Evaluating NFL trades in the moment is, to put it nicely, an inexact science. Teams have more information about their players than the public does. The more honest organizations around the NFL will tell you that even they don't know how a guy they're acquiring might fit in their scheme or with his new teammates. The smartest organizations in the league have made some extremely bad trades. Deals that looked like steals at the time haven't been anywhere near as impressive with two or three years of perspective.
Let's take a step back and evaluate 18 trades from the 2018 and 2019 seasons and figure out who really won the deal. I wrote about many of these deals at the time and gave my opinion when they happened, and in each case, I'll offer up my perception of how they were regarded by the broader NFL audience when they happened.
Then, with the benefit of hindsight, I'll look back at what happened and where both the public and I went right or wrong in our evaluations at the time. In some cases, what was seen as a clear victory for one side in the past has turned out that way. In others, things have flipped in the opposite direction.
I picked the most significant trades from those two years, and we'll start with the first one in 2018 and work our way through 2019 in chronological order.
Jump to a big trade:
Odell Beckham Jr. | Amari Cooper
Minkah Fitzpatrick | Khalil Mack
Jalen Ramsey | Laremy Tunsil
Marcus Peters to Rams
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
At the time: This was the first of two big trades by the Rams in the 2018 offseason, as they acquired a star cornerback who curiously seemed to be available on the cheap. Peters had intercepted 19 passes over his first three seasons with Kansas City, but the Chiefs had grown tired of Peters, who had been suspended for a game by the team and reportedly been less than fond of physical contact. Getting Peters without having to give up a first-round pick -- or even a second-round pick in the 2018 draft -- was seen as a coup for the Rams in most circles.
What happened: Peters had an uneven season-plus with the Rams, never looking comfortable or reliable in Wade Phillips' defense. The ball hawk did pick off five passes in 22 games, but the Rams eventually traded Peters to the Ravens in what amounted to a salary dump as they were about to acquire Jalen Ramsey. (Los Angeles did, at the very least, resist the urge to give Ramsey a significant extension.) We'll get to both of those deals later. The Chiefs turned the second-round pick into Thornhill, who has been an above-average safety when healthy.
In hindsight: Win for Chiefs
Sam Darnold to Jets
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 moved up three spots in the first round to get their quarterback, but was it enough? Former general manager Mike Maccagnan's team moved up to only the No. 3 spot, which left the possibility that the Giants could draft Darnold at No. 2 and leave the Jets thinking about another option under center. Thankfully, whether the Jets knew what was going to happen or not, the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley and the Jets landed Darnold. The Colts were set for years to come with Andrew Luck at quarterback, although he had missed the entire 2017 season. This seemed like it could be a win-win.
What happened: It was a win-loss. The missing draft picks kept the Jets from surrounding Darnold with talent, but even when he had a clean pocket, he just wasn't very good in his three seasons with the Jets. The new regime just unloaded Darnold on the Panthers to start over with Zach Wilson.
The Colts turned the four selections they got from the Jets into five players, three of whom are steady starters. Drafting Nelson alone would have been a massive victory, as the guard is three seasons into what looks to be a Hall of Fame career. Landing an above-average tackle in Smith only added to the haul, although Turay and Ya-Sin haven't necessarily lived up to expectations as second-rounders. Of course, the Colts did end up needing a quarterback after Luck retired, but even if general manager Chris Ballard had known so at the time, it's unclear whether Darnold would have been the answer.
In hindsight: Big win for Colts
Brandin Cooks to Rams
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
At the time: The Patriots essentially loaned Cooks for a year by sending a first-round pick to the Saints to acquire the talented wideout, then shipping him off to the Rams for another first-rounder the following season. Bill Belichick enjoyed a season from Cooks on a rookie deal, while the Rams acquired Cooks in advance of what was going to be a new contract. This seemed smart by the Patriots, but there wasn't much criticism of the Rams adding another weapon for Jared Goff.
