The 2018 NFL season is rife with parity. Halfway through the season, 24 teams have between three and six wins, and with the exception of some clearly rebuilding franchises — the Cardinals, Giants, and Raiders foremost among them — nearly everyone is still in the playoff hunt.
But teams looking for a fortune-changing piece to push them to the postseason don’t have much time to add an impact player. The NFL’s trade deadline strikes at 4 p.m. ET on Oct. 30, signaling the end of what’s already been an eventful swap season. October has already seen players like Amari Cooper and Carlos Hyde change teams with more than a week before the deadline hits. More are sure to come, and you can keep up with all the rumors here.
How will these trades pan out? It’s tough to know much before an acquired player even takes a snap with his new team, but we still know overpays when we see them. Here’s how 2018’s NFL trades look while they’re still prominent in the league’s rearview mirror.
Washington shows its NFC East chances are no joke with HaHa Clinton-Dix
Washington gets: S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Packers get: Fourth-round pick
The Packers probably weren’t going to re-sign HaHa Clinton-Dix — the former first-round pick said as much weeks before the trade deadline. That put the Green Bay safety squarely on the trading block, and Washington — a team with a good, not great secondary — jumped at the chance to add the fifth-year veteran.
It’s a move that shows Jay Gruden isn’t content to rest on his laurels. Washington has jumped to the top of the NFC East behind a surprising 5-2 start. With Josh Norman rounding back into form and DJ Swearinger playing some of the best football of his career, adding another defensive back wasn’t a glaring need. But Clinton-Dix gives the team an upgrade over Montae Nicholson and gives the club an argument as the NFC’s toughest passing defense moving forward.
Clinton-Dix was the thread that tied together a wounded secondary in 2016 and 2017, but his level of play has been uneven this fall. Green Bay deemed him expendable thanks in part to a rising crop of young defensive backs led by players like Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Kentrell Brice, and Josh Jones. While he would have helped the Packers’ playoff push, general manager Brian Gutekunst decided a fourth-round pick for half a season of the Pro Bowl safety was a better deal than letting him walk away in the offseason .
But Clinton-Dix was especially useful in pressure situations the past two seasons, and his ability to stay healthy and contribute is a trait Green Bay defensive backs have lacked recently. The Packers don’t have much margin for error after a 3-3-1 start — and after jettisoning their starting safety, who is also responsible for 60 percent of their 2018 interceptions, it just got even smaller.
Washington grade: A-
Packers grade: B-
Rams’ defensive line gets even scarier with Dante Fowler
Rams get: DL Dante Fowler Jr.
Jaguars get: Third-round pick (2019), fifth-round pick (2020)
Los Angeles saw an 8-0 team and said “we can be better.” So the Rams pushed even more chips to the middle of the table and acquired Fowler, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Fowler’s career has yet to live up to that billing. A torn ACL kept him from the field in ‘15, and he struggled to crack the starting lineup of a stacked Jaguars defense the past three seasons. But he’s been a strong situational pass rusher along the edge — and that’s exactly what Los Angeles is looking for in order to make opponents pay for double-teaming Aaron Donald inside.
Fowler has 14 sacks and another 22 quarterback hits in 39 games as a pro and is still just 24 years old. He’ll now pair with Michael Brockers to add some extra pressure along the edge alongside Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
The Jags could afford to make this trade with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue holding down their starting defensive end spots. With Fowler due for free agency this spring, he was likely headed toward a new start anyway. Shipping him to the Rams gives him a head start on that — all while recouping some significant draft assets in return.
Rams grade: B+
Jaguars grade: B+
Packers punish Ty Montgomery by forcing him to play alongside Joe Flacco
Ravens get: RB Ty Montgomery
Packers get: Seventh-round pick
Ty Montgomery has been a useful piece of the Packer offense since being drafted with a third round pick back in 2015. Green Bay ostensibly selected him as a wide receiver, but he boosted a running back corps that had been derailed by injury in 2016, rushing for nearly six yards per carry while making 44 catches, mostly out of the backfield, for a team that advanced all the way to the NFC title game.
But all anyone’s talking about this week is his devastating fourth quarter fumble that cost Green Bay a possible win over the NFL’s top team. Montgomery’s decision not to take a touchback with just over two minutes to play in a 29-27 game wound up giving the Rams the ball deep in Packer territory. It only looked worse after he tried to explain away the choice to run back the kick as a combination of frustration and ignorance.
So Green Bay shipped him off to the Ravens for the low price of a seventh-round pick. The Packers can afford to make the move thanks to a deep stable of totally OK tailbacks who’d already absorbed most of his touches — Montgomery was averaging just 3.7 carries per game in 2018. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will continue as the team’s lead backs in his absence.
The Ravens get a low-risk, high reward player who was a stud in 2016 and a relatively average player in the two seasons since. Average would actually be a step up for Baltimore, a team that averages just 3.6 yards per rush — the second-lowest mark in the league. Montgomery will push Alex Collins and Javorius Allen for touches over the latter half of the season. Since he’s a free agent in 2019, he can be released with no financial repercussions moving forward if he fails to work out.
