Re-Grading the 9 Most Impactful NFL Trades of the Last 10 Years
It takes multiple seasons to accurately grade an NFL draft class. And while you might not require as much time to get a feel for who won a trade involving veteran players, it's still not fair to assess a blockbuster deal without giving it another look down the road.
Here, we'll do exactly that.
Looking mainly at deals that substantially shifted the fortunes of one or both franchises involved, and with extra weight given to swaps that might have impacted future Super Bowl results, here's how we rank and grade the nine most significant trades from the last decade.
First, a few words on blockbuster trades that didn't make the list. We'll just give you the in-hindsight winners.
Kansas City Chiefs acquire QB Alex Smith from San Francisco 49ers for two second-round picks (2013)
San Francisco had success sans Smith, and Kansas City was better with him on board. He made two Pro Bowls in five years there, but neither team made Super Bowl runs in the wake of this trade. The Chiefs won the deal simply because Colin Kaepernick didn't become a superstar and Kansas City only had to surrender two second-rounders for a franchise quarterback.
Arizona Cardinals acquire edge Chandler Jones from New England Patriots for G Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick (2016)
This was a great deal for Arizona, which landed a superstar pass-rusher in exchange for a bust offensive lineman and a Day 2 selection. It doesn't make the list because it hasn't led to much success in the win column for Arizona, although it's fair to wonder how much Jones might have helped the Pats in their Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles.
Houston Texans acquire No. 12 overall pick from Cleveland Browns for two first-round picks (2017)
This was a pretty clear mistake for the Browns, who ultimately gave up on a shot at Deshaun Watson in exchange for Denzel Ward and Jabrill Peppers. But Houston has yet to truly take off with its franchise quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys acquire WR Amari Cooper from Oakland Raiders for a first-round pick (2018)
Dallas originally took a lot of heat for surrendering a first-round pick for Cooper, but the 2015 No. 4 overall pick has completely revived his career, and Oakland didn't do much with a late first-rounder. The Cowboys ultimately won this but still haven't experienced much playoff success with Cooper.
Oakland Raiders acquire WR Antonio Brown from Pittsburgh Steelers for two middle-round picks (2019)
Many originally thought the Steelers were fleeced for their All-Pro receiver here, but Brown never played a game in Oakland, and Pittsburgh at least wound up with Diontae Johnson, Zach Gentry and relief from a headache. If the Steelers eventually win with those factors working to their advantage, this will be a big victory for them.
Cleveland Browns acquire WR Odell Beckham Jr. from New York Giants for S Jabrill Peppers and first- and third-round picks (2019)
It's still too soon to draw any grand conclusions about this deal, but Beckham didn't carry the Browns in his debut season there. Peppers hasn't been a difference-maker for the Giants, but he, Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines are cheaper and have upside.
Los Angeles Rams acquire CB Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville Jaguars for two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder (2019)
Again, it's a little too soon. Ramsey is a star, but he didn't help the Rams make the playoffs last year. He's played just nine games there, but he faces a lot of pressure considering what Los Angeles paid for him.
9. Redskins Acquire 2012 No. 2 Overall Pick from Rams
In order to land 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick, here's what the Washington Redskins surrendered to the St. Louis Rams:
- 2012 No. 6 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2012 second-round pick (used on cornerback Janoris Jenkins)
- 2013 No. 22 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2014 first-round pick (used on offensive tackle Greg Robinson)
The Rams traded back again from that No. 6 pick and landed defensive lineman Michael Brockers, running back Isaiah Pead and offensive tackle Rokevious Watkins. And they traded back from the No. 22 spot in 2013, eventually securing linebacker Alec Ogletree, wide receiver Stedman Bailey and running back Zac Stacy.
So ultimately, the Rams got Brockers, Jenkins, Robinson, Ogletree, Pead, Watkins, Bailey and Stacy, and the Redskins got Griffin.
You could argue that's a lose-lose.
Griffin looked to be worth all that capital in 2012, but he was never the same after suffering a knee injury in the 2012 playoffs and eventually flamed out. Robinson was also a bust, and none of the other guys except Brockers amounted to much. That turned out to be a good draft to trade down in, though, and Brockers became a quality starter who helped L.A. make a Super Bowl run in 2018.
