NFL trade deadline winners, losers: Packers, Patriots prove perplexing in different ways
Evidently, the NFL got the memo from the NBA and Major League Baseball as Tuesday's trade deadline felt like the league's most frenzied in recent history.
Not only did an unusual number of players get moved in the hours leading up to the 4 p.m. ET cutoff, several had Pro Bowl pedigrees — atypical for what's traditionally been a quiet day on the calendar until recently.
Naturally, those transactions prompt immediately assessment of who got ripped off and who ramped up their Super Bowl odds. Here are nine winners and nine losers in the aftermath of deadline day:
NFC East: The NFL's flagship division has been witness to fairly uninspired football so far. The Cowboys fired the first shot last week when they brought in receiver Amari Cooper in hopes of diversifying and jolting their attack. The reigning champion Eagles anted up Tuesday afternoon to acquire Golden Tate — basically a running back with a wide receiver designation, perhaps the ideal addition to Philadelphia's offense. It didn't take the division-leading Redskins long to counter those moves by importing Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Should be a fun stretch run given the NFC East is usually a winner-take-all affair — it's landed one wild-card entry since the start of the 2010 season — and is shaping up like a one-playoff team division yet again.
Jon Gruden: Despite the flak he's taken, swapping Cooper for a first-round pick looks rather savvy given Tate commanded a third rounder and Demaryius Thomas basically cost a fourth. The Raiders now possess five first-round picks in the next two drafts.
Courtland Sutton: Think of Denver's second-round rookie as a younger, taller (6-4, 216) version of Thomas. With DT gone, Sutton should earn far more opportunities after catching just 17 balls in the season's first half.
Vikings: Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't make. And as Minnesota stood pat, Detroit offloaded Tate and Green Bay dumped Clinton-Dix. That could mean additions to the Vikes' playoff probabilities courtesy of their rivals' subtractions.
Lions: Yet I like Detroit's approach. This squad probably isn't reaching the playoffs, likely true even before Tate was exported. But let's parse what GM Bob Quinn has done. He added an accomplished run stuffer last week by picking up former Giant Damon Harrison, who could remain with the program beyond this year, for a fifth rounder. Detroit then lost to Seattle on Sunday, dropping to 3-4 and obviously shifting Quinn's perspective. Adding a third rounder for Tate, who's only under contract for eight more games, seems like a perfectly reasonable — dare I say savvy — maneuver given the presence of Marvin Jones and emergent Kenny Golladay in the passing game. Bravo, Bob.
Wade Phillips: Aside from Aaron Donald, no one talks much about the Rams defense, which is probably fine with its 71-year-old coordinator. But Phillips has to be stoked about adding an edge presence like Dante Fowler to the mix, even if he's only deployed in sub packages. And with Pro Bowl corner Aqib Talib (ankle) due back at some point this season, well, the rich are definitely getting richer in Hollywood.
Eli Apple: The mercurial corner started the season with the Giants, who are headed straight to the top of the draft board and hadn't proven a good fit for the 2016 first rounder. Now Apple finds himself on the NFC South-leading Saints, surrounded with several of his buddies from Ohio State. Outhouses, penthouses, etc.
Ty Montgomery:Miffed about his playing time in Green Bay, he went rogue Sunday on special teams and scuttled the Pack's upset bid of the unbeaten Rams. However Montgomery's temper tantrum got him a fresh start in Baltimore, where he can seemingly work out of the backfield or slot.
Le'Veon Bell: He's staying put, no surprise given he has yet to sign his franchise tag — meaning no trade could be executed anyway. It was hard to believe any team would pony up anything of significance given Pittsburgh, by standing firm, stands to receive a third-round compensatory draft pick for Bell once he ultimately leaves. Still, this feels like a best-case scenario for the two-time all-pro holdout, who must report in the next two weeks to get an accrued season toward free agency, which he seems so desperate to experience. Remaining with the Steelers keeps expectations tempered for Bell. Rather than going to another city and facing inevitable two-month savior pressure — not to mention the likelihood he'd have to touch the ball more than he might want to — he'll get the chance to reintegrate into Pittsburgh's offense at a reasonable pace while knowing James Conner will continue to handle a lot of work, thus preserving the tread on Bell's tires for 2019 and beyond.
Steelers: It would have been nice if the AFC North leaders could have pawned off Bell's drama and financial burden. That would have allowed Pittsburgh to fully commit to Conner — and not worry about what to do with Bell once he shows up — while allocating the $6.8 million Bell could still make to shore up, say, defensive deficiencies.
Patrick Peterson:He wanted out of Arizona at one point, but the Cardinals refused to let him go … or didn't get their asking price anyway. Feels like a missed opportunity for both parties, though the question now becomes: Will Peterson find himself still lost in the desert at age 30 two years from now, or will the only NFL team he's ever known find him a home where he can win in the twilight of his career?
Jerry Jones: In fairness, Cooper has more upside than Thomas and, unlike Tate, is under contract next year. Still, given how run-centric the Cowboys are and how raw Dak Prescott remains as a passer, further concern that Jerry may have surrendered too much freight for Cooper in light of the potential alternatives.
DeSean Jackson: Probably wasn't easy for the Bucs' unhappy speedster seeing so many pass catchers on the move given he surely could've helped a contender. The return of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has a far superior connection with Jackson than the one Jameis Winston possesses, into Tampa Bay's lineup should provide some consolation.
Jaguars fans: Woulda been fun to see your season resurrected by a deal for Winston or Fitzpatrick or Eli Manning or Derek Carr. Still, pie-in-the-sky stuff, hoping for such a remedy or even that a replacement quarterback would be a major upgrade over Blake Bortles given the litany of lower-profile problems on this offense. GM Dave Caldwell didn't throw in the towel by jettisoning pass rush specialist (and occasional problem child) Fowler for a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth rounder. Still, it clearly indicates the organization's thinking about its present state of affairs.
Packers: Curious to see a team a half-game out of the NFC North lead part with a Pro Bowl-caliber safety in Clinton-Dix and sacrifice depth by letting Montgomery go — though maybe better to get something for close to nothing in his case. Still, big picture, Green Bay appears diminished even as Aaron Rodgers chases that elusive second championship.
Cap-flush teams: It's not fair to be overly critical of clubs like the Colts, Jets, Bills or Browns, all with at least $80 million of cap space in their 2019 war chests. Nonetheless, the deadline was a chance to potentially fetch an unhappy cornerstone — Peterson being the obvious example — from another team and incorporate him into a foundation seeking to rebuild around a young quarterback (yes, Andrew Luck still counts).
Patriots: Another instance where the "loser" label presents a bit harshly — particularly for a 6-2 club cruising toward another AFC East crown. And, don't forget, Bill Belichick made a splash last month with his surprise gambit on Josh Gordon. But after watching receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman combine for 48% of New England's rushing attempts Monday — backs James White and Kenjon Barner only got 40% of the carries — it felt like it might behoove Belichick to sacrifice a bit of draft capital for backfield depth now that rookie Sony Michel is dealing with a knee issue after having surgery in August. Still, given Belichick once coaxed a 200-yard game out of journeyman Jonas Gray, what do we know?
LeSean McCoy: If a tree falls in a forest, does anyone hear it? If an aging running back plays for Buffalo's offense for another season-and-a-half, will anyone notice?
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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