What happened: The Rams gave Cooks and Todd Gurley massive contract extensions that summer, and they both turned out to be disasters. I wasn't as pessimistic about the Cooks deal as I was about Gurley's at the time, but the Rams committed significant money to Cooks with Robert Woods already paid. They also handed out extensions to Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee, leaving Cooks as an expensive third wideout.
While the Rams made the Super Bowl in Cooks' first season, a second season marred by concussions led Los Angeles to cut ties. After paying him $38.5 million for two seasons of work, general manager Les Snead shipped Cooks to the Texans for a second-round pick, creating $21.8 million in dead money for the Rams on their 2020 cap in the process. Cooks is a good wide receiver and was valuable in 2018 -- and the contract was only implicitly part of the trade -- but you don't trade a first-round pick for a player and plan on dealing him one year into an $81 million extension. Landing Kiser in the middle rounds helps only a tiny bit.
The Patriots used the first-rounder from the Rams to grab their left tackle of the future in Wynn, whose biggest problem has been availability; he has missed 30 of his first 48 games with a torn Achilles, turf toe and an ankle injury. He's a talented player, but the 25-year-old probably has $40 million in guarantees riding on a healthy season in 2021.
In hindsight: Win for Patriots
Marcus Davenport to Saints
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: Coming off one of the most successful drafts in NFL history, the Saints decided to ride the draft rush and trust their board. Even with them finishing toward the bottom of the first round, sending two first-round picks to the Packers for an edge rusher in Davenport implied that they valued him as something like a top-five pick in a typical draft. (By Chase Stuart's chart, this comes in as something between picks No. 2 and 3.) It was a lot to pay, but the Saints had proved themselves to be great drafters with the class of 2017, and if this was the last piece they needed to win a Super Bowl, why not?
What happened: Davenport hasn't lived up to that level of play, in part because of injuries. He's a solid two-way edge defender, but the 14th overall selection has 12 sacks over his first three seasons and played behind Trey Hendrickson for most of 2020. This was a big risk for a Saints team that was already heading toward cap concerns, in part because trading up cost New Orleans the ability to use that first-round pick in 2019 to add another cheap, cost-controlled player. As good as the 2017 class was, one of the reasons it became so valuable is because the Saints had extra picks with which to work.
The Packers have to be thrilled with how this turned out, although judging it is complicated. General manager Brian Gutekunst dropped from No. 14 to No. 27 in the first round of 2018 as part of this deal, but the Packers then used the 27th pick and third- and sixth-round selections to move back up to 18 and grab Alexander. The fifth-rounder from the Saints was used to move up a round and pick Burks, and in 2019, the Packers used the Saints' pick and a pair of fourth-rounders to move up in the first round and take Savage. New Orleans traded up, but the Packers landed the two best players in this deal.
In hindsight: Big win for Packers
Khalil Mack to Bears
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
At the time: Depends on whom you ask. Getting Mack seemed to most like a huge coup for the Bears, who got a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and possible future Hall of Famer for a bunch of draft picks. Some members of the analytics community disagreed, as the Raiders were awarded a trophy for "Best Transaction" during the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Conference, even after Mack had an All-Pro season in 2018.
I was somewhere in the middle at the time; Mack was a great player, but by giving him a massive deal and trading away multiple first-rounders, the Bears needed him to be the best non-quarterback in the league to justify the price tag. They were also locking themselves into a core built around Mitchell Trubisky, who had just finished an inauspicious rookie season.
What happened: I don't think either side was right. Mack was incredible in prime time against the Packers in Week 1 and dominated for most of 2018, producing 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. The Bears rode Mack and their interception rate regressing past the mean to a division title. Trubisky and Matt Nagy's offense took some unearned hype along the way and sputtered in the playoffs, as it could muster only 15 points before Cody Parkey missed a would-be game winner from 43 yards out.
