Great teams are built through the draft, but sometimes making a key trade is the decisive factor between a playoff team and a losing one. It’s early now, but at this time next season we will look back and reflect on which teams put themselves over the top with a crucial trade.
In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks sent the Baltimore Ravens their 2011 starting cornerback Josh Wilson—who then had a stellar 2010 season—for a mere fifth-round pick. Seattle could use Wilson now, and the Ravens paid a small price for the productivity they got from Wilson.
The Chargers acquired Patrick Crayton from the Cowboys for a seventh-round pick and the
receiver contributed over 500 yards despite playing only 279 snaps.
So which teams will regret their trades? Which have acquired potential starters for relative peanuts? Let’s take a look at each individual trade of the 2011 offseason and grade each one from both teams’ perspectives.
On July 27, 2011 the Denver Broncos traded WR Jabar Gaffney to the Washington Redskins for DE Jeremy Jarmon.
Impact for Denver: There’s nothing to not like about this deal for Denver. The Broncos need to get younger and add talent to avoid being stuck in the mediocrity they’ve experienced the past few seasons. Gaffney wasn’t in the Broncos long-term plans due to his age and younger depth
at the position. Jarmon—turning 24 during the season—can still be developed and is a much better fit for the Broncos 4-3 defense than the Redskins 3-4 that he was miscast in. Jarmon won’t have much of an opportunity to be an every-down player in Denver with Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers, and Von Miller coming off the edge on passing downs, but he can man the end spot on early downs if he impresses enough through the rest of the preseason and into the regular season.
Broncos' trade grade: B. Gaffney could’ve had a productive year and somebody will have to step up in his place.
Impact for Washington: The Redskins badly needed help at wide receiver and Gaffney is an immediate starter for them. Jarmon, meanwhile, was miscast in the Redskins defense and an expendable part. Gaffney could realistically contribute about 60 catches, 850 yards opposite Santana Moss and should push developing receiver Anthony Armstrong to get better in hopes of reclaiming his job. The downside is that Gaffney will be turning 31 in December and will begin to sharply decline in the next few years. Unless the Redskins are a contender before then, there wasn’t really much point in acquiring Gaffney.
No team thinks it isn’t a contender in August, though.
Redskins' trade grade: B-. The Redskins get a player who should be able to start immediately and gave up a player who doesn’t fit their system, but giving up on a 23-year-old third-round pick hurts under any circumstances.
On July 28, 2011 the Washington Redskins traded DT Albert Haynesworth to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick in 2013.
Impact for Washington: Losing a talent like Haynesworth is regrettable, but it was a foregone conclusion he had played his last snap in Washington.
This could be a classic case of addition-by-subtraction, as having a player with a personal feud with the head coach is always a recipe for locker room problems. Unfortunately, if Haynesworth goes back to his dominant ways in New England, it’ll hurt to have to watch that all-pro talent at work when it never materialized for the Redskins. Sometimes you have to forget about what you lost, like the Broncos did with Jay Cutler.
Think Josh McDaniels enjoyed watching Cutler lead his team to the NFC Championship while he was out of a job? The Redskins needed to move on, so they did the right thing by getting what they could for Haynesworth and moving him out of the conference.
Redskins' trade grade: C+. The fact that they had to do it doesn’t make it a great trade. It would’ve been preferred if Haynesworth and Shanahan could settle their differences and work together, but what’s done is done. Was a fifth-rounder the best they could get?
Impact for New England: Despite Haynesworth’s problems in Washington, the Patriots aren’t taking much of a risk in acquiring him. Haynesworth’s displeasure was specific to Washington and its coaching staff; he isn’t just a general malcontent. Furthermore, the Patriots are a disciplined enough team that any potential locker room cancer that does pop up can be squashed immediately with no ramifications.
It’s as simple as cutting Haynesworth as soon as he starts causing problems, which he isn’t likely to do in New England in the first place. The best part is that they didn’t have to give up more than a 2013 fifth-round pick, which is an absurdly low price for a former Pro Bowler with plenty left in the tank.
Patriots' trade grade: A. If Haynesworth plays to his potential, he’ll be worth substantially more than the fifth-round price tag he carries. If he doesn’t, at least the Patriots didn’t have to give up much to get him.
