange for a slew of draught picks. In fact, some members of the analytics community were dissatisfied when, during the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Conference, the Raiders were awarded the trophy for “Best Transaction.” This was despite the fact that Mack had an All-Pro season in 2018.

I was somewhere in the middle at the time; Mack was a fantastic player, but the Bears needed him to be the best non-quarterback in the league in order to justify the massive contract they gave him and the multiple first-round picks they traded away to get him in the first place. Aside from that, they were cementing themselves into a core that revolved around Mitchell Trubisky, who had just finished an unimpressive rookie season.

What transpired: I don’t believe either side was in the right. Mack was outstanding in prime time against the Packers in Week 1, and he continued to dominate for the majority of the season, recording 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. With Mack at quarterback and their interception rate regressing past the mean, the Bears cruised to a division title. Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s offence received some undeserved attention along the way and sputtered in the playoffs, scoring only 15 points before Cody Parkey missed a potential game-winning field goal from 43 yards out in the fourth quarter.

Because of nagging injuries or just plain luck, Mack hasn’t seriously challenged for the Defensive Player of the Year award in the years that have passed since then. Trubisky failed to live up to expectations, and the Bears have suffered as a result of the draught picks they would have used to bolster the roster around their quarterback. After trying and failing with Nick Foles, the Eagles were forced to trade two first-round picks to acquire Justin Fields, who will be surrounded by below-average offensive talent and a resurgent defence in his first season as a starter.

However, the Raiders haven’t gotten much value out of their draught picks so far this year. Even though Jacobs has proven to be a reliable power back, Jon Gruden does not have confidence in his ability to perform consistently on third downs, and it is far too easy to find two-down halfbacks in the middle rounds of the draught or for a low price in free agency. Aside from Arnette, who appears to be a promising wide receiver prospect, the other first-round pick in this group was Edwards, whose most notable contribution to the Raiders as a rookie was not sinking deep enough as a Tampa 2 corner on the Ryan Fitzpatrick bomb that helped knock Las Vegas out of the playoff picture in December. The Raiders used the sixth-round pick as a safety net when they traded down twice in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. I don’t believe Mack was worth what the Bears paid for him, and I don’t believe the Raiders can be satisfied with their return on their investment.

In hindsight: Slight win for Bears

The date: Oct. 22, 2018

Cowboys got: WR Amari Cooper
Raiders got: 2019 first-round pick

Raiders draft pick became: S Johnathan Abram

At the time, this was widely regarded as an overpayment by the Cowboys by most observers. In his first two seasons in the league, Cooper appeared to be a star. However, he was coming off of a 680-yard, 12-game season in 2017 and had been averaging just 48.6 receiving yards per game in 2018 with the Raiders before the trade. Despite the fact that Dallas was already looking up at a 4-2 Washington team, the 3-4 Cowboys had moved on from Dez Bryant and were starting rookie third-rounder Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns at wide receiver; this appeared to many to be a desperate attempt to make a run for the division title.

As a result of his efforts, the Dallas offence was revitalised, and Dak Prescott, who had been struggling, was able to return to form. In 2018, Prescott’s passer rating increased by nearly 18 points while playing with Cooper, and the quarterback has developed into one of the league’s top passers over the course of the next two seasons.

A year after suffering a disappointing loss to the Titans in Cooper’s first game, the Cowboys went 7-1 in Cooper’s second season, with Cooper leading the team to an important overtime victory over the rival Eagles. Alex Smith’s broken leg forced the Washington Redskins out of the race and opened the door for the Dallas Cowboys, who went on to win the NFC East with a 10-6 record. This is a trade that the Cowboys would gladly make again.

The Raiders, who haven’t replaced Cooper in the lineup and haven’t gotten much in return for the trade, don’t appear to be as enthusiastic about it. After acquiring a first-round pick, it appeared as though they would land somewhere in the middle of Round 1, but Dallas’ playoff push pushed them down to the 27th overall pick. The Raiders selected Abram from that group, a physical safety who hasn’t shown much more than a desire to hit in his first two seasons with the team. The injury forced him to miss the final 15 games of his rookie season after tearing his rotator cuff; he then missed three more games in 2020 due to a variety of injuries and his absence from the COVID-19. His inclusion in the 2021 season is not guaranteed, which is a huge disappointment for Gruden and his staff.