Since then, Mack has been good, but whether it's due to nagging injuries or randomness, he hasn't seriously challenged for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Trubisky flamed out, and the Bears have sorely missed the draft picks they would have used to supplement the roster around their passer. After they tried and failed with Nick Foles, they were forced to send two first-round picks to acquire their next quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, who will be surrounded by below-average talent on offense and a rebuilding defense.
At the same time, the Raiders haven't gotten much from their picks. Jacobs has been a solid power back, but Jon Gruden doesn't trust him to play consistently on third downs, and it's just too easy to find two-down halfbacks in the middle rounds of the draft or for cheap in free agency. Edwards looks like a promising prospect at wide receiver, but the other first-rounder in this group was Arnette, 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 kick Las Vegas out of the playoff picture last December. The sixth-round pick was used as ballast as the Raiders traded down twice in the second round in 2020. I'm not sure Mack was worth what the Bears paid, but I don't think the Raiders can feel good about their return, either.
In hindsight: Slight win for Bears
Amari Cooper to Cowboys
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 seen in most circles as an overpay by the Cowboys. Cooper had looked like a star through his first two seasons in the league, but he was coming off a 680-yard, 12-game season in 2017 and was averaging just 48.6 receiving yards per game in 2018 with the Raiders before the deal. 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 felt to many like a desperate attempt to try to make a play for the division title, despite the fact that Dallas was already looking up at a 4-2 Washington team.
What happened: Cooper revitalized the Dallas offense and got a struggling Dak Prescott back on track. Prescott's passer rating in 2018 was nearly 18 points better with Cooper on the field, and the quarterback has blossomed into one of the league's best passers over the ensuing two seasons.
After a loss to the Titans in Cooper's first game, the Cowboys went 7-1 over the second half of the season, with Cooper torching the rival Eagles in a key overtime victory. Alex Smith's broken leg took Washington out of the race and opened a path for the Cowboys, who won the NFC East at 10-6. The Cowboys would happily make this trade again.
This trade doesn't look quite as enticing for the Raiders, who haven't replaced Cooper in the lineup and don't have much to show for the deal. The first-rounder they acquired looked like it might fall in the middle of Round 1, but Dallas' playoff push dropped the pick down to the 27th selection. There, the Raiders chose Abram, a physical safety who hasn't shown much more than the desire to hit over his first two seasons. He tore a rotator cuff in his NFL debut and missed the final 15 games of his rookie season, then missed three more games in 2020 with myriad injuries and a COVID-19 absence. He's not a lock to start in 2021, which is a massive disappointment for Gruden & Co.
In hindsight: Big win for Cowboys
Antonio Brown to Raiders
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: I hated that the Steelers were eating more than $21 million in dead money to send their star receiver to the Raiders. Brown's behavior had been erratic, but the problems between the two sides had come, in part, because the Steelers were stubborn about how they structured their deals for players who weren't Ben Roethlisberger. This was a great bet for the Raiders, who were getting the No. 1 wideout they needed after trading away Cooper the prior year. They weren't the only interested party, either; remember that the Bills pursued a Brown deal before AB reportedly turned them down. Buffalo has managed to get by since.
What happened: Yeah, that was wrong. Brown's behavioral problems leveled up before he ever stepped on the field with the Raiders, starting with frostbite and ending with the mercurial wideout getting into an altercation with general manager Mike Mayock before being released. The Raiders were able to void the $29.1 million in guarantees owed Brown before releasing him, but the Patriots -- his next team -- weren't so lucky; they ended up paying Brown $5 million for one game against the Dolphins before cutting the veteran themselves.
The $21.1 million in dead money limited the Steelers in 2019, but Roethlisberger's elbow injury would have sunk their chances of making a deep playoff run whether Brown was there or not. They used one of the picks from the Raiders on Johnson, and while the third-rounder isn't quite on Brown's level, he has been a viable starter for the Steelers.
