NFLTR Review: Recapping The Trade Deadline & Its Aftermath

The NFL trade deadline may be over but the NFL keeps blitzing along. In this issue: 

  • Grading the trades from an active 2021 deadline
  • The deals that didn’t happen that were bigger than the ones that did
  • The rest of a whirlwind NFL news cycle

2021 NFL Trade Deadline Fallout

By NFL standards, the 2021 trade deadline was positively buzzing, with five deals going down on Monday and Tuesday. It wasn’t just minor deals, though we saw plenty of those. The headliner was a blockbuster swap between the Broncos and Rams for OLB Von Miller that turns the page on an era in Denver and solidifies the Rams as heavyweight Super Bowl contenders. 

There was of course far more talk than action, and we’ll get into the ramifications of the deals that didn’t happen as well, as they’ll have as much of an impact on the league going forward as the ones that did. 

But first, a deep dive into the action we did get, including winners, losers, grades and more. 

Around The Trade Block: Grading The Trading

Rams trade second and third-round picks in 2022 for Broncos OLB Von Miller; Denver eats $9 million of Miller’s remaining salary.

Rams grade: B

Los Angeles is firmly in its Super Bowl window thanks to the addition of QB Matthew Stafford, who has fit almost seamlessly with HC Sean McVay. The offense is rolling, ranking in the top five in most standard categories and No. 1 in the NFL by Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. 

The defense, which was the No. 1 unit in 2020, hasn’t been bad, in fact they’ve been quite good. The Rams rank inside the top 10 in scoring defense and are No. 9 in DVOA. They also lead the NFL in sacks with 25, paced by DT Aaron Donald (5 sacks) and OLB Leonard Floyd (6.5). 

Good is the enemy of great, though, at least how the Rams view things. Philosophically, the Rams prefer to build around a few stud players, guys like Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey, and fill in the gaps around them with role players, particularly ones they can find in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Miller is the type of blue-chip player they will go out of their way to land, as even at 32 he’s still a fearsome pass rusher. 

Thanks to the gravity Donald commands on every snap, the Rams have had a lot of success playing musical chairs at the edge rusher position, getting terrific years out of Robert Quinn, Floyd and even Dante Fowler. Miller is a different level, though, and on paper should create a front that’s virtually unblockable for opponents. 

It’s hard to see much of a downside in 2021 for the Rams for this move as long as Miller stays healthy — and it is worth pointing out he’s 32, coming off a season-ending ankle injury in 2020 and is currently banged up. If the Rams win a Super Bowl and Miller contributes, though, this deal is a win. 

It’s the future where this could bite Los Angeles, like other moves from their high-wire team-building approach. Rams GM Les Snead’s approach to high draft picks is so well known at this point that it borders on parody. That makes what the Rams gave up less shocking but second and third-round picks are still a steep price to pay for what could just be half a season from Miller. 

Los Angeles reportedly hopes to re-sign Miller beyond 2021, but that likely won’t be cheap to talk Miller into foregoing a chance at unrestricted free agency. At worst, the Rams stand to get a possible fifth-round compensatory pick back if Miller leaves. They also still have eight picks, including projected comp picks, in 2022, so their quiver isn’t bare. They just lack premium arrows. 

The Rams of course are used to that at this point. Snead and company have their fair share of doubters but it’s starting to remind me of how the Saints were a punching bag for their ultra-aggressive cap strategy for most of the past decade and never really reaped what critics said they were sowing. So far, it’s hard to argue the results for the Rams. We’ll see if this move changes things. 

Broncos grade: A-

Looking at this deal from both sides, it looks a lot more like a fantasy football trade than what we’re used to seeing from NFL teams. It’s a clear situation of a win-now team and a win-later team finding common ground to push them to their respective goals. 

What’s striking is that at 4-4, the Broncos don’t fit the traditional NFL mold of win-later. Denver is still mathematically in the playoff picture, though their schedule and the eye test suggest they’re not a playoff-caliber team. The Broncos’ only wins have come against the Jets, Jaguars, Giants and Washington Football Team. They’ve lost to the Raiders, Steelers, Browns and Ravens. Broncos GM George Paton deserves a lot of credit for taking a clear-eyed, dispassionate view of his team despite the record and making the right move. 