On July 29, 2011 the Washington Redskins traded QB Donavan McNabb to the Minnesota Vikings for a 2012 sixth-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2013.
Impact for Washington: I swear I’m not just doing all the Redskins’ trades first; they actually made these three trades before the others occurred chronologically. Again, the Redskins are dumping a player who had no future with the team and they're taking what they can get.
For an example of how far a player’s stock can fall in one season, look no further than Donavan McNabb. Prior to the 2010 season, the Redskins acquired him for a second-round pick in 2010 and fourth-round pick in 2011. One losing season later, McNabb was sent packing for a pair of sixth-round picks, one conditional. McNabb was still the best quarterback on the Redskins roster, so those picks better uncover a gem if the Redskins want to come out on top of this one.
Redskins’ trade grade: B-. Regardless of the problems between McNabb and the Shanahans, the Redskins will look foolish if their quarterback play isn’t better with John Beck or Rex Grossman.
Impact for Minnesota: Everybody knew the Vikings were going to pursue McNabb and everybody was right. Kudos to Minnesota for getting the deal done without having to yield a mid-round pick. Even more importantly, the Vikings now have a veteran QB to lead the team instead of throwing Christian Ponder to the wolves. Joe Webb wasn’t going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators either.
The Vikings are a significantly better team in the short term with McNabb, but it remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be. Will McNabb be willing to mentor Ponder?
Vikings’ trade grade: B. If McNabb takes an interest in mentoring Ponder, this grade is an easy A.
On July 29, 2011 the Miami Dolphins traded DB/special teamer Jonathon Amaya and agreed to swap undisclosed picks with the New Orleans Saints for HB Reggie Bush.
Impact for Miami: Without knowing what picks are being swapped it’s hard to factor in that aspect, so let’s focus on Amaya. The Dolphins lose their special teams tackle leader for a player they expect to
make significant contributions on offense. In fact, the organization has made it clear that they intend to utilize Bush as a feature back.
Ideally, the Dolphins want Bush to be the guy that carries them down the field so they can let their rookie tailback Daniel Thomas punch it in on the goal line. It’ll be interesting to see how well Bush performs given the heavy increase in touches he appears to be headed for in 2011. The Dolphins are taking a calculated risk, hoping Bush can thrive in the role instead of breaking down. Bush has plenty of motivation to succeed as nobody but the Dolphins has really believed he can last 16 games.
Dolphins’ trade grade: A-. The Dolphins are content with their DBs for now and Bush will have much more impact in 2011 than Amaya will, even if Amaya becomes a great player down the road. Bush’s presence helps in case Daniel Thomas doesn’t work out.
Impact for New Orleans: Reggie Bush provided some exciting moments in New Orleans, but it was obvious he would never develop into the consistent weapon they wanted him to be and they couldn’t always get him in space.
The logjam of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram gave the Saints an opportunity to cut ties with Bush and proceed with the more traditional tailbacks; Sproles could fill Bush’s role as a third down back. No matter how well Bush plays for Miami, it will be hard for the Saints to feel too bad unless all four of their running backs have issues, especially considering how much cheaper players like Ivory are.
Meanwhile, Amaya provides an instant upgrade to the Saints kickoff coverage and is still young and raw. There’s a possibility New Orleans can groom him into a successful DB as well, which I would imagine is their intention.
Saints’ trade grade: B-. Bush never lived up to the hype, but there had to be a few teams interested. Either the Saints are really confident Amaya will develop into a starting DB, or they didn’t receive many
good offers. On the plus side, the Dolphins figure to be one of the poorer teams in 2011, so swapping picks should be beneficial.
On July 29, 2011 the Arizona Cardinals traded CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to Philadelphia Eagles for QB Kevin Kolb.
Impact for Arizona: As far as trades go, it doesn’t get much riskier than this. Kolb is definitely an unproven commodity. His $53.5 million contract with $21.5 million guaranteed could devastate the team if Kolb fizzles.
Thankfully, having somebody like Larry Fitzgerald to throw to is a remarkable asset. They’ll have to develop a chemistry quickly, as there aren’t many other options in Arizona. The Cardinals are banking on Kolb restoring their franchise to the respectability it had when Kurt Warner was quarterbacking there, and you know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket.
