2020 NFL Trade Deadline Winners and Losers
As the anticipation of the NFL's trade deadline grew and grew, a Dr. Seuss refrain came to mind.
"Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all."
The buildup is almost always bigger than the actual movement of the players. Even so, certain organizations will benefit or take a step back based on the deals that were struck before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Specific individuals will go from frustrating situations to a squad they can immediately help. Or, they'll be trapped in limbo because their teams didn't make a move.
Realism doesn't always come into play. Certain organizations priced themselves out of the market. Fans almost certainly wanted their teams to do more to find help.
When all of the action was said and done, a select few emerged as obvious winners and losers.
Winner: Avery Williamson
Talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse. Avery Williamson couldn't get out of New York any faster if he tried after the Pittsburgh Steelers traded a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Jets for the linebacker.
Williamson left the worst team in professional football for the best.
"I need me a Super Bowl, Pittsburgh. I couldn't even sleep last night. I'm hype. I'm a baller, now," Williamson said in an Instagram post on his way to the airport (h/t Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Brian Batko). "I'm ready to go hit s--t, man. I can't wait to be part of this defense. We're gonna go crazy, man."
The Jets signed the 28-year-old to a three-year, $22.5 million free-agent contract prior to the 2018 campaign. He led the team with 120 total tackles during his first season with the club. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL during the '19 preseason. Williamson returned to the starting lineup in Week 3 this year but played poorly.
Pittsburgh's defense is different than the Jets', though. The Steelers are the most aggressive, opportunistic and physical unit in football. But they had a hole at inside linebacker after Devin Bush suffered a torn ACL in a Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
A healthy and rejuvenated Williamson will help fill the void, particularly as a sub-package defender.
The Steelers selected Bush with the 10th overall pick in the '19 draft because he's a three-down linebacker with enough athleticism to help in both run and pass defense. Space defenders are a vital part of stopping today's pass-happy offenses. Williamson's experience will help the Steelers greatly when he's asked to cover.
Loser: Ryan Kerrigan
The Washington Football Team didn't seriously entertain the thought of trading 32-year-old pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, which is a shame for the four-time Pro Bowler.
Kerrigan requested a trade before the deadline, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. But instead of going to a legitimate contender, he's stuck in a part-time role with a 2-5 squad trying to eke out a division crown in the NFC Least (um, East).
"I feel we got to play him a little bit more, and I plan to," head coach Ron Rivera said Monday on the Washington Football Talk Podcast (h/t JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington, via Yahoo Sports).
The 10-year veteran has been to the playoffs twice, and Washington didn't advance beyond the Wild Card Round. Even if Washington somehow tops its division, the odds of Kerrigan and Co. winning a postseason contest are slim to none.
Even so, the organization sees the value he brings.
"Look at the way he handles himself, extra work, role model for young players," Rivera said. "That's the kind of guy you want around."
Of course, he is.
At the same time, Rivera's comments apply to other players on his squad as well. Washington is committed to Chase Young and Montez Sweat as its bookend pass-rushers, which is the right move. Paying the rest of Kerrigan's $11.5 million base salary so he can set a good example is not solid roster-building.
Washington should have prioritized its young players while adding future assets. Kerrigan, meanwhile, will bide his time until he becomes a free agent next year.
Winner: Tennessee Titans' Nickel Package
The Tennessee Titans left a Logan Ryan-sized hole in their defense when they let their previous nickel corner walk in free agency.
To be fair, Ryan's salary demands were outrageous at the start of the new league year in March before he settled on a one-year deal with the New York Giants for $5.05 million.
Still, the veteran defensive back had led the Titans and all cornerbacks last season with 113 total tackles.
The position was far less certain in 2020 until Tennessee traded a 2021 sixth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Chargers for Desmond King on Monday.
Head coach Mike Vrabel discussed the trade with reporters:
"(GM) Jon (Robinson) and I talked, and he's a player he and I felt like could help us, has played DB, has been disruptive, has been an effective blitzer, and has done some things. We'll see where he's at when he gets here. ... Everything that we've heard is he's a player that loves football, is competitive, and he's played a number of different spots."
King has played well for the Chargers since coming into the league in 2017 as a fifth-round pick. But Los Angeles features one of the game's most flexible secondaries, and King became the odd man out since he primarily works over the slot.
In Tennessee, he'll immediately take over his natural position while helping an anemic pass rush with better coverage and his knack for blitzing.
Loser: New England Patriots
Even the great Bill Belichick can't work miracles with an aging and crumbling New England Patriots roster. After a 2-5 start, Belichick finally acknowledged the obvious.
"Look, we paid Cam Newton $1 million. I mean it's obvious we didn't have any money. It's nobody's fault," Belichick told Charlie Weis on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via WEEI Sports Radio Network's Ryan Hannable). "That's what we did the last five years. We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth and played in a AFC Championship Game. This year we had less to work with. It's not an excuse; it's just a fact."