Miller was probably not coming back to the Broncos in 2021, and the most the team could have gotten back was a fifth-round pick. Salary constraints are a real obstacle to trades this time of year, it’s why the Patriots could only get a sixth-round pick for CB Stephon Gilmore. So by taking on money they’d already budgeted for, the Broncos dramatically improved their return for Miller to those two Day 2 picks. 

The Broncos can continue to build on a promising foundation with those picks, or they can use them to go after a prime quarterback in 2022 when there could be multiple available. Paton has given himself options, which is what a good general manager does. 

The only knock I can give to this deal is the message it sends to the locker room, as no matter what anyone says publicly, it’s tacitly waving the white flag on the season. That type of emotional cost is a key difference between fantasy football and real life even as principles of the former have seeped into the latter. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact it has on Denver’s season. 

Overall, for both the Rams and Broncos, this trade will be a fascinating case study of how the more aggressive team-building principles advocated for by fantasy and coach GMs stand up when applied in the NFL. 

Steelers trade OLB Melvin Ingram to Chiefs for 2022 sixth-round pick

Chiefs grade: B

We called this exact trade last week, if you’ll pardon the brief self-pat on the back. Though to be fair, this was about as easy a call as you can get. Ingram was available and the Chiefs had reportedly already made an offer that Pittsburgh circled back to after waiting until the last minute to see if they could avoid trading him inside the AFC. 

For Kansas City, Ingram probably isn’t going to turn around their season single-handedly. But the current bar on defense is so low that a barely replacement-level player like Ingram represents a decent upgrade. The veteran isn’t in his prime anymore but is still solid against the run and can contribute in the pass rush rotation. 

More importantly, Ingram gives the Chiefs enough depth on the edge to move Chris Jones back inside to defensive tackle. Jones has been playing out of position and he hasn’t been bad. But he hasn’t been his usual, game-wrecking self like he is at defensive tackle. He’s also back healthy and flashed that on Monday night against the Giants. For the cost of a sixth-round pick, that’s a swing worth taking. 

Steelers grade: C

Ingram was unhappy with his role in Pittsburgh, so there’s a decent chance the Steelers would have ended up cutting him if no buyer materialized at the trade deadline. Getting a sixth-round pick back is better than that, obviously, even if the pick itself is unlikely to move the needle. While a third pass rusher is a valuable role player and the Steelers still are in the playoff picture, it’s clear they’re not contending for a title this season. 

49ers trade 2023 sixth-round pick to Texans for DE Charles Omenihu

49ers Grade: B+

There’s little downside to this move for San Francisco and a fair amount of upside. Omenihu doesn’t have any sacks this year but he led Houston in pressures with 16 despite being a healthy scratch for two games as Houston took a look at other edge rushers. In 2020, Omenihu tied for second on the team with four sacks in 2020 and his 16 QB hits were just one behind J.J. Watt. His win rate, according to PFF, is eighth in the NFL, just ahead of 49ers DE Nick Bosa. Omenihu has more pressures this year than any 49ers edge rusher not named Bosa, in fact. 

At 6-5 and 280 pounds, Omenihu has the flexibility to play base end on early downs and slide inside to rush against the guard on third down. He’s still on his rookie contract through 2022, so at a minimum, San Francisco has a cheap, rotational pass rusher they can see if they can develop into something more. 

Texans Grade: C

It came as a bit of a surprise when the Texans phased Omenihu out of their rotation given the 24-year-old was one of the young players the Texans said they were counting on coming into this year to step up to replace Watt. It’s not exactly clear why given he was reasonably productive but it’s obvious that the new coaching staff under DC Lovie Smith had soured on Omenihu’s fit on the team. 