Cardinals’ trade grade: B. this grade excludes the massive contract awarded to Kolb. Rodgers-Cromartie refused to tackle but was a Pro-Bowl talent at corner. Arizona has a lot riding on one player, and that’s not advisable. However, Kolb is undeniably an upgrade over John Skelton or Max Hall, so a B it is.
Impact for Philadelphia: The Eagles were sitting on Kolb waiting for the perfect compensation package and their patience paid off. I thought the Eagles would be lucky to get a second-rounder for him, but they managed to reel in not only that, but also Asante Samuel’s heir apparent.
Both players are great in pass coverage, but while Samuel misses tackles frequently, DRC rarely even attempts to make a tackle. Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t on Samuel’s level yet when it comes to coverage, but he has the ability to get there and playing with Nnamdi Asomugha should help the young corner get even better.
If the second-round pick turns out to be a good one, the Eagles could net a pretty solid haul for a guy who has only seven career starts, one of which came against backups.
Eagles’ trade grade: A. The Eagles received way more compensation than I ever expected for Kolb, with one Pro-bowl talent in DRC and the potential for another contributing player with the second-rounder.
On July 29, 2011 the Cincinnati Bengals traded WR Chad Ochocinco to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick in 2012 and sixth-round pick in 2013.
Impact for Cincinnati: Did the Bengals desperately want to keep Ochocinco away from AJ Green?
This trade doesn’t make much sense to me. As reported by Adam Schefter, the Redskins offered the Bengals two first-round picks for Ochocinco three years ago. Mike Brown remained stubborn then, yet let Ochocinco walk for fifth- and sixth-round picks now? The Bengals need to keep fan morale as high as possible right now—assuming they are as bad as anticipated in 2011—and Ochocinco was great for the community. He also worked hard despite his fun-loving personality and would’ve made a much better role model for Green than one might think.
Apparently Ochocinco’s feud with Brown and coach Marvin Lewis had crossed the point of no return, though, so the Bengals are left with nothing.
Bengals’ trade grade: D. Cincy gave up a guy who was loved by the community and got next to nothing in return. AJ Green misses out on the opportunity to learn from a guy who has a lot to offer him and Ochocinco remains in the conference so he can make the Bengals regret trading him directly.
Impact for New England: Although Ochocinco is definitely declining, there’s plenty of production left to squeeze out of him. If he can adjust to the challenge of being a role player, he could thrive.
That’s a big if.
Ochocinco appears humbled by the Patriots’ success and has a lot more respect for Bill Belichick than he ever did for Marvin Lewis. By all appearances, Ochocinco is trying to adjust to his new role and admits he has a lot left to learn, and if he keeps that attitude it’s hard not to envision him being a key contributor. His skills will be utilized much more efficiently by Tom Brady than Andy Dalton, and I think Ochocinco will be grateful enough for that that he won’t cause any problems.
Patriots’ trade grade: A-. If there’s one thing the Patriots have to spare, it’s draft picks. To think that they could potentially land two above-average starters for two fifth-rounders and one sixth-round pick is
simply absurd. Grade bumped down to an A- because Ochocinco’s contract doesn’t allow him to be cut as easily as reported by some media outlets.
On July 29, 2011 the Chicago Bears traded TE Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers for a 2012 third-round pick.
Impact for Chicago: When Mike Martz first arrived in Chicago to coordinate the offense, speculation began that Greg Olsen was soon out the door. Olsen is a talented pass catcher and Martz was known for not utilizing tight ends as receivers.
Instead, the Bears held on to Olsen, who consequently saw his production dip in 2010. Olsen isn’t a horrible blocker, but it isn’t his primary focus and his receiving talent is wasted in Martz’s offense. Apparently Chicago realized that the only way to maximize Olsen’s value was to trade him. A third-round pick isn’t a bad haul for a player who wasn’t needed.
Bears’ trade grade: B+. A third-rounder is great value, especially considering Olsen wouldn’t have resigned with Chicago when the opportunity for free agency presented itself.
Impact for Carolina: The Panthers, meanwhile, will have no qualms with utilizing Olsen in the manner that best suits him. Further, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski worked with Antonio Gates in San Diego, so he knows a thing or two about pass-catching tight ends.