In hindsight: Big win for Cowboys

The date: March 9, 2019

Raiders got: WR Antonio Brown
Steelers got: 2019 third-round pick, 2019 fifth-round pick

Steelers draft picks became: WR Diontae Johnson, Zach Gentry

At the time: What I didn’t like was that the Steelers were forced to eat more than $21 million worth of dead money in order to trade their star receiver to the Raiders. However, while Brown’s behaviour had been erratic, the problems that had arisen between the two sides were in part due to the Steelers’ intransigence in how they structured their contracts for players who were not Ben Roethlisberger in the first place. For the Raiders, who were in desperate need of a No. 1 wideout after trading away Cooper the year before, this was a smart move. Also, keep in mind that the Bills were reportedly interested in a Brown trade before AB apparently turned them down for the opportunity. Since then, Buffalo has managed to scrape by.

What happened: That was a mistake, to be sure. While with the Raiders, Brown’s behavioural issues began to escalate before he ever stepped foot on the field, beginning with frostbite and culminating in the mercurial wideout getting into an altercation with general manager Mike Mayock prior to his release. However, the Raiders were successful in having the $29.1 million in guarantees owed to Brown voided before releasing him, whereas the Patriots — Brown’s next team — were not so fortunate; they ended up paying Brown $5 million for one game against the Dolphins before releasing the veteran themselves.

The Steelers were hampered by $21.1 million in dead money in 2019, but Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury would have doomed their chances of making a deep playoff run regardless of whether or not Antonio Brown was present. When the Raiders traded for one of their first-round draught picks, they selected Johnson, who, while not quite on the same level as Brown, has emerged as a reliable starter for the Steelers.

In hindsight: Huge win for Steelers

The date: March 12, 2019

Browns got: WR Odell Beckham Jr
Giants got: S Jabrill Peppers, 2019 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick

Giants draft picks became: DL Dexter Lawrence, EDGE Oshane Ximines

At the time: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was roundly criticised for trading Beckham, despite the fact that he had dismissed trade speculation by stating, “We didn’t sign [Beckham] with the intention of trading him.” OBJ was traded just months after signing a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Giants, who paid him $20.5 million for his final 12 games in a Giants jersey. I viewed this as a resounding victory for the Browns, who were able to secure a franchise wide receiver for the foreseeable future at a significantly reduced cost.

What happened: Beckham’s first two seasons in Cleveland have been a colossal letdown, according to many. The Saints’ first season under new head coach Freddie Kitchens was a mixed bag, as they went from being the king of slant routes to having the worst EPA on slant routes in the league in 2019. Beckham then had a sluggish start to the 2020 season before suffering an ACL injury. Baker Mayfield’s numbers improved across the board when OBJ was not in the lineup, and while correlation does not imply causation, the Browns simply did not miss him during their run to the playoffs.

While the Giants haven’t replaced Beckham in the lineup, they have gotten more production out of the players who were traded to them in exchange for him. The type of game-breaking safety that scouts might have expected from Peppers’ time at Michigan hasn’t materialised — and he doesn’t play the more valuable free safety position — but he’s a reliable strong safety who also serves as a team leader in the NFL. Lawrence has proven to be the most valuable player in this trade, living up to expectations as a tenacious run defender while also recording four sacks last year. Even though Peppers and Lawrence were brought in to fill in for Landon Collins and Damon Harrison, they’ve done a good job of upholding their end of the bargain. Beckham hasn’t shown much in Cleveland, and with four years since his last Pro Bowl appearance, it would be surprising if he were to emerge as the team’s top receiver in 2021. Fortunately for Gettleman and Big Blue, the situation has completely turned around.

In hindsight: Win for Giants

The date: March 12, 2019

49ers got: EDGE Dee Ford
Chiefs got: 2020 second-round pick

Chiefs draft pick became: LB Willie Gay

At the time: The 49ers were attempting to assemble a dominant front four after a season in which Cassius Marsh was the team’s leading pass-rusher on the edge. It was a tall order. Ford was supposed to be the focal point on one side of the field, with eventual second-round pick Nick Bosa taking over on the opposing side. I liked this trade for the 49ers because they were getting a player coming off of a 13-sack season in exchange for a second-round pick and a contract that was relatively team-friendly.