Omenihu was a fifth-round pick in 2019 and Houston will end up getting a sixth-round pick in 2023, so it’s a bit of a net loss. Teams aren’t usually willing to move on from promising young players for nothing, so perhaps Houston knows something we don’t. Then again, the Texans have not been the most well-run team the past few years. 

Chiefs trade G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to Jets for TE Daniel Brown

Chiefs Grade: C+

There’s really not much benefit to the Chiefs for this deal besides picking up a million and change of cap space and getting a tight end to replace Jody Fortson on special teams. They do Duvernay-Tardif a solid by sending him someplace where he can play, as he’d been passed on the depth chart in Kansas City. 

Jets Grade: A

Conversely, this is potentially a big boost for the Jets. The right guard spot has been a problem and Duvernay-Tardif brings experienced competition at the very least for Greg Van Roten and probably is an upgrade in the protection for whoever is at quarterback. Losing Brown is of no consequence to the Jets. 

Broncos trade CB Kary Vincent to Eagles for 2022 sixth-round pick

Broncos Grade: C

Vincent hasn’t played for the Broncos who are deep at corner. A seventh-round rookie, the Broncos essentially gained a round of positioning by flipping him now. It’s probably an indication Denver didn’t think he could make the roster in 2022. Doesn’t move the needle much either way. 

Eagles Grade: C

For the Eagles, this signals they probably had a solid grade on Vincent heading into the draft. It’s also worth mentioning this is the second late-round corner they’ve traded for this season after DC Jonathan Gannon said he didn’t run a dime defense because he didn’t have the personnel for it. 

The Big Picture: What’s next for Watson, Beckham, Fletcher Cox

The trades that didn’t happen were even bigger stories than the ones that did. After a couple weeks of rumors and teases, Houston ended up holding on to QB Deshaun Watson despite a push by the Dolphins. The Eagles shopped DT Fletcher Cox to try and get a high pick without any takers. And the Browns decided not to trade WR Odell Beckham — but it was only a matter of time until the two sides divorced anyway. 

All three of these situations have major ramifications that could stretch into the 2022 offseason. Here’s what could be next: 

Watson saga poised to stretch well into 2022

The next key date for Watson’s situation isn’t until February. That’s when he’s scheduled to be deposed as a part of the 22 civil lawsuits against him for sexual misconduct. Barring any developments with the 10 criminal inquiries by the Houston police, that’s the next milepost where we could potentially see the situation shift from what it was this past week. 

If Watson decides to settle and resolve what he can with his legal situation, that could dramatically expedite a trade. If he remains determined to see this process through, his legal situation could continue to hold up a deal. A trial wouldn’t happen until months after Watson’s deposition and could stretch on well into the summer and potentially training camp. That doesn’t even include the results of criminal and NFL investigations that could result in punishment for Watson. The fact that it’s not completely out of the question that a team trades for Watson illustrates just how desperate NFL teams are for a franchise quarterback — and what they’re willing to overlook. 

While Watson cannot officially be traded until the start of the 2022 league year on March 16, another team could agree in principle with the Texans on a deal to be executed then. We’ve seen that in recent years with Stafford, Alex Smith and others. However, the stakes are high enough with the specific circumstances of this deal that a non-official deal just adds another variable to worry about. 

One other key difference is that the Texans could in theory have many more suitors for Watson than they did midseason. There are a host of unsettled quarterback situations for 2022. The Dolphins and Panthers will presumably still be interested. The Broncos could make more of a concerted push. The Saints, Steelers, Eagles, Giants and Washington Football Team could all enter the fray. Any bidding war only helps the Texans’ position. 

However, Watson has to waive his trade clause and still exerts quite a bit of power over where he lands. He already ruled out the Eagles, who have three first-round picks in 2022, and seems to, for now, prefer the Dolphins over all other options. That could undercut Houston’s position. 

If it’s true that deadlines drive action, the date to watch is the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, scheduled for April 28. For the Texans, that’s their last, best chance to part ways with Watson and to get the massive trade package they’ve been seeking. Texans GM Nick Caserio could hold on at the trade deadline in a bid to get maximum value from Watson because there’s a strong chance Watson’s stock holds steady between now and next offseason. That calculus changes in 2022, however. 

