Ranking the NFL's Best Trades, Signings Since Start of 2021 Preseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2021

Ranking the NFL's Best Trades, Signings Since Start of 2021 Preseason

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    When it comes to player acquisition in the NFL, early free agency and the draft get all of the attention. By the preseason, fans are generally more interested in position battles and which players aren't going to make the final 53-man rosters.

    However, significant moves can and do happen after the start of the preseason. Last year, for example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't sign running back Leonard Fournette until September 6. Fournette went on to play a huge role in Tampa Bay's run to a Super Bowl LV victory.

    There was no preseason in 2020, of course, but it was a late and impactful move nonetheless.

    Here, we'll rank the 10 best moves since the start of the 2021 preseason. Factors like player potential, proven production, projected role and, where relevant, trade terms will be considered here. Trades, signings and practice-squad additions are all fair game.

10. Buccaneers Sign QB Ryan Griffin to Practice Squad

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    We'll begin our rankings with an underrated but extremely valuable move by the aforementioned Buccaneers. The defending Super Bowl champions released quarterback Ryan Griffin as part of final cutdowns but quickly signed him to the practice squad.

    This was a brilliant decision, even if it never pays dividends during the 2021 season. Griffin has spent the past six seasons in Tampa, and the Tulane product knows the offense and the personnel better than perhaps anyone other than starting QB Tom Brady.

    In the unfortunate event that Brady gets injured, the Bucs will likely turn to backup Blaine Gabbert. However, Griffin can then be called up to be his experienced understudy. Rookie Kyle Trask is also on the roster but has spent mere months with the franchise.

    From an insurance standpoint, the Buccaneers are as comfortable as they could possibly be. Brady doesn't miss games due to injury—aside from his torn ACL in 2008, he never has—but he's 44 years old and looking at a 17-game season. Keeping Griffin on the practice squad ensures proper depth behind Brady while preventing second-round pick Trask from being poached.

9. 49ers Sign CB Josh Norman

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers signed cornerback Josh Norman this week to add some depth to their defense. He should back up starters Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett and nickel corner K'Waun Williams.

    This is a great move for a team that dealt with multiple injuries in 2020. It would rank higher if San Francisco didn't release another veteran corner, Dontae Johnson, as part of the move. The 49ers may have improved their depth, but they didn't necessarily add to it.

    Still, Norman is a fine addition to this squad and a smart pickup. He has 95 career starts under his belt (compared to Johnson's 25) and is still capable of playing at a high level. He appeared in nine games with the Buffalo Bills last season and allowed an opposing quarterback rating of only 84.0.

    It will take some time for Norman to acclimate himself to San Francisco's system, so this move won't pay immediate dividends. However, it could prove very fruitful as the 49ers approach the playoff stretch.

8. Lions Claim WR KhaDarel Hodge

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    With Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie Anthony Schwartz on the roster, the Cleveland Browns didn't have a spot for wideout KhaDarel Hodge. Cleveland's loss was the Detroit Lions' gain, though, as the Lions snapped Hodge up off waivers after final cuts.

    Hodge should quickly become a factor in a Lions receiving room headlined by Tyrell Williams and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. He's a big (6'2", 205 lbs) target who can help move the chains and provide support on special teams.

    Last season, Hodge caught 11 passes for 180 yards. All 11 of his catches went for first downs. He also played 20 percent of the special-teams snaps after playing 60 percent in 2019.

    Fans—and Detroit—got a glimpse of Hodge's playmaking potential on a 22-yard touchdown reception in the preseason finale.

    The Prairie View A&M product has a ton of upside. The Lions now get a chance to nurture it.

7. Bears Sign WR Breshad Perriman

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    While the Lions got a great project receiver in Hodge, the rival Chicago Bears landed a more proven pass-catcher in Breshad Perriman, who, coincidentally, was released by Detroit.

    Chicago officially announced the Perriman signing on Monday.

    Perriman should make an immediate impact as a deep threat to complement Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney. While Perriman hasn't lived up to the expectations of being the 26th overall pick in 2015, he has developed into a reliable burner.

    Over the last two seasons with the Buccaneers and New York Jets, Perriman produced 1,150 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He has a career average of 16.5 yards per reception and will help Chicago take the top off of opposing defenses.

    This was a terrific move for a Bears team that traded away former No. 3 receiver Anthony Miller to the Houston Texans and is looking to develop rookie Justin Fields into a franchise quarterback.

6. Browns Add DE Ifeadi Odenigbo to Practice Squad

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Cleveland's addition of Ifeadi Odenigbo could prove to be the practice squad move of the offseason. Odenigbo was waived by the New York Giants, despite getting a $1 million guarantee on his contract.

    According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Odenigbo was "struggling to find a fit" in New York's scheme.

    Fit concerns aside, Odenigbo can rush the passer. Over the last two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, he compiled 10.5 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures.