What happened: The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, just like the Chiefs, but Ford played a minor role in their accomplishment. His first 10 games of the season saw him rack up a total of 6.5 sacks before going down with a hamstring injury and appearing in just six snaps over the final six games of the season. He returned to the postseason, but he suffered a back injury that forced him to miss the final 15 games of the 2020 campaign. During his first two seasons with the 49ers, he failed to play even 60 percent of the snaps on a single occasion, and the team restructured his contract this past offseason to keep him on the roster. Gay played linebacker on a part-time basis as a rookie, but Ford hasn’t practised with the 49ers since signing with the team.

In hindsight: Win for Chiefs

The date: March 15, 2019

Titans got: QB Ryan Tannehill, 2019 sixth-round pick
Dolphins got: 2019 seventh-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick

Titans draft pick became: LB David Long
Dolphins draft picks became: FB Chandler Cox and part of the haul sent to Pittsburgh in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade

At the time: This amounted to the Dolphins using a restructured Tannehill contract to acquire a first-round pick in the draught. As an alternative to cutting Tannehill, the Dolphins restructured his contract to pay him a $7 million base salary and then paid $5 million of that contract as part of the trade, allowing the Titans to sign him to a one-year contract worth $2 million. The Dolphins received a fourth-round pick in exchange for their $5 million investment. According to me, this is a wash, and if Mariota is injured and Tannehill performs well in the starter’s absence, “there may even be a bit of a quarterback controversy.”

What happened: Well, Mariota was not injured, and there was no controversy, but that was because Tannehill appeared to have undergone a complete transformation after the Titans gave him the opportunity to start. Although I speculated at the time that Tannehill’s familiarity with play-action might make him a good fit for Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme, it never occurred to me that the former college wideout would go on to become one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks in his new position.

Tannehill was one of the best bargains in football during the 2019 season, and he was rewarded with a long-term contract as the starter for the Tennessee Titans. The Dolphins selected a fullback with their seventh-round pick and then traded the fourth-round pick they had spent so much money to acquire to the Steelers, along with Minkah Fitzpatrick, in another trade they would later come to regret. It’s clear that no one saw this coming — it took the Dolphins foregoing $5 million in salary to complete the transaction — but the Tannehill trade has turned out to be the best decision made during the Jon Robinson era.

In hindsight: Huge win for Titans

The date: April 23, 2019

Chiefs got: EDGE Frank Clark, 2019 third-round pick
Seahawks got: 2019 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

Chiefs draft pick became: DT Khalen Saunders
Seahawks draft picks became: EDGE L.J. Collier, G Damien Lewis, DL Alton Robinson, LB Cody Barton (with a swap of a fifth-round pick for a sixth-rounder)

According to reports at the time, the Chiefs were attempting to upgrade on the defensive line by trading Dee Ford for draught picks while simultaneously using some of their draught capital to acquire Clark from the Seahawks. In addition to being a better two-way player and having a significantly better health record than Ford, Clark was set to earn significantly more money as a result of his contract extension and had been charged with domestic violence during his time at Michigan. According to trade value, this trade was worth somewhere around the eighth overall pick, which I thought was too much for the Chiefs. The Seahawks were receiving a valuable asset in exchange for a player who they did not want to sign a contract extension with.

As for what happened, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and Clark was a key contributor during the postseason, recording five sacks and seven knockdowns in three games for Kansas City. Despite the fact that the Chiefs would have pursued another option on the edge without him, he played an important role in getting them over the hump and into the Super Bowl. With that victory in mind, this transaction can’t be too bad.

Having said that, Clark has, on the whole, failed to live up to the hype surrounding him. The former Seahawks defensive end had a season-high 13 sacks and 27 knockdowns in his final season in Seattle, but in two seasons with the Chiefs he has a total of 14 sacks and 29 knockdowns. Despite the fact that the Chiefs have already paid him slightly less than $39 million, and while they would have another $18.5 million guaranteed due in 2021, his guarantees could be voided following his arrest on weapons charges. Clark’s tenure has been a major disappointment… with the exception of that three-game stretch in which the Chiefs desperately needed him.

The Seahawks have also been unable to generate much excitement in the wake of their trade for Clark. Collier, the Seahawks’ first-round pick in 2019, barely cracked the lineup as a rookie and finished with just three sacks and seven knockdowns in 16 games as a starter in 2020, though he did assist in stopping Cam Newton at the goal line to seal a victory over the New England Patriots in Week 16. Lewis, who was a Week 1 starter at right guard and looked like he belonged right away, has been the most impressive player of the group thus far. Even with the benefit of knowing what has transpired, this is a difficult one to evaluate.