In hindsight: Huge win for Steelers
Odell Beckham Jr. to Browns
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: The Giants were almost universally blasted for trading Beckham, only weeks after general manager Dave Gettleman had dismissed trade speculation by saying, "We didn't sign [Beckham] to trade him." OBJ was dealt months after signing a five-year, $90 million extension, with the Giants paying him $20.5 million for his final 12 games in a Giants uniform. I saw this as a clear victory for the Browns, who were getting a franchise wide receiver locked up for years at a below-market price.
What happened: Beckham's first two years in Cleveland have been a major disappointment. An uneven first season under Freddie Kitchens saw him go from being the king of slants to producing the league's worst EPA on slant routes in 2019. Beckham was then off to a slow start in 2020 before tearing an ACL. Baker Mayfield's numbers were better across the board without OBJ in the lineup, and while correlation is not causation, the Browns simply didn't miss him during their run to the postseason.
While the Giants haven't replaced Beckham in the lineup, they've gotten more out of the players on the other side of this trade. Peppers hasn't been the sort of game-disrupting safety scouts might have expected from his time at Michigan -- and he doesn't play the more valuable free safety role -- but he's a solid strong safety and a team leader. Lawrence has been the best player in this trade, living up to expectations as a stout run defender while adding four sacks last season. Peppers and Lawrence might have been replacements for departed veterans in Landon Collins and Damon Harrison, but they've held up their end of the bargain. Beckham hasn't in Cleveland, and four years removed from his last Pro Bowl appearance, it would be a surprise if he was a No. 1 receiver in 2021. This one has flipped all the way around for Gettleman and Big Blue.
In hindsight: Win for Giants
Dee Ford to 49ers
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 trying to build a dominant front four after a season in which their leading pass-rusher on the edge was Cassius Marsh. Ford was supposed to be the piece on one side, with eventual second overall pick Nick Bosa taking over on the other one. I liked this deal for the 49ers, who were getting a guy coming off a 13-sack season for a second-round pick with a relatively team-friendly extension.
What happened: Like the Chiefs, the 49ers made the Super Bowl, but Ford didn't play a big part in their success. He racked up 6.5 sacks in the first 10 games of 2019 before going down with a hamstring injury and playing just six snaps over the remaining six games. He was back in the postseason, but he then missed the final 15 games of the 2020 season with a back injury. He failed to play even 60% of the snaps once during his first two seasons with the 49ers, and San Francisco restructured his contract this past offseason to keep him on the roster. Gay was a part-time player at linebacker as a rookie, but Ford hasn't worked out with the 49ers.
In hindsight: Win for Chiefs
Ryan Tannehill to Titans
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 deal to buy a draft pick. Instead of cutting Tannehill, they restructured his deal to a $7 million base salary and then paid $5 million of that contract as part of the trade, allowing the Titans to acquire him on a one-year pact for $2 million. That $5 million essentially netted the Dolphins a fourth-round pick. I saw this as a wash, adding, "There might even be a bit of a quarterback controversy if Mariota gets hurt and Tannehill plays well in the starter's absence."
What happened: Well, Mariota didn't get hurt, and there was no controversy, but that was because Tannehill looked utterly transformed once the Titans gave him a shot as the starter. I wrote at the time that Tannehill's comfort with play-action might make him a good fit for Arthur Smith's scheme, but I didn't suspect that the former college wideout would turn into one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks in his new gig.
Tannehill was one of the biggest bargains in football during the 2019 season and earned a long-term deal as Tennessee's starter. The Dolphins used their seventh-round pick on a fullback and then sent the fourth-rounder they paid so much to acquire to the Steelers alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick in another deal they would later regret. It's clear that nobody saw this coming -- it took the Dolphins eating $5 million to get this deal done -- but the Tannehill trade has been the best move of the Jon Robinson era.