Olsen has looked to be a focal point of the offense in the preseason so far and there’s a good chance he will be the Panthers number one target this year, especially considering it will be either a rookie or second-year quarterback throwing passes. The third-round pick was a somewhat steep price, but Olsen is still only 26 and can give Cam Newton a dependable target for years to come.
Panthers’ trade grade: B. A rebuilding team shouldn’t be trading draft picks—especially a third-rounder—but Olsen is still young and a proven commodity. Despite losing the high draft pick, Carolina gets a B for providing Cam Newton a safety net he can rely on.
On July 30, 2011 the St. Louis Rams traded OG John Greco to the Cleveland Browns for a 2012 seventh-round pick.
Impact for St. Louis: It’s surprising that the Rams were concerned with trading Greco in the first place, but even more surprising that they found a suitor. Trades for reserve linemen aren’t exactly commonplace.
Adam Goldberg was consistently poor at right guard in 2010 and the fact that the Rams didn’t give the 65th overall pick in 2008 a chance to play in front of him speaks volumes about the lack of faith their coaching staff had in Greco.
When he was on the field, Greco flashed mauling ability in the run game, so it’s not difficult to see why Cleveland wanted him. The question remains, though, why was he not given an opportunity on a team with poor guard play?
Rams’ trade grade: F. The chances of a seventh-round pick making the team, let alone contributing, aren’t very high and the Rams need an upgrade over Goldberg. Even if they weren’t confident in Greco, they should have given him a shot in 2011 and then let him walk in 2012 if it didn’t work out.
Impact for Cleveland: Cleveland got exactly what they wanted out of the deal: someone who can improve their ground game and make Peyton Hillis’s job even easier. The Browns starting guards in 2010 were fairly subpar, making Hillis’s season even more impressive. Bringing in a guy like Greco should make things easier on the ground, and Greco’s deficiencies in pass protection could be masked somewhat by moving Eric Steinbach to the right side and starting Greco alongside all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas.
Browns’ trade grade: B+. If he isn’t as expected, the Browns can cut ties with Greco in 2012 and not be out much. If he is, they acquired a starter for a seventh-round pick.
On August 1, 2011 the Arizona Cardinals traded HB Tim Hightower to the Washington Redskins for DE/DT Vonnie Holliday and a conditional late-round pick.
Impact for Arizona: Hightower was traded before Ryan Williams was lost for the season to a ruptured patellar tendon. It’s a fair bet the Cardinals don’t make this trade if the Williams injury occurred beforehand.
Regardless, Hightower is a marginal starter that teams will always be trying to upgrade, so his loss isn’t a huge problem. The Cardinals could sign a player like Clinton Portis for now to push Beanie Wells to live up to his draft status. Vonnie Holliday has been playing far better the past couple seasons than his journeyman status would suggest, but he’s on the verge of retirement anyway. Again, there’s little doubt that the Cardinals wouldn’t make this trade after the Ryan Williams injury, but sometimes that’s the way it works.
Cardinals' trade grade: C-. Without factoring the fact that Williams is MIA now, Arizona still doesn’t get the highest grade. Holliday was basically a one-year rental as he will likely retire after the season and
Hightower was cheap enough to keep around.
Impact for Washington: You never like to trade draft picks for running backs with how saturated the running back market is, but the Redskins didn’t have to give up much of anything to acquire a probable starter.
Washington had to be aware that Holliday was at the end of his rope, so unloading him for something of value was a great move. The Redskins need all the draft picks they can get, but sacrificing one late-round pick is worth knowing what you’re getting, rather than drafting an unproven tailback who may not even make the team with that pick.
Redskin’s trade grade: B+. Even if Hightower doesn’t start, he’ll see significant playing time and should churn out decent yardage.
On August 1, 2011 the Philadelphia Eagles traded DT Brodrick Bunkley to the Denver Broncos for a conditional 2013 draft pick.
Impact for Philadelphia: Bunkley was on the outs in Philly after going from 14th overall pick to rotational DT. Bunkley became a backup in 2010 when injuries and ineffectiveness continued reducing Bunkley’s snaps and gave Antonio Dixon the opportunity to claim the job.
When it became clear Bunkley wasn’t going to regain his starting job, or even advance beyond fourth on the depth chart, the Eagles decided to try to ship him to a team that thought they could get more out of the former first-round pick. They didn’t get the pick they wanted from the Browns thanks to Bunkley failing a physical, but they managed to get at least some compensation from Denver.