In hindsight: Slight win for Chiefs

The date: Aug. 31, 2019

Texans got: LT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick
Dolphins got: DB Johnson Bademosi, T Julie’n Davenport, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick

Texans fans might want to scroll down a bit here.

Texans draft picks became: OL Charlie Heck (at the cost of two seventh-rounders), CB John Reid, QB Ryan Finley, the capital used to trade up in the fifth round for LB Garret Wallow

Dolphins draft picks became: CB Noah Igbinoghene, the capital used to move up for OL Solomon Kindley, WR Jaylen Waddle, S Jevon Holland, 2022 third-round pick, 2023 first-round pick

At the time: The Dolphins were only in town to acquire as many valuable draught picks as they possibly could. However, while almost everyone agreed that Tunsil was a good left tackle, almost everyone thought the Texans were paying an excessive amount to acquire him. While discussing this trade in conjunction with the Jadeveon Clowney trade, I mentioned how Bill O’Brien and the GM-by-committee in charge of the Texans had mortgaged the future in exchange for a quick fix by trading away years of valuable draught picks. If O’Brien’s quick fix had resulted in a Super Bowl victory, no one would have questioned his decisions.

What happened: The Texans defeated the Bills in overtime in the wild-card round of the 2019 NFL playoffs, went up 24-0 against the Chiefs in the divisional round, and then collapsed. Following the DeAndre Hopkins trade and an 0-4 start the following season, O’Brien was fired from his position as head coach of the Houston Texans. A three-year, $66 million extension for Tunsil was one of the most player-friendly contracts ever negotiated in the NFL, resetting the left tackle market and resetting the franchise record. He was the most penalised player in the league in 2019, but he has been a very good left tackle for the Texans on the whole.

The Dolphins used each of their first-round picks acquired in the Tunsil trade to move down in the draught. The first one went to the Packers in exchange for Jordan Love, with Miami taking Igbinoghene with the 30th overall pick in the 2020 draught. After the Texans went 4-12, the future first-round pick the Dolphins acquired fell to the No. 3 overall pick after the Texans went 4-12. When the Dolphins traded that pick to the 49ers in exchange for three first-round picks, they used a 2022 first-round pick to jump from No. 12 to No. 6 and land Waddle, a much-needed wide receiver. Despite the fact that Waddle and Holland have yet to appear in an NFL game and two of the draught picks have yet to be selected, the Tunsil trade could be a game-changing acquisition for the Dolphins. The Texans haven’t fared quite as well as they would have liked.

In hindsight: Huge win for Dolphins

The date: Aug. 31, 2019

Seahawks got: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
Texans got: LB Barkevious Mingo, LB Jacob Martin, 2020 third-round pick

Texans draft pick became: CB Gareon Conley

At the time: Although it did not garner the same level of criticism as the Hopkins trade did the following year, O’Brien was widely criticised for how he handled the Clowney situation at the time. After franchising Clowney in March, the Texans were unable to sign him to a long-term contract extension before the season ended. As the summer progressed, Clowney’s market value decreased, and the Texans eventually traded the 2014 first-round pick for a pittance compared to what the Seahawks received in exchange for Frank Clark and the Chiefs received in exchange for Dee Ford, respectively. The Seahawks were able to acquire a perennial breakout candidate in exchange for two special-teamers and a midround pick, which appeared to be a straightforward victory for the team in desperate need of edge protection.

What happened: O’Brien’s reluctance to grant Clowney an extension appears to be working in his favour now, as opposed to two years ago. With the Seahawks, Clowney had his moments, including a devastating performance against the 49ers, but he finished with just three sacks and 13 knockdowns while missing three games due to injury. Due to his early departure after the season and late signing with the Titans (he signed with them just prior to the season), the Seahawks did not receive a compensatory pick in exchange for the edge rusher. Clowney was held without a sack during his time in Tennessee and has now signed a one-year deal with the Browns.

To be fair, the Texans didn’t get much in return for their efforts. Martin received some attention as a potential pass-rushing prospect, but he has yet to record more than four sacks in a season and only three knockdowns in a season last year. To acquire Conley, O’Brien traded a third-round pick to the Raiders in exchange for a third-round pick from the previous regime of Reggie McKenzie. Conley was the latest first-round pick from the Reggie McKenzie era to be cut by Gruden. Conley was serviceable at cornerback for the 2019 Texans, which made him appear like a prime Darrelle Revis in comparison to the rest of the field. Houston declined his fifth-year option before suffering an ankle injury that forced him to miss the entire 2020 season. He is currently not a member of the team. This was a close race with no clear winner.