Watson was due only $10.54 million as a base salary this year. That leaps to $35 million in 2022, an absolutely massive amount to burn on someone who’s going to do nothing but take up a roster spot. If Houston holds onto Watson through the draft, that also means some teams will have pivoted to other options at quarterback, cutting down on their market again. Those factors could potentially combine to put more pressure on the Texans and get them to lower their asking price, which they so far have been unwilling to do. 

Clock is ticking for Eagles stalwart Cox

There’s a difference between just listening to offers for a player and aggressively shopping them, and it seems the latter is what the Eagles were doing with Cox. Philadelphia wasn’t looking to dump the former All-Pro tackle, they wanted a Day 2 pick back. But that combined with Cox’s open frustrations with the defensive system this year merits a closer look at his future with the Eagles. 

Philadelphia has done something interesting with Cox’s deal as a part of their strategy for navigating the salary cap disruption caused by the pandemic. When they restructured him earlier this season, they also went ahead and pre-emptively reduced his 2022 base salary to the minimum. It saved a little bit of cap space but it also means the Eagles can’t do anything with Cox unless it’s as a June 1 cut or a trade after June 1 because the acceleration of the signing bonus proration would leave them with a massive $41 million dead cap hit. 

The Eagles could make Cox a June 1 cut in March if they determine he’s not a fit for them in 2022. They could also try to wait and trade him after June 1, as in theory, they should be able to recoup some value for a still-productive defensive tackle who’s only on a minimum base salary for 2022. The playbook they followed with TE Zach Ertz could be instructive here, including how they maintained he was a part of the team until he wasn’t. 

Beckham, Browns divorce

On Friday, the Browns and Beckham officially agreed to part ways. He’s now subject to waivers until next Monday. 

It remains to be seen whether he’ll be claimed by another team. There has been some talk that the Browns could insert per-game roster bonuses in order to dissuade teams from claiming him off waivers, but that’s no guarantee.

As to what’s next for Beckham, right now the interested teams appear to include the Saints, Seahawks and 49ers. New Orleans makes a lot of sense given the trade discussions, their need at receiver and Beckham’s Louisiana roots. Going from Baker Mayfield to Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill isn’t much of an upgrade at quarterback, though. San Francisco has considered Beckham in the past, while Russell Wilson undoubtedly would love to add Beckham even if he’d be Seattle’s No. 3 wideout. 

Wherever Beckham lands, it would be surprising to see it be on anything more than a one-year deal. Beckham presumably wants the chance to rebuild his reputation, while the receiver is mercurial enough that it’s hard to see a team being comfortable with a longer commitment. 