That's enough to salvage the Rams' grade, and it's enough to cause one to wonder just how much damage this did to a Redskins organization that might have benefited greatly from those four premium draft picks.
Redskins grade: D
Rams grade: B-
8. Bears Acquire Edge Khalil Mack from Raiders in 2018
The price for the Chicago Bears was undoubtedly steep.
They gave up two first-round picks, a third-round selection and a sixth-rounder in exchange for a second-rounder, a seventh-round pick and the right to make edge-rusher Khalil Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
Early in Mack's tenure with Chicago, the Oakland Raiders were still understandably being mocked for giving up the dominant defender.
Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport called it "a rotten deal for fans in Oakland," Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated stated that "the insanity of this move is hard to fathom," and Raiders fans talked about revolting.
Nearly two years later, it's not as obvious that the Bears robbed the Raiders.
Mack is still a game-changing defender, but his expensive presence has brought zero playoff wins to the Bears organization. Meanwhile, they've gone back-to-back years without a first-round pick, while the Raiders used Chicago's former 2019 first-rounder on rookie sensation Josh Jacobs.
The jury's still out on every other draft pick acquired as a result of this trade (Cole Kmet and Arlington Hambright for the Bears and Damon Arnette and Bryan Edwards for the Raiders), but Chicago no longer looks like the obvious winner.
Mack is a bigger difference-maker than Jacobs, but the former has handcuffed the Bears in several ways, and they've yet to experience positive results in the win column. The rebuilding, money-saving Raiders might have made the right call here after all.
Bears grade: C+
Raiders grade: B-
7. Falcons Acquire 2011 No. 6 Overall Pick from Browns
Here's what the Cleveland Browns got back from Atlanta in a trade that enabled the Falcons to select superstar wide receiver Julio Jones:
- 2011 No. 26 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2011 second-round pick (used on wide receiver Greg Little)
- 2011 fourth-round pick (used on fullback Owen Marecic)
- 2011 fourth-round pick (subsequently traded)
- 2012 No. 22 overall pick (used on quarterback Brandon Weeden)
Even if you follow those two subsequent trades, Cleveland essentially dealt Jones for Little, Marecic, Weeden, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and more ammunition in a trade up for running back Trent Richardson in 2012.
Weeden, Taylor and Richardson all became busts, and Little and Marecic didn't accomplish much, either.
But it gets worse. In flipping that No. 26 pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in order to move up and take Taylor, Cleveland surrendered the third-round pick Kansas City used on four-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Justin Houston.
The whole thing is just peak bad Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Jones has seven 1,100-yard seasons under his belt and should be en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Falcons still haven't won a championship, but he did contribute to a Super Bowl run in 2016.
"It's a big gamble," he added. "He better be Larry Fitzgerald. Thomas Dimitroff is a bold GM."
Turns out, Dimitroff nailed it. This trade escalated Atlanta and set the Browns back even further.
Falcons grade: A
Browns grade: F
6. Rams Acquire 2016 No. 1 Overall Pick from Titans
In order to gain the right to select quarterback Jared Goff first overall, along with two middle-round draft picks, the Los Angeles Rams surrendered the following to the Tennessee Titans:
- 2016 No. 15 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2016 second-round pick (used on defensive tackle Austin Johnson)
- 2016 second-round pick (used on running back Derrick Henry)
- 2016 third-round pick (subsequently traded)
- 2017 No. 5 overall pick (used on wide receiver Corey Davis)
- 2017 third-round pick (used on tight end Jonnu Smith)
The Titans then used the 2016 first-rounder and third-rounder in order to move up and draft offensive tackle Jack Conklin, also receiving picks that ultimately landed them defensive backs LeShaun Sims and Kalan Reed. But with those two middle-round picks from Tennessee, Los Angeles ended up with tight end Temarrick Hemingway and wide receivers Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas (after another trade).
So for all intents and purposes, it was Goff, Cooper, Thomas and Hemingway for Conklin, Henry, Davis, Smith, Johnson, Sims and Reed.