In hindsight: No winners

The date: Sept. 16, 2019

Steelers got: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 seventh-round pick
Dolphins got: 2020 first-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick

Steelers draft picks became: OL Kevin Dotson, CB Tre Norwood
Dolphins draft picks became: T Austin Jackson, DL Jason Strowbridge, RB DeAndre Washington (as part of a pick swap)

At the time: This was a completely unexpected turn of events. Fitzpatrick began the 2020 season as a member of the Miami Dolphins, where he was sacked in the slot by Ravens speedster Marquise Brown before being benched for the remainder of the season. The Steelers traded a first-round pick to Miami in order to acquire Fitzpatrick two weeks later, after free safety Sean Davis was declared out for the season. This deal didn’t sit well with me, especially since we were aware that Ben Roethlisberger was undergoing surgery. Because the Steelers were likely to have a losing season, I believed the team should have kept its first-round pick just in case they needed to replace Roethlisberger.

What happened: I was completely wrong. Fitzpatrick was moved from the slot position he had played with the Dolphins to a full-time free safety position with the Steelers, and he made an immediate impact in the new role. By the end of the season, he had intercepted five passes on his way to being named to the first team of the NFL’s All-Pro team. Despite the fact that the Steelers still do not have a plan for the post-Roethlisberger era, Fitzpatrick is a key cog in one of the league’s most talented defences.

Trading Fitzpatrick wasn’t the same as trading Laremy Tunsil, despite the fact that the Dolphins were in free fall. Tunsil had already completed three cost-controlled seasons and was therefore eligible for an extension of his contract. Despite the fact that he was entering his second cost-controlled season, Fitzpatrick still had two years left on his contract before the Dolphins even had to think about negotiating a new deal with him. He would be a perfect fit as the free safety on a team that is dedicated to completing the secondary structure. In his rookie season, Jackson was inexperienced at left tackle, and he still has plenty of time to develop, but it would take a lot for him to catch up to Fitzpatrick, even with the additional year of cost control.

In hindsight: Win for Steelers

The date: Oct. 15, 2019

Rams got: CB Jalen Ramsey
Jaguars got: 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick

Jaguars draft picks became: EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, RB Travis Etienne, EDGE Jordan Smith

At the time: Despite months of rumours and a mysterious back injury, the Jaguars finally decided to part ways with Ramsey and made what appeared to be an unavoidable trade with the Los Angeles Rams. I considered this to be a slight win for the Jaguars, who received two first-round picks in exchange for a player who clearly desired to be traded. As part of their deal to acquire another player who would require a large contract, the Rams were also releasing more first-round picks from their already-heavy top-heavy roster.

What happened: A mixed bag of performances marked Ramsey’s first season in the NFL, with his most memorable play likely coming as part of a blown coverage against the 49ers that contributed to Los Angeles being knocked out of the playoffs. Ramsey returned to form in 2020 after resetting the cornerback market with a new contract extension. In coverage, he moved around the formation and allowed a 68.1 passer rating, which was the lowest in the league. Upon the conclusion of the season, he was widely regarded as the best cornerback in the entire NFL.

Two of Jacksonville’s draught picks haven’t even played a single snap in the NFL yet, but the early returns aren’t looking good for them. Chaisson was a mystery as a rookie, recording only one sack and nine knockdowns in 568 defensive snaps. The new Jaguars regime used its other first-round pick on Etienne, and while Trevor Lawrence will have an old friend from Clemson on the field for his rookie season, history has shown that teams don’t always have to use first-round picks to find valuable running backs in the second or third rounds. Alvin Kamara, the upbeat counterpart for the Etienne believers, was selected in the third round of the draught. This appears to be a better situation for the Rams two years later.

In hindsight: Win for Rams

The date: Oct. 15, 2019

Ravens got: CB Marcus Peters
Rams got: LB Kenny Young, 2020 fifth-round pick

Rams draft pick became: Salary dump as part of the Aqib Talib deal, 2022 seventh-round pick

At the time: Interestingly, the Rams made this move on the same day that they acquired Jalen Ramsey in order to free up a roster spot and a few million dollars in salary. Given the likelihood that the Ravens would have received a compensatory pick for Peters even if they had released him after the 2020 season, this appeared to be a straightforward victory for the Ravens.