In hindsight: Huge win for Titans
Frank Clark to Chiefs
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)
At the time: The Chiefs were trying to upgrade on the edge by trading Dee Ford for draft picks while using some of their draft capital to get Clark from the Seahawks. Clark was a better two-way player and had a much better health record than Ford, although Clark was going to make much more on his extension and had been charged with domestic violence during his time at Michigan. This trade was something close to the eighth overall pick by trade value, which I felt was too much for the Chiefs. The Seahawks were getting a significant asset for a player they didn't want to sign to an extension.
What happened: Well, the Chiefs won a Super Bowl, and Clark played a big part during that postseason, racking up five sacks and seven knockdowns across three games. Flags fly forever, and while the Chiefs would have pursued another option on the edge without him, he played a big role in getting them over the hump. This deal can't be too bad with that victory in mind.
With that being said, Clark otherwise hasn't lived up to expectations. After putting up 13 sacks and 27 knockdowns during his final season in Seattle, he has a combined 14 sacks and 29 knockdowns across two years in Kansas City. The Chiefs have already paid him just under $39 million, and while they would have another $18.5 million guaranteed due in 2021, his guarantees could void after the 28-year-old was charged with a felony weapons violation. Clark's tenure has been a major disappointment ... outside of that three-game run when the Chiefs needed him most.
The Seahawks also haven't been able to muster much out of their return for Clark. Collier, the 2019 first-rounder, barely cracked the lineup as a rookie and had just three sacks and seven knockdowns as a 16-game starter in 2020, although he did help stop Cam Newton at the goal line to seal a Seahawks win over New England. The best player of the bunch so far is Lewis, who was a Week 1 starter at right guard and looked like he belonged immediately. This is a weird one to rate, even with the benefit of seeing what has happened.
In hindsight: Slight win for Chiefs
Laremy Tunsil to Texans
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 here just to get as many valuable draft picks as possible. While acknowledging that Tunsil was a good left tackle, though, just about everybody thought this was an extravagant price for the Texans to pay. While talking about this deal alongside the Jadeveon Clowney swap, I noted how in sending away years of valuable draft picks, Bill O'Brien and the GM-by-committee running the Texans mortgaged the future for a quick fix. If that quick fix produced a Super Bowl, nobody would have questioned O'Brien's choices.
What happened: The Texans won a 2019 wild-card game over the Bills in overtime, went up 24-0 against the Chiefs in the divisional round, and then melted down. Houston lost 51-31, and after the DeAndre Hopkins trade and an 0-4 start the following year, O'Brien was relieved of his duties. Tunsil negotiated one of the most player-friendly contracts in the league, resetting the left tackle market with a three-year, $66 million extension. He led the league in penalties in 2019 but has generally been a very good left tackle with the Texans.
The Dolphins traded down with each of their first-round picks from the Tunsil trade. The first one went to the Packers for Jordan Love, with Miami drafting Igbinoghene at No. 30 in 2020. After the Texans went 4-12, though, the future first-rounder the Dolphins netted fell as the No. 3 overall selection. Miami dealt that pick to the 49ers for three first-round picks, then used a 2022 first-rounder to move back up from No. 12 to No. 6 and come away with a much-needed wide receiver in Waddle. Waddle and Holland haven't played an NFL game, and two of the picks are still to come, but the Tunsil trade could represent a franchise-altering haul for the Dolphins. It hasn't gone quite as well for the Texans.
In hindsight: Huge win for Dolphins
Jadeveon Clowney to Seahawks
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: It didn't attract the same criticism as the Hopkins trade would the following year, but O'Brien was generally pilloried for mishandling the Clowney situation. After franchising Clowney in March, the Texans were unable to sign Clowney to a long-term deal. Clowney's market value came down as the summer went along, and the Texans eventually dealt the 2014 No. 1 overall pick for a minuscule return relative to what the Seahawks got for Frank Clark or the Chiefs got for Dee Ford. A Seahawks team desperately in need of edge help was getting a perennial breakout candidate for two special-teamers and a midround pick, which felt like an easy victory for the Seahawks.
