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Grading the biggest NFL deals ahead of the 2019 trade deadline

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Jalen Ramsey, Mohamed Sanu, and Emmanuel Sanders were all traded before the deadline, but which teams won those deals?

Mohamed Sanu, Jalen Ramsey, and Emmanuel Sanders superimposed in front of a blue background.
Jalen Ramsey, Mohamed Sanu, and Emmanuel Sanders are among the big name players who were dealt ahead of the NFL trade deadline.

Just a couple years ago, the NFL trade deadline was painfully boring. Some experts had ideas about how to make a more robust market, but the NFL didn’t do much to change things.

The league moved the trade deadline from Week 6 to Week 8 back in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2017 that things really started heating up. The extra couple weeks to make trades finally paid off once the salary cap swelled to a point that teams had wiggle room for big deals.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Jay Ajayi, Kelvin Benjamin, Marcell Dareus, and Duane Brown were among the names swapped ahead of the 2017 trade deadline. Last year, the list included Amari Cooper, Golden Tate, Dante Fowler Jr., Eli Apple, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Now, there’s finally reason to get excited about the possibility of midseason NFL trades.

There were already a few deals made a week ahead of the Oct. 29 deadline. The Jaguars sent mercurial cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Rams for two first-round picks, the Broncos traded veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers for a third-rounder and change, and the Falcons got a second-round pick from the Patriots in exchange for Mohamed Sanu.

The stage is set for even more trades to be made. We’ll give our thoughts and grades for all the biggest deals right here with the latest moves right at the top.

Rams trade CB Aqib Talib to the Dolphins

Talib is 33 years old, on injured reserve while nursing a rib injury, and not under contract for 2020. The Rams gave Miami a fifth-round pick for him to rehab in South Beach and no longer take up space on their salary cap. Think of this as a lesser version of the cap-clearing deal that sent Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for a swap of Day 3 picks in 2017.

Rams grade: B

Assuming Talib is still owed about $4 million of the $8 million he was due this fall and Miami didn’t ask for cash considerations, this will free up some space for Los Angeles to convert some existing contract obligations into 2019 bonuses, which will clear some spending room for the future. Given the team’s tenuous cap situation and lack of draft assets, this could be an important move — but that depends on what LA does from there.

Dolphins grade: A-

The Dolphins gave up an undisclosed future pick for Talib, which is a seventh-round pick in 2022. Their rebuild chugs along with a little extra ammunition, and there’s no chance of Talib seeing the field and accidentally making this team better.

Browns trade DE/LB Genard Avery to the Eagles

Avery racked up 4.5 sacks and started five games for Cleveland as a rookie, but he’d fallen out of the team’s rotation this fall — the Memphis product had logged just five defensive snaps through seven games in 2019. At 6’0 and 250 pounds he’s built like a fireplug, and a change of scenery could give him a chance to shine in a less crowded front seven. Philadelphia sent a fourth-round draft pick which will almost certainly fall in the later rounds to the Browns to secure his services.

Browns grade: A-

Getting anything in return for a player who’d barely appeared on the participation chart this season is a win. Getting a fourth round pick for a former fifth round pick who’d played five snaps for you this fall is a triumph. Avery wasn’t in the team’s future on the defense and didn’t contribute much on special teams, which made him an easy-to-predict healthy scratch most weeks.

While defensive coordinator Steve Wilks won’t miss him much, he still brought valuable depth to a snakebitten team. Still, this seems like a pretty solid haul for a player Cleveland may have released in a roster crunch in the near future.

Eagles grade: C

Avery showed off some reasonable pass rushing chops as a rookie, notching the aforementioned 4.5 sacks and adding 14 quarterback hits. He’s not especially versatile, but he’s capable of cleaning up the mess a wrecking ball lineman leaves in the pocket. That was Myles Garrett in Cleveland. Now it’ll be Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, and Brandon Graham in Philadelphia.

Avery might shine in a new environment, but hooooo boy, that’s a high price for a player who couldn’t make an impact for a 2-5 team.

Jets trade DL Leonard Williams to the Giants

Williams’ replacement came to town in April when the Jets drafted Quinnen Williams with the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That ultimately resulted in the former top 10 pick getting sent to the Giants in the first ever trade between the two New York franchises. The deal landed the Jets third- and fifth-round picks in 2021.

Jets grade: A

While defensive coordinator Gregg Williams insists Leonard Williams is playing well in 2019, the reality is that he was unproductive. He was almost definitely leaving in the offseason and the pair of 2021 draft picks are more than Williams could’ve returned with a compensatory selection. The Jets are a bad football team and it’s time for a fire sale. Getting a return for Williams, which includes the Giants taking on some of his salary and the possibility of a fourth-round pick is a win.

Giants grade: C

It’s a risky move for the Giants. Williams could reject any contract offers from the team and leave in free agency less than five months from now. That’d mean two draft picks and a chunk of change gone just to get eight games out of a defensive linemen who has zero sacks so far in 2019. Even if the Giants do get a deal done with Williams, they’ll lose third- and fourth-round picks for a player who hasn’t been much of an impact player in his career.