What happened: In essence, the Ravens landed an All-Pro cornerback in exchange for picking up his salary, as Peters immediately stepped in and elevated a Baltimore defence that had been hampered by injuries at the cornerback position. In 24 games with his third team, he has allowed passer ratings of 63.4 and 78.0 in coverage while intercepting seven passes for a total of seven interceptions. Finding a way to acquire Peters in exchange for a backup linebacker and a late-round draught pick was one of the last great moves made by Ozzie Newsome during his tenure as Ravens general manager.

The Rams were able to free up some cash in 2018 and then did the same in 2019 when they traded their fifth-round pick, which included Talib, to the Dolphins in exchange for a future seventh-round pick at the trade deadline. They overpaid for Peters and then undervalued him, despite the fact that their other cornerback acquisition turned out to be a better fit.

In hindsight: Huge win for Ravens

The date: Oct. 22, 2019

Patriots got: WR Mohamed Sanu
Falcons got: 2020 second-round pick

Falcons draft pick became: TE Hayden Hurst, S Jaylinn Hawkins (with a fifth-rounder going to Baltimore)

At the time: In yet another long-rumored move, Bill Belichick’s decision to acquire Sanu was widely regarded as the ideal addition for a Patriots team that was in desperate need of help at the wide receiver position. In light of their dominant defence, the Patriots were overwhelming favourites to win the Super Bowl at the time of this transaction. I preferred it for the Falcons, though I did point out that the Patriots were benefiting from Sanu being under contract for a reasonable $6.5 million in 2020, which I thought was fair.

What happened: This may well be the worst trade of the Belichick era, if not the worst of all time. While playing in his second game with the Patriots, Sanu suffered a high-ankle sprain, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. While he attempted to play through the injury, he was nothing like his former self for the remainder of a disappointing 2019. After taking the offseason to heal, Sanu struggled in camp to the point where the Patriots decided to cut ties with the 31-year-old, preferring to save the $6.5 million by starting players such as Damiere Byrd at wideout instead. Sanu spent time with the 49ers and the Lions last season, but he failed to gain more than 40 yards in any game.

The Falcons used their second-round pick as a trade chit, sending it along with a fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for Hurst and a fourth-round pick. In this case, the Ravens used the selection to select halfback J.K. Dobbins. Hurst had a strong season in 2020, rushing for 571 yards and six touchdowns, but the Falcons declined his fifth-year option after selecting Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. There were probably better ways for Atlanta to use their second-round pick, but this was about as bad as it could have gone for the Patriots in this situation.

In hindsight: Win for Falcons

The date: Oct. 28, 2019

Giants got: EDGE Leonard Williams
Jets got: 2020 third-round pick, 2021 conditional pick

Jets draft picks became: S Ashtyn Davis, DB Michael Carter

At the time: When this transaction took place, it seemed inexplicable. Williams, who was set to become a free agent after the season, was acquired by the Jets from the 2-6 Giants in exchange for a third-round pick and a compensatory selection. It’s possible to justify it by trading for a player who was going to earn a compensatory selection after the season, but the Giants didn’t have the kind of roster that would allow them to avoid free agency in 2020, and signing a similarly expensive player would have cost them the compensatory pick in the first place. The Jets were dealing away a player who they did not expect to re-sign when he became available in free agency.

What happened: In his half-season with the Giants, Williams recorded one and a half sacks. When Williams became available due to free agency, the Giants franchised him, and he went on to have a career season in 2020, recording 11.5 sacks and 30 knockdowns. He was eventually signed to a massive extension by general manager Dave Gettleman, making him one of the highest-paid defenders in the league. During the 2020 season, Davis started six games at safety for the Jets, and Carter was one of two players named Michael Carter who were drafted by the Jets this past April.

Is it fair to give the Giants credit for the Williams trade in 2019, given what transpired in the following year? It’s difficult to say. He was only with them for a half-season (during which he was not a difference-maker) and the right to be franchised before the 2020 season in exchange for two first-round picks. However, given his $16.1 million salary in 2020, the Giants didn’t get much more than what they paid for him. They could have avoided this entirely and retained the two draught picks by simply waiting until the offseason, so the only reason the Giants would trade for Williams in 2019 is if they believed they had no chance of signing him as a free agent after the season. Despite the fact that he fulfilled his promise in 2020, it is still difficult to make the logic of this deal work and justify the timing of the transaction in this environment.

In hindsight: No winners


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