Wrapping up NFL cut-down day: Trades spice up busy day

Graziano expects Ward to generate interest as free agent (1:47)

Dan Graziano breaks down the Broncos' decision to release T.J. Ward and the teams that might be interested in acquiring him. (1:47)

How do you add some fresh excitement to NFL cut-down day? Throw in a bunch of trades, that’s how.

One of the most strangely overhyped days on the NFL calendar got a legitimate jolt of energy this year thanks to a rule change that allowed team to carry as many as 90 players right up until the 4 p.m. ET Saturday deadline for trimming rosters to 53. It used to be you cut from 90 to 75 with about a week to go, then from 75 to 53 on the last day. Now, you go right from 90 to 53. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

The result? Well, Saturday featured more trades than usual, as teams wrestled with final roster decisions in unprecedented ways and decided in some cases the best thing to do was to help each other out.

The biggest move of the cut-down period actually came Friday afternoon, when the New York Jets dealt Sheldon Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse. But the deals kept coming Saturday.

The New England Patriots traded backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts, who are dealing with quarterback problems, for 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett. (Side note: Ryan Grigson did not perform well during his tenure as Colts GM.) The Pittsburgh Steelers sent wide receiver Sammie Coates to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the sixth-round pick they traded to Cleveland last year for Justin Gilbert, then traded cornerback Ross Cockrell to the New York Giants for a pick. The Cincinnati Bengals sent cornerback Bene Benwikere to the Dallas Cowboys. The Washington Redskins dealt tight end Derrick Carrier to the Los Angeles Rams, whose coach used to be Washington’s offensive coordinator. The Chiefs dealt offensive lineman Isaiah Battle to Seattle, which rhymes.

A cool flurry of creative activity. I like it. The NFL needs more trades.

Meanwhile, much of the Saturday carnage remains far from final, as teams can now start picking through other teams’ scraps and claim/sign guys who’ll take the spots of guys who haven’t yet finished breathing their sighs of relief. So while things remain unsettled, here’s a look at a few more interesting or significant moves from cut-down day:

Brock Osweiler going home

The Browns cut quarterback Brock Osweiler, a player they never wanted, and owe him his guaranteed $16 million salary. The Denver Broncos are signing Osweiler for the veterans minimum of $775,000, which means the Browns will effectively pay Osweiler to play for his old team. Broncos GM John Elway has received a lot of misguided praise for not re-signing Osweiler last year, when in fact he tried very hard and just got outbid by Houston. But, man, if he gets him back for nothing after only one year? That there’s some fancy GM-ing.

T.J. Ward says goodbye

The Broncos did move on from a veteran leader on their defense, releasing veteran safety T.J. Ward after unsuccessful efforts to trade him. Denver likes its young talent at the position, and someone will surely snatch up Ward. But he was a well-liked teammate and an important piece of a championship defense that’s kept the Broncos competitive throughout quarterback problems. You always wonder which move ends up being the tipping point that starts the decline for a proud unit.

Andrew Luck comes off PUP

This was a big one. If the Indianapolis Colts hadn’t removed Luck from the physically unable to perform list by 4 p.m. ET, he would have had to miss at least six games. By taking him off the PUP list, Indy indicates its belief that Luck will return from his shoulder injury sooner than Week 7. Sources have said they hope to have Luck back by Week 3 or 4, and this move backs up that timetable. Other players who came off the PUP list Saturday include Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams and Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee.

Farewell to the chief

The Cincinnati Bengals cut veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston, who is also the president of the NFL Players Association. NFLPA rules require that position to be held by an active player, so while Winston can remain in that role until the union elects new leaders in March, he’ll have to find a new team by that point if he wants to keep the job. Winston is a staunch supporter of union executive director DeMaurice Smith and a vocal leader on labor causes. This move wasn’t a shock, but it still didn’t go over well at NFLPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.