Goff may or may not be a long-term franchise quarterback, but he helped the Rams make a Super Bowl run in 2018. Meanwhile, Conklin and Henry have become standouts, and both played huge roles as Tennessee made a deep playoff run in 2019.
Throw in that Davis and Smith are still key pieces to the puzzle for the Titans (who will get a juicy compensatory pick for the departed Conklin) and they have to get an edge now that the Rams face a lot of questions at quarterback and elsewhere.
There's still room for this to change, but Goff has seemingly regressed since a poor performance in Super Bowl LIII. For now, that makes this a bad deal for L.A.
Rams grade: C
Titans grade: B
5. 49ers Acquire QB Jimmy Garoppolo from Patriots in 2017
The San Francisco 49ers' decision to acquire potential franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots at the 2017 trade deadline has rarely looked bad.
When the deal went down, it was widely perceived as a worthwhile risk for the price of a second-round draft pick. When Garoppolo won his first five starts with a weak 49ers team that year, the deal began to look like a coup.
And now, with the 49ers coming off a Super Bowl season with Jimmy G under center, and with New England high and dry under center following Tom Brady's departure in free agency, it's beginning to look like a stroke of genius.
Garoppolo might not be on a Hall of Fame track just yet, but he's talented, he remains young, and he's giving the team much-needed reliability at the sport's most important position. He's more than worth a Day 2 pick, and it would be hard for the Pats to argue that second-round selection was worth losing a potential successor to Brady.
Because the Patriots are the draft's ultimate wheeler-and-dealer, this was never likely to result in a one-for-one player comparison. Incredibly (and please appreciate this because it took about an hour to tabulate), the Patriots took San Francisco's second-round pick and also sacrificed another 2018 second-rounder, two 2019 third-round picks, a fourth-, a sixth- and two seventh-round picks in 2019, a 2020 fourth-rounder and a 2021 sixth-round selection in order to land cornerback Joejuan Williams, linebacker Christian Sam, running back Damien Harris, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, defensive lineman Byron Cowart, tight end Dalton Keene, punter Jake Bailey and, most notably, quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Sometimes the method to Bill Belichick's madness isn't immediately clear, but it's not as though any of those guys have become stars, and they most likely still could have been obtained by New England without that extra second-round pick. The extra draft capital always helps, but there's no argument right now that the Patriots have gotten the better end of this deal.
49ers grade: A+
Patriots grade: D-
4. Ravens Acquire 2018 No. 32 Overall Pick from Eagles
The 2018 draft-night trade between the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles still looks as close to a win-win as you'll get.
The deal enabled the Ravens to use the first round's final selection on MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson while giving the quarterback-happy Eagles more capital in order to further support Carson Wentz.
In order to jump up from the middle of the second round to the bottom of Round 1, Baltimore sent Philadelphia a second-round pick in 2018 and 2019, and the two swapped 2018 fourth-rounders (giving Philly the 125th selection and Baltimore the 132nd).
The Ravens grabbed Jackson, who in every world imaginable is worth two second-round picks and a slight slide in the fourth round (regardless of what they get from fourth-round selection Jaleel Scott).
The Eagles, who didn't need a signal-caller with Wentz and Nick Foles on board, sacrificed a fifth-round pick from there in order to position themselves for tight end Dallas Goedert. They then took promising cornerback Avonte Maddox with Baltimore's fourth-round selection and used the 2019 second-rounder on emerging star running back Miles Sanders.
Ultimately, Sanders, Maddox and Goedert cost them the last pick of 2018's first round and two middle-round picks in the same draft. That might not be a coup considering Jackson's value to the Ravens, but it shouldn't cause any regret considering the potential all three of those players bring to the table entering 2020.
Ravens grade: A+
Eagles grade: A
3. Seahawks Acquire RB Marshawn Lynch from Bills in 2010
Hindsight simply crushed the Buffalo Bills for their 2010 decision to trade running back Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks, who merely gave up two middle-round draft picks (a fourth in 2011 and a fifth in 2012) in exchange for a player who almost immediately became a star.