Ravens grade: B
Packers grade: B
Eagles boost Carson Wentz’s MVP hopes by adding Golden Tate
Eagles get: WR Golden Tate
Lions get: Third-round pick
Philadelphia’s been stuck in post-Super Bowl rut, but at 4-4 the Eagles remain in the thick of the NFC East hunt. They can thank Carson Wentz for that; the third-year quarterback has picked up where his 2017 season left off, firmly establishing him as a legitimate MVP candidate in the process. He’s thrown for 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions in six games, racking up 298 yards per contest in the process.
He’s done all that with an underwhelming receiving corps, too. Re-signing Jordan Matthews helped bolster that group, but Nelson Agholor has been disappointing after a breakout 2017 and Alshon Jeffery has dealt with injuries to start his 2018. The Eagles needed help to make a push toward division-leading Washington, and Tate fits the bill.
Tate used another big-armed quarterback to establish himself as one of the league’s most reliable wide receivers over the past four-plus seasons. He averaged 1,056 receiving yards per year while teaming with Matthew Stafford for the Lions. Freeing him from Detroit will give him the opportunity to play with another strong QB while boosting his chances of winning a second NFL title significantly.
As for the Lions, the move doesn’t necessarily mean the club is giving up on its 2018. Tate is a valuable presence atop any WR depth chart, but having Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay there to absorb the targets he’s left behind should mean a limited interruption in service for Stafford. Tate was responsible for nearly 27 percent of his team’s targets, however. Head coach Matt Patricia better hope his lesser-used wideouts are ready for a big step up going forward.
Tate was in the final year of his contract, and will be 31 years old in 2019. Getting a third-round pick in exchange for a free agent to be is a solid trade — but Detroit would have likely received a third- or fourth-round compensation pick if he were to leave anyway next spring. Now Philadelphia will get that selection if he doesn’t re-sign, greatly mitigating their risk here. If Tate finishes the season strong and pushes the Eagles into the postseason, this could effectively be a 15-spot pick swap in exchange for a 1,000-yard receiver.
Plus, you’ve still got to wonder how this will affect the Lions’ postseason aspirations in a season where the NFC North is more vulnerable than ever.
Eagles grade: A-
Lions grade: C
Texans bet Demaryius Thomas can fill a Will Fuller-sized hole
Texans get: WR Demaryius Thomas and a seventh-round pick
Broncos get: Fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick
It’s definitely not a 1:1 replacement for the Texans. Thomas is 30, six years older than Fuller, and he’s been drop-prone in Denver this year. But he’s sliding into a better fit as Houston’s No. 2 receiver, behind Nuk Hopkins, and with Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball instead of Case Keenum.
Thomas will only cost the Texans $4.5 million against the cap this season. He’s got $14 million cap hit next year, if Houston doesn’t redo his contract, but they can move on without incurring any dead cap space after this season.
The Broncos are correctly betting that Cortland Sutton is ready for a bigger role, as the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Emmanuel Sanders. Hell, Sutton might really end up being the main receiver in Denver this year.
At 3-5, Denver was probably already a long shot in the wild card race, so getting some returns for their future now isn’t the worst idea.
Texans grade: A-
Broncos grade: B
The Cowboys got their No. 1 receiver, Amari Cooper — for a big price
Cowboys get: WR Amari Cooper
Raiders get: 2019 first-round pick
Holy crap, the Raiders actually got a first-round pick in exchange for Cooper! Barely a month after it cost the Patriots a fifth-rounder to free Josh Gordon from Cleveland!
Giving up a first-round pick for a multiple-time 1,000-yard receiver on his rookie contract isn’t unprecedented; the Rams did it this offseason to pry Brandin Cooks away from the Patriots. But Cooks was coming off a year as the top receiver and most explosive deep threat on an AFC championship team. Cooper has had only 70 catches in his last 20 games for a bad Oakland squad and was roughly the league’s 40th-most effective wide receiver in 2017.
The Cowboys are betting a change of scenery will unlock the player who had 155 catches and more than 2,200 receiving yards his first two seasons as a pro. Dak Prescott has been working overtime to push a WR corps led by players like Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Michael Gallup to respectability. A healthy Cooper would easily become Dallas’ top option, and with the NFC East very winnable, that could be the difference between a playoff berth and a season that ends at Week 17. Keeping him around won’t be cheap, however — he’s due $13.9 million in 2019 and will likely require a large extension before the season starts.
The Raiders’ descent into their Las Vegas rebuild sped up with the deal, which gives Jon Gruden five first-round picks over the next two seasons. That draft wealth comes at the expense of a tanking job Sam Hinkie could truly appreciate, but it’s not like this Oakland team was going to win much in 2018 anyway.