What happened: O'Brien's reticence in handing Clowney an extension looks better now than it did two years ago. Clowney had his moments with the Seahawks, including a devastating performance against the 49ers, but he finished with just three sacks and 13 knockdowns while missing three games with injuries. He left after the season and didn't sign with the Titans until just before the season, so the Seahawks didn't net a compensatory pick for the edge rusher. Clowney went sackless in Tennessee and is now on a one-year deal with the Browns.
To be fair, the Texans didn't get much back. Martin got some hype as a possible pass-rushing prospect, but he has yet to top four sacks in a season and had only three knockdowns last season. O'Brien traded his third-rounder to the Raiders for Conley, who was the latest first-rounder from the Reggie McKenzie era to be cast off by Gruden. Conley was passable at corner for the 2019 Texans, which made him look like prime Darrelle Revis relative to the competition. Houston declined his fifth-year option before he missed all of 2020 with an ankle injury. He is currently out of the league. Nobody really won this one.
In hindsight: No winners
Minkah Fitzpatrick to Steelers
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 surprising one. Fitzpatrick started his 2020 season as a member of the Dolphins, where he was torched in the slot by Ravens speedster Marquise Brown before being benched. Two weeks later, with Steelers free safety Sean Davis done for the year, Pittsburgh sent a first-round pick to Miami to get Fitzpatrick. I didn't like this deal, especially since we knew Ben Roethlisberger was undergoing surgery. In what was likely to be a lost season for the Steelers, I thought Pittsburgh should have kept its first-round pick in case it was needed to replace Roethlisberger.
What happened: I was wrong. Fitzpatrick was transitioned out of the slot role he played with the Dolphins into a full-time free safety for the Steelers and made an immediate impact. By the end of the year, he had picked off five passes on the way to being named a first-team All-Pro. The Steelers still don't have a succession plan for the post-Roethlisberger era, but Fitzpatrick is a building block on one of the league's most talented defenses.
The Dolphins were tanking, but trading Fitzpatrick wasn't the same as trading Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil had run through three cost-controlled seasons and was already eligible for an extension. Fitzpatrick was entering his second cost-controlled year and still had two years left before the Dolphins even had to worry about considering a new deal. He would fit right in as the free safety on a team dedicated to building through its secondary. Jackson was raw as a rookie and still has plenty of time to develop at left tackle, but it would take a lot for him to catch up to Fitzpatrick, even with the extra year of cost control.
In hindsight: Win for Steelers
Jalen Ramsey to Rams
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: After months of rumors and a mysterious back injury, the Jags finally moved on from Ramsey and made what felt like an inevitable trade with the Rams. I saw this as a slight win for the Jaguars, who got two first-round picks for a player who clearly wanted out. The Rams were also shedding more first-round picks from what was already a top-heavy roster for another player who was going to need a big contract.
What happened: Ramsey's 2019 season was up-and-down, with his most memorable play likely coming as part of a blown coverage against the 49ers which helped push Los Angeles out of the playoffs. After resetting the cornerback market with a new contract extension, Ramsey returned to form in 2020, where he moved around the formation and allowed a 68.1 passer rating in coverage. He was widely regarded as the best cornerback in football by the end of the season.
Two of Jacksonville's picks haven't even taken an NFL snap yet, but the early returns aren't promising. Chaisson was anonymous as a rookie, with one sack and nine knockdowns on 568 snaps. The new Jags regime used its other first-rounder on Etienne, and while Trevor Lawrence will have an old friend from Clemson on the field for his rookie deal, history tells us that teams don't need to use first-round picks to find valuable running backs. Alvin Kamara, the optimistic comp for Etienne believers, was a third-round selection. This looks better for the Rams two years later.