The admission signals a rebuild in New England after a 20-year dynasty. As such, the organization should have created more financial flexibility and gained extra draft assets by trading players who hold value around the league.
Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore topped the list yet remains part of the organization. There was interest, but the Patriots' asking price was too much. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, New England wanted a first-round pick and a player in return for the 30-year-old defensive back.
While the desire for a premium return is understandable, the Patriots would have benefited greatly if they backed off their initial ask. First, they could have added something of value for next offseason. Second, the team could have created a significant amount of financial flexibility by moving Gilmore.
According to Spotrac, the team would've created $9.5 million in salary-cap space for next season by dealing the cornerback. With Gilmore still on the roster, the Patriots will either look to shop him again next offseason or potentially extend him since he'll be in the last year of his current deal with a base salary of $7 million.
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported New England would "listen on almost anyone" before the deadline. Instead, the organization stood pat.
Winner: Carlos Dunlap
The Seattle Seahawks spent the last two years trying to address their pass rush. They've acquired Jadeveon Clowney, L.J. Collier, Ezekiel Ansah, Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson with little to no improvement.
The Seahawks still rank among the league's bottom 10 in sacks with only 12 through seven games. No individual has managed more than two.
Carlos Dunlap's desperation to get out of Cincinnati worked to Seattle's advantage. Seahawks general manager John Schneider traded center B.J. Finney and a 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Bengals for the franchise's all-time-leading sack artist.
In doing so, the Seahawks got exactly what they needed at the position.
"This is an outside guy, he's classically what you're looking for as an edge-rusher," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters. "There's always times you're mixing schemes and you're doing things to disguise stuff and all of that. He's got the ability to [move inside] but that's not what we're bringing him here to do."
As happy as Seattle should be with its latest acquisition, Dunlap should be even more so. The 31-year-old expressed his disappointment over a diminishing role in Cincinnati's defense.
"I'm really trying to figure out the plan, it's kind of frustrating," Dunlap told reporters last month. "I would like to just prepare for Baltimore, but I got to prepare to figure out how to handle the madness that they're doing."
Dunlap is now on a contender. The Seahawks addressed a major problem area. And the Bengals gained a player and draft asset in return. Everyone should be quite content.
Loser: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers will regret the fact that they didn't do everything in their power to fully capitalize on Aaron Rodgers' career by getting him more skill-position talent.
Another opportunity came and went with Tuesday's trade deadline, as the Packers did nothing to improve the wide receiver position.
General manager Brian Gutekunst's negligence is shocking.
His decision not to make a major investment in the position during free agency and entirely bypass a historic receiver class in April's draft is indefensible.
"Just didn't work out that we weren't able to select some of the guys that we had rated really highly," Gutekunst told reporters after the draft. "And once we got to the middle, and toward the end of the draft, I just didn't think there was a great opportunity to add a player that was going to make an impact on our roster this year. You guys know how hard it is for young players at that position to make an impact early."
Excuses. Everyone has one. Good general managers manipulate the draft to their liking.
In yet another inexplicable decision, the Packers didn't pull the trigger on adding a single wide receiver to help Rodgers and Davante Adams at the deadline, even though they had legitimate interest in the Houston Texans' Will Fuller V.
According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, "there's been a disagreement in Green Bay at the highest levels of the organization over whether or not adding an elite receiver in the short term would be worth the spend."
Rodgers turns 37 next month. The 5-2 Packers are one of the NFC's best teams. Green Bay could legitimately make another Super Bowl. The higher-ups can't decide whether to invest in the team's biggest problem area for the stretch run? Absolutely ridiculous.
Loser: Houston Texans
The 1-6 Houston Texans had one job at this year's trade deadline and failed miserably.
They needed to make their head coach and general manager openings as attractive as possible by trading veterans to replenish their draft assets.
They didn't. Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills and Zach Cunningham are still members of the team.
Fuller was the most enticing of the bunch as a 26-year-old wide receiver with field-tilting vertical speed. The fifth-year target was hoping something would happen if his Twitter account is any indication.
But the fire sale never ignited, which places the Texans in a bad position.
Houston has already traded next year's first- and second-round draft picks thanks to last year's Laremy Tunsil deal. To make matters worse, those picks currently project as top-four selections in each round, per Tankathon.
An argument can be made that Houston will receive a third- or fourth-round compensatory draft selection if/when Fuller leaves in free agency next year. However, the team won't receive said pick until 2022.
How does that help the team when a fresh start is needed now? It doesn't.
Bill O'Brien no longer calls the shots for the franchise, but it continues to make bad decision after bad decision.