Every year in the NFL, big name players become unhappy with their role and/or with their team throughout the season. Right around the middle of October, usually 2-3 weeks before the trade deadline, these frustrations become publicized. A slew of predictions from analysts arise and spread like wildfire, leaving us fans in hopes of multiple blockbuster trades every season. Come Week 9, we're left disappointed, as big time trades rarely pull through and we have to wait until March of the following offseason to see any changes. This year was no different, so let's take a look back at some previous years and see what patterns are consistent throughout each trade deadline.
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2017: Jimmy G to the 49ers
The Trade: Patriots trade Jimmy Garappolo to the 49ers in exchange of a 2018 second round pick (traded to Lions, Lions selected Kerryon Johnson with the pick)
The Result: Jimmy G has posted a 25-12 regular season record since taking over as the 49ers starting QB. He brought the 49ers to a Super Bowl and is one deep seam route away from being a Super Bowl Champion. He has battled some injuries since signing a massive deal, and is currently in the process of slowly being replaced by Trey Lance. This trade seemed to work out in the short-term, but long-term is still up in the air. As for the Lions, who acquired the second round pick from the Patriots, that pick was used on Kerryon Johnson, who led the Lions in rushing in 2018 and 2019. He is currently a free agent, but his career looked promising at first. He is worth another look in my opinion.
The Winner: 49ers
2018: Amari Cooper to the Cowboys
The Trade: Raiders trade Amari Cooper to Cowboys in exchange of a 2019 first round pick (Raiders selected Johnathan Abram)
The Result: Amari Cooper has been a focal point in the Cowboys offense, as he is averaging almost 6 more yards per game with the Cowboys than he did with the Raiders, as well as hauling in 5 more touchdowns in 3 less games. He is currently on pace to break 1,000 receiving yards for his 4th straight season, including his 3rd straight full season with Dallas, as well as 10+ touchdowns for the first time in his career, not bad for the 27 year old. In comparison, the Raiders have found little success with Johnathan Abram, who has played 22 out of 40 possible games in his career, while allowing a career 103 passer rating against him. He was the lowest ranked safety according to PFF in 2020, finishing with a 35.9 overall grade (94th/94), but he has improved this season, ranked 50th/91 with a 61.9 overall grade. His rookie counterpart, Trevon Moehrig, is currently ranked 28th/91 with a 69.6 overall grade. I would be shocked if the Raiders pick up Abram's 4th year option, especially given Gruden is no longer with the organization.
The Winner: Dallas
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2019: Jalen Ramsey to the Rams
The Trade: Jaguars trade Jalen Ramsey to the Rams in exchange of first round picks in 2020 and 2021, as well as a 4th round pick in 2021 (Jaguars selected K'Lavon Chiasson in 2020, and Travis Etienne Jr and Jordan Smith in 2021)
The Result: Jalen Ramsey has thrived since arriving in Los Angeles, as he has allowed a passer rating of 75.2 against him, as well as intercepting 5 passes and forcing 2 fumbles in 32 games. He ranked 9th/121 with an overall grade of 77.3 in 2020 per PFF, and currently ranks 1st/116 with a 83.9 overall grade per PFF. He is constantly in the conversation for best cornerback in the league, and this year is no different. K'Lavon has struggled at the start of his career, despite playing opposite of young talent Josh Allen. He has ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in 2020 and 2021 in PFF grades for edge rushers, posting 49.6 and 57.5 in respective seasons. He also isn't seeing as many snaps as you would expect out of a first rounder, as he has only played on 196 out of 530 possible defensive snaps this season. Travis Etienne Jr is missing his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury, but I expect him to make a major impact in his sophomore season.