The Cowboys got the WR1 they’ve been searching for since releasing Dez Bryant, but at a steep cost. The Raiders got the return they’d been looking for, but gave up a 24-year-old with two Pro Bowl seasons under his belt in the process. It’s a boom-or-bust deal in both directions, which is delightful if you don’t have any stake in either team.
Cowboys’ grade: B-
Raiders’ grade: B+
The Lions beefed up their run defense by adding Damon Harrison from the Giants
Lions get: DT Damon Harrison
Giants get: 2019 fifth-round pick
Detroit ranked dead last in the league in rushing defense through seven weeks, allowing 5.3 yards per carry to opposing ballcarriers. That’s down to 5.1 — and “up” to 30th in the NFL — after the addition of Harrison, a 341-pound lane-clogger who is only a season removed from a first-team All-Pro selection. Just days after getting traded, Harrison made his Lions debut and racked up seven tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack.
“Snacks” is a low-risk acquisition for first-year head coach Matt Patricia; he’s signed through 2020 and while he’s due $16.25 million in his final two seasons, he can also be cut while leaving just $3.2 million of dead cap on the Lions’ books should things go south in the NFC North.
Patricia’s team has lacked consistency in his first season, but its 3-4 start means Detroit is only one game behind the division-leading Bears. Getting a peak Harrison — Pro Football Focus labels him 2018’s top run defender — in the lineup, alongside a finally healthy Ziggy Ansah (he’s missed six of his team’s seven games this fall due to a shoulder injury), will transform the Lions’ defensive front.
As for the Giants, a fifth-round pick seems like selling low, especially six days before the trade deadline. The move ups the team’s draft capital in 2019, which should be the team’s sole focus in another cratering year, but could they have gotten more?
Lions’ grade: A-
Giants’ grade: C-
Eli Apple is an immediate starter for the Saints secondary
Saints get: CB Eli Apple
Giants get: 2019 fourth-round pick, 2020 seventh-round pick
Apple’s tumultuous tenure in New York came to a close with a trade to New Orleans, the NFL’s unofficial stop for every Ohio State defensive back in the league. The former No. 10 overall pick had an immediate impact as a rookie, but his 2017 campaign saw him struggle as reports of locker room tensions and clashes with the Giants’ coaching staff led to a team-mandated suspension late in the season.
That left him vulnerable as New York marches toward a culture- and roster-changing rebuild, and the Saints took advantage. Apple had been a useful starter for the Giants this fall, providing adequate to above-average support in the passing game but still showing off lapses when it comes to tackling. Still, he’s got first-round talent and is now playing in a loaded secondary filled with players who he once shared a Buckeye practice field.
Less than a week after his final game with the Giants, Apple was in the starting lineup for the Saints in a primetime matchup against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Apple played almost every defensive snap and led the Saints in tackles with nine.
New Orleans’ resurgent 2017 defense has backslid this season, and the passing defense bears much of that responsibility. Only the Buccaneers and Lions have been worse against opposing quarterbacks in 2018. Apple helps mitigate the loss of Patrick Robinson, who was lost for the year with an ankle injury, and has already usurped Ken Crawley in the starting lineup. Although far from perfect, Apple and the Saints secondary put together a respectable performance against the Vikings
New Orleans is in position to glean the best out of a former top 10 pick — but if it can’t, the Saints can walk away from his rookie contract without picking up his fifth-year option after the 2019 season.
Saints’ grade: B+
Giants’ grade: B
The Jaguars acquired Carlos Hyde from the Browns to power their run game
Jaguars get: RB Carlos Hyde
Browns get: 2019 fifth-round pick
Leonard Fournette has been battling a hamstring strain all season and Corey Grant is now on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury. That’s left T.J. Yeldon and not much else to power a Jacksonville offense in the midst of an identity crisis. This necessitated the trade for Hyde, who was the Browns’ leading rusher and scorer at the time of his departure even though he’d averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in Cleveland.
The Jaguars get a player who has run for more than 1,900 yards in 2016 and 2017 and a 230-pound battering ram who can find the end zone; Hyde had scored 19 touchdowns in his last 35 games before coming to Jacksonville. They’re also getting a player whose efficiency has declined in each of the past two seasons and who was a non-factor in the Browns’ passing game. His first game with the Jaguars was disappointing, with just six carries for 11 yards.
That will be a lot less concerning once Fournette’s back in the lineup, and if Hyde doesn’t work out, he can be cut in 2019 without any repercussions to the Jags’ cap sheet.
Cleveland gets a Day 3 pick in a player-for-pick swap that harkens back to the glory days of former GM Sashi Brown. Hyde will be missed in short-yardage situations, but shipping him to Florida clears space for rookie Nick Chubb to step into the spotlight. This season, Chubb has almost doubled Hyde’s yards-per-carry at 6.1; now the Browns get to see if he can be a featured back or if he’s just a home-run hitting piece of a platoon.
Jaguars’ grade: B
Browns’ grade: B