Dolphins trade RB Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals

Miami has spent all of 2019 trading away any player it can. Rumors of a Drake trade have been rumbling for about a month, despite the fact that he led the team in touches and yards from scrimmage through the first six games of the season. He was traded to the Cardinals for a 2020 sixth-round pick that has a chance to become a fifth-round selection.

Dolphins grade: B

Mission accomplished, I guess. Trading away Drake — one of the few players on the roster capable of gaining yards on offense — certainly doesn’t make the Dolphins better in 2019. But who cares about that? Drake was set to reach free agency in the offseason and Miami is much more concerned with getting picks than trying to win with a player who was leaving anyway. The Dolphins probably wish they could’ve got more for Drake, and that’s why it’s just a B grade for them. But a rotational running back with nine weeks left on his contract isn’t exactly a foundational piece.

Cardinals grade: A-

Arizona winds up the beneficiary of the Dolphins’ tank job, because it gets a pretty solid playmaker for peanuts. Even if the Cardinals lose Drake in the offseason, a sixth-round pick for a player on a rookie contract is basically nothing. David Johnson has been dealing with an ankle injury and D.J. Foster has been out with a hamstring problem. Chase Edmonds has performed admirably as a starter, but Drake provides much needed depth and versatility.

Patriots trade DE Michael Bennett to the Cowboys

Michael Bennett is coming off a week-long suspension by the Patriots for his verbal disagreements with defensive line coach Bret Bielema over his playing time and what Bennett called a “philosophical disagreement.” He played on just 11 of 50 defensive snaps in a Week 6 win over the Giants. He wanted out, and the Patriots, apparently, were happy to acquiesce.

Patriots grade: C+

As a “no-nonsense” organization, it makes sense to move on from a player they perceive as a distraction, even if Bennett’s complaints were perfectly reasonable. It makes sense to get rid of him for that reason, but at the end of the day they’re dumping a player who may be past his prime, but still has a ton of experience and ability to make game-changing plays. Who knows what help they may need on the line later in the season or in the playoffs? And they didn’t exactly get valuable draft picks out of it.

Cowboys grade: B+

There’s no way Bennett has declined enough to only be worth playing 10 snaps a game. The Cowboys already have an average defense, and they only gave up a seventh-round pick (that can turn into a sixth-round pick, which is also peanuts) to get him. Bennett may not be a game-changer on every player, but again: he’s the type of veteran who can make something big happen in key situations.

Jaguars trade CB Jalen Ramsey to the Rams

The 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl cornerback demanded a trade from the Jaguars in September. After Ramsey sat out a few games citing a back injury, Jacksonville gave in to the request and sent him to the Rams for first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, along with a fourth-round pick in 2021.

Jaguars grade: B+

In a perfect world, the Jaguars would’ve never found themselves in that position in the first place. Ramsey’s an elite cornerback and should’ve been a franchise cornerstone for years to come. But their hand was forced and a trade was inevitable, so getting a pair of first-round picks and a little more was good value.

Rams grade: B

Cornerback is a premium position and Ramsey’s a premium player, so Los Angeles paid a fair price to get him, even if it really is a whole lot. The question is whether it was a wise decision to invest so many resources in the cornerback position when the Rams don’t have much cap space to work with. The roster will look — more or less — exactly as it does now for the foreseeable future. That could leave little opportunity to fix weak spots (like the porous offensive line, for instance) and get back to another Super Bowl.

Falcons trade WR Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots

New England shipped a second-round pick in exchange for a player in his age 30 season — something Bill Belichick hadn’t done since acquiring Corey Dillon back in 2004. He’s hoping the liberated Falcon will have a similar effect for his 2019 team. Sanu now joins Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett at the top of Tom Brady’s target list after the Patriots shipped their 2020 second-round pick south in exchange for the eight-year veteran.

Patriots grade: B+

This grade went from a B to a B+ after the team announced plans to put Josh Gordon on injured reserve, then waive him once he’s healthy enough to play again. Sanu can’t replace the field-stretching threat Gordon provided, but his snaps will be vital for a suddenly shallow receiving group.

All Sanu has to do is just be himself. The sure-handed veteran gives New England a big (6’2, 215 pounds) presence in the slot who can replace some of the third-down mid-range passing game that Rob Gronkowski left behind in retirement. He’s a perfect complement for a high-volume veteran passer — even if a second-round pick is a steep price for a player averaging only 44 yards per game alongside Matt Ryan.

Falcons grade: A

Losing Sanu, one of the team’s most reliable and well-liked players, isn’t ideal. However, the versatile wideout was likely on the chopping block for 2020 anyway as Atlanta skids towards salary cap hell. This trade saves the team $6 million next fall and brought back a Day 2 pick for a player who may have been released in the offseason.

