NFL Trade Results: Grading Every Major Trade of the Last 5 Years
As the lockout progresses, NFL fans are being deprived of one of the major joys of the off-season: trades.
From Brett Favre to Randy Moss to Randy Moss (again), there are plenty of notable moves that have shifted power through the league in the past five seasons. While there’s no exact measure of trade effectiveness, grades for this list stem from the value the player gave to their new team compared to what was given to acquire them.
With some good old-fashioned hindsight as our guide, let’s look back on some of the major trades of the past five seasons.
Javon Walker: Green Bay Packers to the Denver Broncos
The star receiver made headlines with repeated demands for a revised contract reflecting his Pro Bowl-quality play, and complained he didn’t “like the way the organization runs itself.”
After missing nearly the entire 2005 season after injuring his ACL, Walker got his trade wish when he was sent to the Denver Broncos for a second round pick in the 2006 draft (which was then passed over to the Atlanta Falcons). Signing a lucrative 5-year deal, Walker performed strongly in his first season before injuries diminished his play. His time in Denver was also marred by the shooting death of teammate Darrent Williams, who died in Walker’s arms.
Unable to move Walker before a scheduled $5.4 million bonus, the Broncos cut him after two seasons with the team.
Trade Grade: C-
Daunte Culpepper: Minnesota Vikings to Miami Dolphins
After years of lackluster play at the quarterback position, the Miami Dolphins took the opportunity to make a big splash on the free agent market, scooping up Daunte Culpepper from the Minnesota Vikings for the price of a second round draft pick. Some experts labeled the Dolphins Super Bowl ready with Culpepper’s acquisition.
Culpepper, fresh off a devastating knee injury in the 2005, had several preseason questions about his health. While able to return to play, his opening games did little to impress. Injuries ruined the rest of his season, and Culpepper was placed on injured reserve on the later end of his season.
He was released the following offseason.
It’s also worth noting Miami were also considering then-free agent Drew Brees, who had some injury questions of his own. Brees, who eventually signed with the New Orleans Saints, became the face of the franchise that went on to win the Super Bowl in 2009. Culpepper would become a face of the winless 2008 Detroit Lions, and is now plying his trade for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL.
Hindsight is 20/20.
Trade Grade: D
Steve McNair: Tennessee Titans to Baltimore Ravens
The veteran Tennessee Titans quarterback and former co-MVP was moved to the Baltimore Ravens for a fourth round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. McNair immediately improved the team’s previously underwhelming passing attack, leading the team to a 13-3 record and the AFC North Championship. The season ended on a low note for McNair, who threw two interceptions in a 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
He then struggled with injuries in his second season with the team, only starting in six games.
While the Ravens only had one strong season from McNair, the low cost of getting him bumps this grade up substantially.
Trade Grade: B+
Deion Branch: New England Patriots to Seattle Seahawks
Branch, named Super Bowl MVP in the 2004-2005 season, declined a contract with the New England Patriots in the summer of 2006, and after several months of negotiations was moved to the Seattle Seahawks for a first round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft (used to pick up Pro Bowl safety Brandon Merriwether).
While his play was negatively impacted by injuries, Branch’s production never really justified the use of the first round pick or the six-year, $39 million deal.
Trade Grade: C+
Randy Moss: Oakland Raiders to New England Patriots
One of the most one-sided trades in recent NFL memory, the New England Patriots took a chance on the superstar receiver for only a fourth round draft pick.
The change in scenery immediately improved Moss’ production, as he was the primary target in a devastating aerial attack with Tom Brady and fellow new arrival Wes Welker (a steal in his own right). In his first season with the Patriots, he broke the record for the most touchdown receptions in a single season with 23.
The 2007 Patriots, one of the most dynamic teams in NFL history, fell 17-14 to the New York Giants in one of the most entertaining Super Bowls ever.
While a season ending injury to Tom Brady in 2008 robbed fans of an immediate follow up to the 2007 campaign, Moss’ tenure in New England was incredibly effective. For the price the Patriots paid to get him, Moss was an incredible value.
Trade Grade: A+
Brett Favre: Green Bay Packers to New York Jets
Brett Favre rose to stratospheric heights in 16 seasons in Green Bay, which included three MVP awards and a Super Bowl victory, before his retirement in March 2008.
Returning from his four-month retirement, team management made the choice to move to their younger quarterback Aaron Rodgers as their long-term starter. Instead of granting an open release for Favre, the team traded Favre to the New York Jets for a fourth round pick.