This Week In Football

  • Outside of trades, it’s injuries and absences that have defined this past week in the NFL. Perhaps none are bigger than the news that star Titans RB Derrick Henry will miss the remainder of the regular season, in all likelihood, with a Jones fracture in his foot. Henry had been a dominant force through the first half of the season, leading the league in rushing by 353 more yards than the next closest player through eight weeks. It’s pithy to say running backs don’t matter, but Henry might be one of the most glaring exceptions. We’ll get to see if that’s the case in the remaining nine games for the Titans. They’ve already brought Adrian Peterson in to try and help replace Henry. It’ll be interesting to see how much he has left. 
  • The Saints’ offense has already overcome so much this year to still provide enough for the team to be at 5-2 and just a game out of first place in the NFC South. It took another pair of brutal hits this week, though, with the news that QB Jameis Winston will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. It’s a tough blow for Winston personally, too, as this year had been his chance to show that he was still a potential starting quarterback in the NFL. His outlook is uncertain going forward. New Orleans also won’t get star WR Michael Thomas back, as a new issue with his ankle will need surgery and keep him out until 2022. It’s yet another setback for Thomas, who has seen that ankle scuttle two seasons since he set the NFL reception record in 2019. 
  • Packers QB Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 this past week and the speed at which he was ruled out for Week 9 strongly suggested he was not vaccinated, as he otherwise would have had the opportunity to test out of the protocols. That runs contrary to the impression Rodgers gave the media back in August, and while the NFL and Packers supposedly were aware of Rodgers’ true vaccination status, there are still protocol questions this situation has stirred up that could have consequences. In the meantime, Rodgers is out for a much-hyped matchup against the Chiefs and potentially for Week 10 against the Seahawks, as the mandatory 10-day minimum stay in the protocols doesn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room. 
  • Tragic is the only way to describe the situation in Las Vegas with Henry Ruggs, as the second-year receiver was the driver in a horrific crash that killed a woman on Tuesday. The details are particularly damning, as Ruggs’ blood alcohol level was far above the limit and the prosecutor says he was going 156 miles per hour right before hitting the other vehicle. The Raiders released him that same day and Ruggs is facing a minimum of two years in jail and up to 20 years after being charged with felony DUI resulting in death. There’s a strong chance his NFL career is over just a year after he was the first receiver drafted. 
  • Vikings DE Danielle Hunter has struggled to catch a break with injuries the past couple of seasons, as now a torn pectoral has cut short his 2021 season. Hunter reworked his deal this summer to create a decision point this coming offseason about his future in Minnesota. He has an $18 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2022 league year, which the Vikings can either decide to pay, making his cap hit $26 million in a year where they currently are projected to be $10 million in the red, or choose to release or extend him. Hunter was playing pretty well with six sacks in seven games, but the injury complicates things, as does a potential rebuild for the Vikings if they continue on their current track to miss the playoffs. 
  • Falcons WR Calvin Ridley announced he is stepping away for an undetermined amount of time to focus on his mental health. Earlier this season, Eagles RT Lane Johnson did something similar to get himself in a healthier place in his life and it feels like we’re seeing a watershed moment with athletes in all sports who are realizing the importance of mental health and the importance of discussing it openly. Johnson did that in an interview with Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Sunday. It’s well worth the watch. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

The Chiefs won on Monday night but somehow that squeaker of a game against the Giants left an even worse taste in folks’ mouths…

What stands out to me here is the difference in YPA, interception percentage and game results. To me that says opponents are doing a better job capping the explosive plays, the defense is playing worse and Mahomes is forcing the ball more. And yet his struggles are still numbers most QBs would kill for…

This piece in the Athletic goes in-depth on some of those numbers, albeit from before the Giants game. Materially, the two biggest differences in this year’s Chiefs team are that they’re turning the ball over on an ungodly 24 percent of their possessions, a number that’s sure to regress closer to the mean, and the defense is giving up a touchdown more per game than it did in 2019-2020. Point being, I would not bury them yet…

Worth remembering whenever Watson is brought up…

The expectations for Falcons first-round TE Kyle Pitts were so high this offseason that he basically had to have the best rookie season ever for a tight end to live up to them. The crazy thing is, he just might be doing that

The 49ers turned the temperature down for a week with a much-needed win. But a lot of the luster has been taken off HC Kyle Shanahan with the results this year, including a poor record and confusing management of the personnel on offense. He’s starting to remind me of a modern Jon Gruden — a hell of a play-caller and offensive mind with crippling weaknesses in other areas key to being a head coach…

That’s of course minus the racism. Gruden and people close to him can dispute certain things, but between what we’ve seen him say in private and some cold, hard numbers from 538, I’d say it’s fair to treat those denials skeptically…

As an illustration of just how up in the air the AFC seems to be, we’ve had a different No. 1 seed five out of the past six weeks:

  • Week 3: Raiders
  • Week 4: Chargers
  • Week 5: Chargers
  • Week 6: Ravens
  • Week 7: Bengals
  • Week 8: Titans

This is a sharp tweet from a former player…

These are always fun to review. You’ve got the usual suspects of the Rams, Packers and 49ers at the top. Also worth pointing out you don’t have to use motion to be a good offense, see Dallas at 31. It sure does make it easier, though…

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