    Championship-caliber teams have multiple pass-rushing options. The Browns are counting on the tandem of Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley to complement star Myles Garrett. However, Clowney has a notable injury history (11 games missed over the last two seasons), while McKinley has had just 4.5 sacks in the last two years.

    Odenigbo—who actually spent a few weeks with Cleveland in 2018—will be a valuable insurance option and potential late-season contributor.

5. Saints Sign CB Desmond Trufant

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    Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints signed cornerback Desmond Trufant this week in a move that is boosted in our rankings due to its necessity.

    Before adding Trufant, New Orleans only had four cornerbacks on its active 53-player roster.

    Regardless of the roster situation, Trufant is a great pickup for a team with playoff aspirations. While he only appeared in 15 games over the last two seasons with the Lions and Atlanta Falcons, Trufant has 103 starts regular-season starts on his resume. 

    When Trufant last played an entire season in 2018, he allowed an opposing quarterback rating of only 87.6.

    Making this move appear even better is the fact that Trufant is a seven-year veteran of the NFC South. He's already familiar with several of the receivers he'll likely be asked to cover this season.

4. Patriots Trade RB Sony Michel to Rams

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams needed to make a move at running back after losing Cam Akers for the season to a torn Achilles.

    Trading for New England Patriots back Sony Michel was a solid decision, though it's worth noting that players like Todd Gurley, Frank Gore and Duke Johnson Jr. were available to be signed.

    Still, Michel was a 2018 first-round pick who averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season. He will help L.A. ride out Akers' absence.

    The Patriots, meanwhile, get something valuable in return for a player they may not have used much anyway. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson was a preseason star, while Damien Harris and James White remain on the roster.

    According to The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue, New England will receive fifth- and sixth-round picks for Michel, but they will become one fourth-round pick if L.A. gets a fourth-round compensatory selection.

    Though perhaps not an ideal trade for either team from a compensation standpoint, it's a rare win-win deal that deserves a spot near the top of our list.

3. Jets Acquire DE Shaq Lawson

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Like New Orleans' signing of Trufant, the Jets' trade for pass-rusher Shaq Lawson was born out of necessity. New York lost pass-rusher and prized free-agent addition Carl Lawson to a torn Achilles in training camp.

    Also like Trufant, Shaq Lawson has extensive experience playing in his new division. The former Buffalo Bill and Miami Dolphin landed with the Houston Texans this offseason after five years in the AFC East.

    For his career, Lawson has amassed 20.5 sacks and 140 tackles. Over the past two years, he has produced 10.5 sacks and 53 quarterback pressures.

    While the Jets needed to address their pass rush in the wake of Carl Lawson's injury, this would have been a great deal for any team. New York only surrendered a 2022 sixth-round pick to acquire Shaq Lawson, who has two years remaining on his contract.

2. Steelers Trade for LB Joe Schobert

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers' acquisition of linebacker Joe Schobert likely flew under the radar for many fans. It certainly took a few folks by surprise.

    "I think it came out of the blue, from my perspective," Schobert said, per ESPN's Brooke Pryor.

    Schobert finds himself back in the AFC North after a year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He spent the first four seasons of his career in Cleveland, where he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2017.

    In Pittsburgh, Schobert will pair with Devin Bush Jr. to give the Steelers arguably the best inside-linebacker duo in the conference. In his five seasons, Schobert has racked up 549 tackles, 11 sacks, nine interceptions, 24 passes defended and 21 tackles for loss.

    Schobert is a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker with a healthy amount of divisional experience. Acquiring him from Jacksonville only cost the Steelers a 2022 sixth-round selection.

1. Eagles Acquire QB Gardner Minshew II

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Striking a deal with the Jaguars for Gardner Minshew II might not have a massive impact on the Philadelphia Eagles' 2021 results. However, it could have serious big-picture implications.

    The reality is that the Eagles don't yet know what they have in second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. He might be the future under center; he might not. Adding Minshew, who is only 25 years old and has a career passer rating of 93.1, gives Philadelphia another potential long-term option.

    This deal is more about options than immediate depth since 36-year-old Joe Flacco provides that. However, he isn't going to be a long-term answer in Philadelphia.

    If Hurts flops this season, the Eagles can give Minshew an audition before moving on to the 2022 draft. That's an outstanding fallback option for a franchise that just moved on from its last "franchise quarterback" in Carson Wentz.

    Through any lens you may view Philadelphia's quarterback situation, it was a tremendous deal. The Eagles only surrendered a conditional 2022 sixth-round pick that can become a fifth if Minshew plays at least 50 percent of the snaps in three separate games. That's pennies for a quarterback who has 20 career starts, 37 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions, 5,530 passing yards, 497 rushing yards and two years remaining on a rookie contract.

       

    Contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.

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