The Winner: Rams
2020: Desmond King to the Titans (I guess)
The Trade: Chargers trade Desmond King to the Titans in exchange of a 2021 sixth round pick (Chargers selected Nick Niemann)
The Result: Desmond King started off hot per PFF, grading in the top 10 for cornerbacks overall in his first two seasons with 85.7 and 88.6 grades respectively. Since then, he has been mediocre at best, but most of that is due to him playing out wide more often than in the slot, where he has graded as the best slot cornerback in the NFL since entering the league. He was picked up by the Texans in free agency this past offseason, and is currently grading at 50.1, ranking 106th/116 for cornerbacks. Granted, 260 of his 393 defensive snaps played have seen him lined up out wide rather than in the slot, where he's only played 106 snaps. If the Texans use him properly, he could go back to his glory days early in his career. Nick Niemann hasn't seen much defensive playing time as he has only played on 19 defensive snaps. If his grade was eligible, he would ranked 3rd worst amongst all NFL linebackers with a 26.3 overall grade. Fourth rounders rarely make a splash in the NFL, and it's looking like that could be the case early on in his careeer.
The Winner: None, this was a bad move for both teams
2021: Von Miller to the Broncos
The Trade: Broncos trade Von Miller to the Rams in exchange of second and third round picks in 2022
The Result: TBD, but the thought of Von Miller and Aaron Donald on the same defense is scary. Von Miller graded as a top 4 edge defender per PFF in each of his first 8 seasons in Denver, with a top grade of 93.4 in 2012. He dropped off last season to a 79.3, but has picked back up to a 85.9 this season, currently ranking 7th among edge rushers. It's also worth mentioning the Rams now have the 1st and 8th active sack leaders in the NFL.
The Winner: TBD, but I'd put my money on the Rams
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Rumored Trades Candidates That Fell Through
Odell Beckham Jr
Odell Beckham Jr
Chris Harris Jr
Will Fuller V
Ronald Jones II
Calvin Johnson retired in 2016, but there were talks about trading for his rights to another team so he could play again. His retirement was a shock, as he had been the most dominant receiver in the NFL at the time of his announcement. At this point, he had made it clear to the public eye that he retired solely due to his unhappiness with the Detroit Lions, so it only made sense to try and trade him and get some draft capital for a generational wide receiver. Alas, the trade talks fell through and nothing came of it, and Johnson never played another NFL snap.
On the flipside, Martavis Bryant was a very intriguing option. He had just come off of serving a 1-year suspension, and was hoping to have the same game breaking impact he had on the Steelers 2 years prior. He saw a reduced role, and wanted to find a new home. After receiving some offers, the Steelers decided to hold on to Bryant. In the end, Bryant's career never got back to where it was, and he slowly panned out of the NFL.
Le'Veon was coming off his best season since 2014, yet he had animosity with the Steelers organization. He wanted to be paid as the top running back in the NFL, and the Steelers felt he was not deserving of that contract. In response, Le'Veon Bell held out the entire 2018 season. I personally agreed with the Steelers, as I thought Le'Veon was a product of his offensive line. Over the past few years, we have seen this come to light as he had a terrible two year stint with the Jets and has struggled to find playing time with the Chiefs and Ravens. Over the past 4 seasons, he has scored 8 TDs, whereas he posted 9 TDs in 2017.
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Patrick Peterson was also a big name as he requested a trade from the Arizona Cardinals. Head Coach Steve Wilks had been doing a lackluster job, especially with the defense, which was his specialty with the Carolina Panthers. Peterson had been playing like the top cornerback for most of his career, but Wilks wouldn't play to Peterson's strengths, as he ran mostly zone coverage schemes in contrast to Peterson's elite man coverage skills. No trade was made, but Peterson's frustration with the organization lasted for years, which ultimately led to his departure during the 2021 offseason.
Jamal Adams no longer wanted to be a part of the Jets organization after years of failure. At the time, he was grading out as a top safety in the NFL, and there was no question he was a playmaker. With a poor supporting cast around him, he looked to be traded away during the season. While no deals were closed before the trade deadline, he found himself heading to Seattle to join the Seahawks, where he has been average at best in their defensive scheme.
Trent Williams was in a similar situation as Le'Veon Bell the year before. Trent Williams believed he was the best offensive linemen in the NFL, and unlike Le'Veon whose play depended on others, Trent was clearly one of the best, if not the best, offensive linemen in the league. He ended up rejoining the team before the deadline, but then was signed by the 49ers in the following offseason. The result? He has ranked as the #1 offensive tackle in the NFL per PFF, grading at a 91.9 in 2020, and currently ranked at a 96.1 in 2021, which also grades him as the best player in the NFL. If he keeps his place, this will be the 4th time in 11 seasons he will grade out as the best offensive tackle in the NFL.