In hindsight: Win for Rams
Marcus Peters to Ravens
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: The Rams made this move to get rid of a roster spot and a few million dollars in salary on the same day they acquired Jalen Ramsey. Given that the Ravens likely would have netted a compensatory pick for Peters even if they had let him go after the 2020 season, this looked like an easy win for the Ravens.
What happened: The Ravens basically landed an All-Pro corner for picking up his salary, as Peters immediately stepped in and elevated a Baltimore defense that had been hurt by injuries at corner. He has allowed passer ratings of 63.4 and 78.0 in coverage while intercepting seven passes in 24 games for his third team. Getting Peters for a backup linebacker and a late-round pick is one of the last great moves Ozzie Newsome made as Ravens general manager.
The Rams cleared out some cash in 2018 and then did the same in 2019 when they sent the fifth-round pick with Talib to the Dolphins for a future seventh-round selection at the trade deadline. They bought high on Peters and then sold low, although the other move they made at cornerback worked out better.
In hindsight: Huge win for Ravens
Mohamed Sanu to Patriots
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: Another long-rumored move, Bill Belichick's decision to acquire Sanu was thought of in many circles as the perfect addition for a Patriots team that desperately needed help at receiver. Given their dominant defense, the Pats were prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl when they made this deal. I liked it more for the Falcons, although I did note that the Patriots were getting the benefit of having Sanu under contract for a reasonable $6.5 million in 2020.
What happened: This might be the worst trade of the Belichick era. Sanu caught 10 passes for 81 yards in his second game with the Pats and then suffered a high-ankle sprain; while he tried to play through the injury, he was a shell of his former self for the rest of a frustrating 2019. Even after taking the offseason to heal, Sanu was disappointing enough in camp for the Patriots to cut bait with the 31-year-old, preferring to save that $6.5 million while starting the likes of Damiere Byrd at wideout. Sanu bounced around with the 49ers and Lions but failed to top 40 yards in a game last season.
The Falcons used the second-round pick as a trade chit, sending it and a fifth-rounder to Baltimore for Hurst and a fourth-round selection. (The Ravens used the pick on halfback J.K. Dobbins.) Hurst had a solid 2020 season, with 571 yards and six touchdowns, but the Falcons declined his fifth-year option after using the fourth overall pick on Kyle Pitts. There were probably better uses of the second-rounder for Atlanta, but this went about as poorly for the Patriots as possible.
In hindsight: Win for Falcons
Leonard Williams to Giants
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: This trade was inexplicable when it happened. The 2-6 Giants sent a third-round pick and a compensatory selection to the Jets for Williams, who was going to be a free agent after the season. You could maybe justify it as trading for a player who was going to earn a compensatory selection after the year, but the Giants didn't have the sort of roster to sit out free agency in 2020, and signing a similarly expensive player would have cost them the compensatory pick. The Jets were trading away a player they didn't expect to re-sign in free agency.
What happened: Williams produced a half-sack in a half-season with the Giants. Facing free agency, the Giants franchised Williams, who ... then delivered a career season in 2020, with 11.5 sacks and 30 knockdowns. General manager Dave Gettleman then eventually signed him to a massive extension, making him one of the highest-paid defenders in the league. Davis started six games for the Jets at safety in 2020, and Carter was one of two players the Jets drafted named Michael Carter this past April.
Do the Giants deserve credit for the Williams trade in 2019 given what happened in 2020? It's tough to say. They gave up two picks for a half-season of him (where he wasn't a difference-maker) and the right to franchise him before the 2020 season. He was a star in 2020, but given that he was making $16.1 million, the Giants didn't get much more than what they paid for in the process. They could have avoided that altogether and held on to the two picks by simply waiting until the offseason, so the only way trading for Williams in 2019 makes sense is if the Giants thought they had no shot of signing him in free agency after the season. This deal looks better after he delivered on his promise in 2020, but it's still tough to make the logic line up and justify the timing of the deal.
In hindsight: No winners