Broncos trade WR Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers

For the second straight season, general manager John Elway traded away the wideout who led his team in receiving yards the year before. In 2018, it was Demaryius Thomas. Now it’s Sanders, who moved to Santa Clara along with a fifth-round pick in exchange for third- and fourth-rounders. He immediately becomes the Niners’ most accomplished receiver in 2019, and now he gets to see what the upgrade from Joe Flacco to Jimmy Garoppolo can do for him in his age 32 season.

49ers grade: B-

San Francisco made this deal after missing out on Sanu, but it might’ve got better value anyway. Sanders is a couple years older than Sanu, but he cost less to acquire and has been the more productive of the pair over the course of his career. He was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season in Denver last year before suffering an Achilles tear, and the recovery from the injury doesn’t look like its slowed him much in 2019. It’s a short-term move for the 49ers, but the time is now for the team.

Broncos grade: A

Tanking should’ve been on the table for the Broncos a while ago. This trade doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve decided to go that route, but it at least means Denver knows Sanders isn’t a long-term piece and it can’t afford to pass up draft capital when it can get some. Losing Sanders would only be a bad thing for the Broncos if they were competing for a Super Bowl in 2019 or planning on re-signing him in the offseason. Neither of those are true, so this is a win.

Raiders trade CB Gareon Conley to the Texans

Conley was the 24th pick of the NFL Draft less than three years ago, and while he started 20 of his last 21 games in Oakland, he failed to live up to that lofty status. The former Ohio State star has given up 14.5 yards per target this fall while playing at a sub-replacement level through six games with the Raiders. After getting torched by Marquez Valdes-Scantling in Week 7, he was traded to Houston in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick.

Raiders grade: B+

Conley was actually costing Oakland points, per SIS, and his grasp on a starting role for the rest of the season was tenuous. While he’d been a valued member of the secondary last year, he was beaten more often than a desert rug in 2019, making him a prime trade candidate. In Houston, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock were able to find a buyer willing to pay for name recognition and pedigree rather than recent results.

Texans grade: C+

Maybe Conley will thrive with a change of scenery, especially with a team that plays more man coverage. He was a recent first-round pick, after all, and he looked like Oakland’s top corner during a lost 2018 season. The Texans also desperately need secondary help, with both starting corners banged up.

Even so, a third-round pick seems like a steep price for a player whose value has plummeted in 2019. Now Houston is slated to have just one pick on Days 1 and 2 of next year’s draft, which is a bad sign for a team that may be one or two pieces away from truly contending.

Lions trade S Quandre Diggs to the Seahawks

Diggs may not be the biggest name in the NFL, but his Lions teammates were pissed about a trade that sent him away to Seattle. The 2015 sixth-round pick slowly worked his way into the lineup, becoming a full-time starter in 2017, and eventually a team captain in 2019. Dumping fuel on the fire was the fact he was traded for hardly anything in return. The Lions sent Diggs and a seventh-round pick for just a fifth-round pick.

Lions grade: B-

It may look awful on the surface, but there’s a bit of logic for the Lions. Diggs signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension with Detroit in September 2018 and rewarded them with a solid season. So far in 2019 though, he just hasn’t been very good. At the time of the trade, Diggs ranked 61st at the safety position on Pro Football Focus. While his salary isn’t too cumbersome right now, he was due to count $6.99 million and $7.34 million against Detroit’s cap in the next two seasons. The trade is a tough sell in the locker room, but the Lions are going to have to make some hard decisions to rebuild their team.

Seahawks grade: A-

It’s hard to dog a team for a trade that only costs them a swap of late-round selections. Diggs is no Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor, but if he’s an upgrade at all in the secondary, it’s a win for Seattle. If he’s not, then just send him packing.

Rams trade CB Marcus Peters to the Ravens

The Chiefs traded away Peters in March 2018 because the team decided it wasn’t ready to award a top-level contract to a cornerback who takes too many risks. For a season and six games, that’s what the Rams got: A cornerback who caught five interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns — in 22 games, but also allowed too many big plays and touchdowns. So with his rookie deal expiring after the 2019 season, the Rams sent Peters to the Ravens for a fifth-round pick and linebacker Kenny Young.

Rams grade: C

Trading for Peters didn’t work out too well for the Rams in 2018, but the cornerback was playing pretty good football for the team in 2019. Even if LA didn’t think Peters was worth re-signing in the offseason, a fifth-round pick really isn’t much and the Rams may have been able to recoup that with a compensatory selection. Ramsey is a great cornerback, but the Rams lost Aqib Talib for the year to an injury and gave away a pretty solid player at the position for a late-round pick. This trade really only works out well for the Rams if Young turns out to be good, and there’s not much evidence that’s true.

Ravens grade: A-

Baltimore has a chance to make a run and it made sense to go after big targets on the trade market. It’s a clear win that they got Peters for just a fifth-round pick. If the cornerback devolves into the player who got toasted by receivers often in 2018, then it didn’t cost the team much. If he excels and proves he’s worth a big contract, the Ravens will be huge winners. It was a low-risk, high-reward trade that could make an already good team even better.