The 2020 trade deadline was one of the least eventful ones in recent memory, especially given some of the names that were being tossed around. Stephon Gilmore, who was coming of a DPOY season, was battling injuries throughout 2020. The Patriots were unsure if they wanted to risk keeping the 30 year old cornerback, regardless of how he played the year before. He wasn't getting any younger, and his injury troubles seemed far worse than the public believed. He was recently traded early in the 2021 season, and has made a solid impact on a strong Carolina Panthers defense.
Matt Ryan and JJ Watt were also up for discussion, as they were on two franchises who are clearly in rebuilding mode. JJ Watt was shipped away during the 2021 offseason to the Arizona Cardinals, but Matt Ryan stayed put in Atlanta and currently has them in the Wild Card race for the NFC. Time will tell if this was the right choice, but it has worked out so far for the Falcons.
The most polarizing trade candidate for this season was Deshaun Watson. I ranked him as the best QB in 2020, and his career was looking promising. Over the offseason, he was accused of sexual assault on over 20 accounts, and is currently still under investigation. The Texans are willing to trade Watson, but held off on doing so during the deadline. They will most likely move him in the offseason when the draft order is set and there is more clarity on his legal situation.
OBJ was another interesting candidate, as he has gradually became more and more frustrated with his QB, Baker Mayfield. Days before the trade deadline. OBJ's father posted a video of all of the plays OBJ was open and the ball wasn't thrown his way. This partly led to OBJ being sent home from the Browns facility for a few days, and then his eventual release. OBJ's time with the Browns will remain one of the most disappointing free agency moves in recent memory.
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What's the Issue?
So what seems to be the pattern with the lack of activity around the NFL trade deadline? There are a couple of things to consider: most teams have a certain scheme or play calling style in place by this point in the season, and it would take a particular player to fit the scheme in order to make an impact. In the Rams case, Von Miller is a 3-4 outside linebacker/edge rusher, which means he most likely wouldn't be that effective in a 4-3 defense. Most teams use Nickel packages (5 defensive backs on the field) as their base defense, but defensive schemes are still built around the 3-4 & 4-3 sets. On the offensive side of the ball, a power back would most likely not be that effective in a spread style offense. In the case of the Arizona Cardinals, they use a running back committee, which is why James Conner has been so effective for them.
Another possible reason for the lack of huge trades at the trade deadline is the uncertainty of player performance throughout a season. As per the reason above, the cause of a player's above or below average performance could be based on the scheme they are in and the players around them. For the same reason, some teams might not want to ship out a player who is not getting as much playing time, but is efficient with his play, because they like how that player works in their system. Some teams feel it's best to make trades at the end of the season when the draft order is set; they'll have a better sense of the impact some players will bring and others won't, and as well as what the free agent market is going to look like.
Compared to other sports, football is the one sport where it is not so easy to plug and play players who play similar positions. Given the amount of games played in each sports - 17 in football, 82 in basketball and hockey, and 162 in baseball - it is harder to determine a player's true ability in football during one season, than it is in other sports. Additionally, positions aren't as flexible in football as they are in other sports. In basketball, guards have nearly the same responsibility from team to team, as do centers and forwards. In baseball, outfielders are interchangeable, as well as infielders to a certain degree. In both sports, athleticism and size comes into factor when it comes to the interchangeability at each position. In football, the same cannot be said, as Jamal Adams and Jordan Poyer play the same position, but each have opposite skillsets and have different responsibilities in their teams, which does not give them as many suitors in possible trade discussions. Am I saying football is the only sport like this? No, but it is apparent in football that schemes, playbooks, and performance matter much greater in determining a trade than other sports.
The NFL trade deadline, to quote Aaron Rodgers, is a sham. If they moved the trade deadline a few weeks back, say to Week 11 or 12, I feel there would be more movement as most teams have a good sense of where they are in the season; especially given that the playoffs still aren't set at that point in time. I don't think the NFL would make this move, but it could be something to consider in the future given that they added at 17th game this past offseason. In the meantime, we gotta live with what we got, and hopefully the few trades that do go through are actually impactful...I'm looking at you Zach Ertz.