While Favre compiled a strong record to start the season, a late season collapse (including losing four of the last five regular season games) doomed the Jets to miss the playoffs. Favre’s performance was limited to several injuries, particularly a torn biceps tendon in his right shoulder.
Despite the late season collapse, the Jets improved their record dramatically with Favre under center, from 4-12 to 9-7.
Favre retired again at the end of the season, but would return again to play for the Minnesota Vikings.
His tenure with the Jets was tarnished with reports of inappropriate messages sent to team employee Jenn Sterger, which was later investigated by the league.
Trade Grade: B
Roy Williams: Detroit Lions to Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys made a big splash in their move to get receiver Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions, surrendering a first, third, and sixth round pick in the 2009 Draft and a seventh round pick in the 2010 Draft.
With the heavy expectations sent his way, Williams has left many fans disappointed, failing to carry the receiving load like many had hoped for. In addition to seeing drops in almost all statistical categories from his time in Detroit, he has shown a knack for untimely drops in important situations.
While it’s unfair to say the trade was a failure, Williams has much work to do to justify the hefty trade price put on him.
Trade Grade: C-
Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs to Minnesota Vikings
Star defensive end Jared Allen drew a high price tag when he was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, including a first round pick, two third round picks, and flipped sixth round picks in the 2008 Draft.
The high price tag was made worth it, as Allen continued as one of the league’s sack leaders, even while fighting several injuries in his first season as a Viking.
While his sack totals dropped slightly in the 2010 campaign, Allen’s output has made him a valuable piece to a stifling defense.
Trade Grade: A-
DeAngelo Hall, Atlanta Falcons to Oakland Raiders
A disaster in every sense of the word.
After being sent by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 for several Oakland Raiders draft picks and being given a seven-year, $70 million contract, he was released after playing in only eight games.
Trade Grade: F
Jeremy Shockey, New York Giants to New Orleans Saints
After bumping heads with the coaching staff of the New York Giants one too many times, the hot-headed tight end was moved in the summer of 2008 to the New Orleans Saints for a second and fifth round pick in the 2009 Draft.
Shockey’s tenure with the Saints has seen productivity on both ends of the spectrum. After a lousy debut season with his new team, his numbers jumped dramatically in 2009, and was targeted frequently in the Saints Super Bowl run.
After seeing a dip in his numbers in the 2010-2011 season, Shockey was cut by the Saints.
Trade Grade: B
Matt Cassell: New England Patriots to Kansas City Chiefs
After capably handling the reins for an injured Tom Brady in the 2008 season, the New England Patriots shipped off Matt Cassell (along with veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel) to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a second round draft pick.
After an early season injury in his debut campaign with the Chiefs hurt his passing efficiency, he rebounded tremendously in 2010. Putting together an impressive touchdown-interception ratio, Cassell was a major part of the Chiefs division-winning regular season, and first playoff home game since 2003.
All that for a second rounder? Good value from this end.
Trade Grade: B+
Tony Gonzalez: Kansas City Chiefs to Atlanta Falcons
After 11 sensational seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, the veteran tight end was moved to the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 in exchange for a second round pick.
He immediately became a part of a dynamic Falcons passing attack, and became a top target for emerging star quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons have taken major strides in the past three seasons, including a NFC South title in 2010, and Gonzalez is a major part of that success.
While his age has made itself apparent in his declining completion and yardage numbers, he still will play an important role for the Falcons in the next few years.
Trade Grade: B+
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles to Washington Redskins
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid reneged on an earlier commitment to keep Donovan McNabb, the team's all-time leader in wins and passing yards, sending him in April 2010 to their division rival Washington Redskins.
After some early season success, McNabb's season unraveled in a week 8 loss to the Detroit Lions. Coach Mike Shanahan pulled McNabb for backup Rex Grossman, saying McNabb wasn't physically fit to run the two-minute drill (even though Grossman lost a fumble on the following play). Adding insult to injury, McNabb was moved to third on the team's depth chart.
Not surprisingly, the season was the worst of McNabb's career.
Trade Grade: F (This grade may go up if the Redskins can get some trade value for McNabb.)
Jay Cutler: Denver Broncos to Chicago Bears
Cutler got his trade wish when he was shipped to the Chicago Bears in a deal that sent back Bears quarterback Kyle Orton.
After a lackluster first season in Chicago, where he led the league in turnovers, Cutler shined in year two with the team.