Lynch went over 1,200 yards and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four full seasons with the Seahawks, and there's a good chance the team doesn't win the Super Bowl in 2013 or the NFC Championship in 2014 if not for Beast Mode's presence. He's one of just five players in NFL history with six-plus 100-yard playoff performances.
But the Bills didn't get that from Lynch.
The 2007 No. 12 overall pick shined to a degree as a rookie and sophomore, but he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge in the 2009 offseason, and his rate-based numbers plummeted as his reps decreased in '09 and early 2010.
The writing was on the wall when the Bills used a top-10 pick on running back C.J. Spiller in 2010, so this deal was neither surprising nor heavily criticized at the time. If anything, the decision to draft Spiller was a bigger target.
But now, with Lynch a potential Hall of Famer who made a tremendous difference in Seattle, and with neither Chris Hairston nor Tank Carder delivering from the draft slots Buffalo got back for him, this looks like one of the most one-sided trades in league history.
Seahawks grade: A+
Bills grade: F
2. Eagles Acquire 2016 No. 2 Overall Pick from Browns
This pick was, of course, used on Carson Wentz, who was an MVP candidate when the Philadelphia Eagles won their first and only Super Bowl in 2017.
The 27-year-old's durability has come under a little fire (he was unavailable for that title run and missed the end of the 2018 campaign, as well) but Wentz is unquestionably Philadelphia's franchise quarterback. And with him, the team will have a shot at another title in 2020.
In order to grab him in that No. 2 spot, the Eagles surrendered the following to Cleveland:
- 2016 No. 8 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2016 third-round pick (subsequently traded)
- 2016 fourth-round pick (subsequently traded)
- 2017 No. 12 overall pick (subsequently traded)
- 2018 second-round pick (subsequently traded)
Those subsequent trades complicate matters, as does the fact the Eagles got a fourth-round pick back from Cleveland. But even when you total up the Browns' pieces from this deal, it's hard to argue this was the right choice.
Cleveland essentially gave up Wentz and lost four middle-round draft picks (via multiple trades) in exchange for cornerback Denzel Ward, safeties Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred, quarterback Cody Kessler, wide receivers Corey Coleman, Antonio Callaway, Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton, offensive tackle Shon Coleman, defensive end Chad Thomas and guard Spencer Drango.
Peppers helped them land star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a 2019 trade, which really goes to show how poorly those wideout draft picks panned out. Nobody except Ward has made much of a difference in Cleveland, and top 2018 draft pick Baker Mayfield has yet to emerge as a Wentz-type player.
Wentz still has a little to prove, but you know the Browns would do anything to take this one back. Meanwhile, the Eagles wouldn't mess with what got them that first Lombardi Trophy.
And that speaks to how little we can gauge trades in the moment. When Philadelphia made this risky deal in April 2016, there was plenty of condemnation.
The trade didn't make sense to many who asked what the Eagles were thinking, and fans were panicking. They were "clueless" for making a "horrendous" deal with Cleveland, which received rare praise for the move.
Eagles grade: A
Browns grade: D-
1. Chiefs Acquire 2017 No. 10 Overall Pick from Bills
Unless Buffalo Bills 2018 top-10 pick Josh Allen becomes a Super Bowl-winning franchise quarterback, there's no way the organization can avoid an L for its decision to trade down from the spot in which the Kansas City Chiefs selected superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
The jury is still out on Allen, but he has promise and a high ceiling following a playoff campaign for Buffalo. Cornerback Tre'Davious White, who was selected in Kansas City's former spot following that first-round swap, is already a premier player.
Buffalo was compensated for that move back with an extra third-round pick, as well as a first-rounder in 2018—picks that ultimately landed Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and, um, wide receiver Zay Jones.
Jones is already a goner, but Allen, White and Edmunds could all pan out magnificently. And if that happens, the Bills might eventually become comfortable with the idea that they passed on both Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and took this trade in order to greatly improve their defense.
But for now, Mahomes is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, the second-youngest regular-season MVP in modern NFL history and already one of the most legendary players in the game. He's delivered a title to Kansas City, making this trade a franchise-changer for the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Bills still are still waiting for their first playoff win this century.
Chiefs grade: A+
Bills grade: C-