Eagles’ trade grade: B. Grade would be a C, but Philly gets extra credit for having to find a trade partner not once, but twice. Getting anything in return for a fourth-stringer who would’ve played only
300-350 snaps isn’t a bad move at all.
Impact for Denver: while Bunkley may have trouble cracking the starting lineup in Philadelphia, earning playing time as a DT is a lot easier in Denver. Following the loss of Ty Warren to a triceps tear, Bunkley has a starting job and all he has to do to keep it is play well.
Despite failing a physical for the Browns, he has looked healthy so far for Denver and was particularly disruptive against Buffalo in Denver’s last preseason game. There isn’t a position Denver needs help at more than DT and if Bunkley is back to pre-2010 health, at least one adequate starter has been found.
Broncos’ trade grade: A. Denver needed DT help in the worst way and they got Bunkley when his value was at his lowest. They’re taking a risk banking on Bunkley’s health, but the rewards far outweigh the loss of a late-round pick.
On August 12, 2011 the Buffalo Bills traded WR Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2012 fourth-round pick.
Impact for Buffalo: This trade may have come a year or two late for the Bills, but it’s still a good one for them to make now. Although the Bills are unloading Evans when his value is at its lowest point, they still managed to fetch a fourth-round pick—makes you wonder what they could have gotten from him a couple years ago.
Nevertheless, Buffalo gets a solid draft pick for a 30-year-old vertical threat receiver whose career will be over when he loses his legs. Perhaps they could have gotten more in the past, but at least they didn’t wait too long.
Bills’ trade grade: B. Evans likely only has a few years left in him because once he can’t get open deep, he’s done. By the time the Bills are a contender, Evans would be long gone anyway, so getting a fourth-round pick is huge.
Impact for Baltimore: Lee Evans is a perfect fit for Baltimore. The Ravens wanted Torrey Smith to step up as Joe Flacco’s deep threat, but Smith might not be quite ready yet and the Ravens have immediate hopes for contending.
Evans can step in and fill that role as the No. 2 receiver, working the vertical game for a couple years until Smith is ready, while also making the Ravens a better team in the short term. Evans hasn’t
produced much the last two seasons, but playing for a team with real playoff aspirations should revitalize him. It’s a perfect situation for both the Ravens and Evans, who has a chance to finish his career with a great team and ideally ride off into the sunset after a Super Bowl win.
Ravens’ trade grade: B. The Ravens may have acquired a key cog in Evans, but it’s not a sure thing. Evans is coming off a couple subpar seasons and isn’t getting any younger. That fourth-round price tag is nothing if Evans performs, but damaging if he doesn’t.
On August 22, 2011 the San Francisco 49ers traded safety Taylor Mays to the Cincinnati Bengals for an undisclosed 2012 draft pick.
Impact for San Francisco: It’s always a shame when a high draft pick is gone from a team a year later, but coaching regime changes often cause that.
Mays was no different.
The new regime wasn’t enamored with Mays’s measurables and they figured it was better to cut their losses and get something for a player they don’t believe in rather than stashing him on the roster until his contract expires. All it takes is one team who is still interested, and though the Bears backed out, the 49ers found that team in the Bengals. Mays had no future at safety in San Francisco, so it was a wise move to dump him now before other teams lost interest in him.
49ers’ trade grade: C. It’s hard to call this trade any better or worse than average. You can’t blame the current regime for drafting Mays, but you certainly can’t give too much credit for trading away a former second-round pick for a late one only a year later.
Impact for Cincinnati: There’s no telling how the Bengals plan to use Taylor Mays, but considering the presence of a similar player in Roy Williams on their roster, it seems they believe he can play safety.
For the time being, Mays will only see the field on special teams. The Bengals already have safeties capable of getting them through the season, allowing them plenty of time to develop Mays. He’ll be under contract for an affordable price for the next three seasons—more than enough time for the team to decide whether to proceed with the experiment or not.
More teams than just the 49ers were looking at Mays with high draft picks last year, including the Bengals, so to get him for a late pick only a year later is remarkable work for Cincinnati.
Bengals’ trade grade: B+. Very low-risk, very high-reward. The only thing keeping the grade from being an A is that Mays is no established star and is more likely to bust than become one.