Following a strong regular season and Bears playoff debut against the Seattle Seahawks, a rough NFC championship game fueled many of Cutler's detractors.
Cutler claimed to have sustained a knee injury, which led him to sit out the rest of the game. Several players, fans, and commentators debated Cutler's character in sitting out the big game, while others defended Cutler's decision to protect himself from further injury.
While his performance took major strides in the 2010 campaign, it's tough to foresee how fans will respond to Cutler following the team's tumultuous playoff exit.
Trade Grade: Inconclusive
Braylon Edwards: Cleveland Browns to New York Jets
Tired of the losing with the Cleveland Browns, Braylon Edwards was happy for a "fresh start" in heading to play with the New York Jets.
After a less than stellar finish to his opening season, Edwards improved his yardage and completion numbers in the 2010-11 campaign. Despite the improvement, he has yet to hit the numbers he had in 2007 while with the Browns.
Edwards should see additional numbers as starting quarterback Mark Sanchez improves his completion rates and efficiency.
Trade Grade: B
Jason Campbell: Washington Redskins to Oakland Raiders
Displaced from the Washington Redskins with the addition of Donovan McNabb, Jason Campbell was traded in 2010 to the Oakland Raiders for a fourth round draft pick.
Compared to Jim Plunkett by Raiders owner Al Davis, Campbell was benched initially in favor of Bruce Gradkowski, but Campbell's play as a backup impressed coach Tom Cable enough to award him the starting role.
While his numbers dropped in his season in Oakland with reduced play, Campbell appears to be the starter for the upcoming season in a rapidly improving offense under Cable. Campbell has the opportunity to surprise skeptics if the Raiders can add a few more wins on top of its AFC West domination of 2010.
Trade Grade: B
Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos to Miami Dolphins
While there’s no reason to think that with some improved quarterback play Marshall’s numbers could return to his Denver peaks, until then the trade grade will fall a little lower.
Trade Grade: C+
Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers to New York Jets
The most surprised party in this trade between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets appeared to be Santonio Holmes himself. Suspended following a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, he was shipped away for a fifth round pick.
After an initial four game suspensio, the former Super Bowl MVP came out strong, and proved himself to be the marquee part of the Jets’ passing attack.
Holmes made an immediate impact, making two late game winning catches in back to back games in November.
As long as Holmes can steer away from trouble, this could be a major steal for the organization.
Trade Grade: B+
Peyton Hillis, Denver Broncos to Cleveland Browns
While quarterback Brady Quinn was supposed to be the star of this trade, it appears running back Peyton Hillis is the gem of this move between the Denver Bronocs and Cleveland Browns.
Hillis, while disappointing in his turnover rates, has led the league in the fictional category of running defenders over (although I feel like there may be space for a category like that.)
Peyton also has the honor of being the first Cleveland area athelete to cover a video game when he takes the cover of the upcoming Madden 2012.
Count running back as one of the few areas that the Browns don't have to worry about next season.
Trade Grade: A+ (for Cleveland)
Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals to Baltimore Ravens
Anquan Boldin, who with Larry Fitzgerald created one of the most intimidating receiver combinations in NFL history, was shipped off to Baltimore for draft picks. Boldin had vowed never to re-sign with the Arizona Cardinals after they refused to review his contract.
Whle Boldin did bond quickly with quarterback Joe Flacco, Boldin’s first year as in Baltimore was a minor disappointment, as his numbers dropped with increased defensive pressure.
Unfortunately, without a viable secondary receiving option, things may get worse before they get any better.
Trade Grade: B-
Randy Moss, New England Patriots to Minnesota Vikings
Randy Moss, who was shipped from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a third round pick, never had an opportunity to demonstrate the skills that broke records while he was in New England.
Moss’ attitude, which was a target of criticism while in Oakland, reared its ugly head, creating headaches for the team’s coaching staff. Moss was released about a month into his Vikings return. The Patriots used the pick they received in the trade to draft potential protégé Ryan Mallett.
What's the opposite of straight cash, homey?
Trade Grade: F
Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills to Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch: Buffalo Bills to Seattle Seahawks
Picked up in a midseason trade, His play during the season was statistically run of the mill. But in the Seahawks wild-card round matchup versus the New Orleans Saints, he did break off the play of the season. Given the low cost of acquiring Lynch (and his ability to enter into Beast Mode), it’s a pretty good deal.
Draft grade: B+