What’s this? A real NFL trade deadline, with real trades? Big names on the move? Contenders beefing up for the stretch run?
This kind of thing is supposed to happen in baseball and basketball, but not in the NFL, where the midseason trade deadline traditionally comes and goes with all the excitement of a Chicago Bears three-and-out.
But not this year! This year, big names moved, teams dealt future picks to get better now, and Tuesday was spent in breathless speculation about who might be next. Fun stuff, and we can all agree the NFL needs more fun stuff.
So with the deadline having come and gone, here’s a look at some of the winners and losers:
Obviously, this won’t last long, but stop to enjoy the symbolism of the fact that 40-year-old Brady is literally the only quarterback on the Patriots’ roster or practice squad. If ever there were a worry that the Patriots would pick Jimmy Garoppolo over him before he was ready to leave, that worry got shipped out to the San Francisco Bay on Monday night. Brady wants to play until he’s 45, and the expected signing of Brian Hoyer won’t bother those plans in the least. Three months ago, the Patriots had two apparently talented backups in Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Both are gone, which puts the franchise in a precarious spot should something happen to Brady this season. But Brady can’t be defeated with conventional weapons, so they should be good.
Sunday’s victory over Deshaun Watson’s Texans was breathless, three-hour video of Wilson basically screaming, “Get me some help!” After Wilson won that game by himself, the Seahawks finally, at long last, made a real investment in their offensive line, trading two picks to Houston for real-life left tackle Duane Brown. Nitpick all you want about how Brown held out nearly half the season in Houston and is 32 years old. He’s Anthony Munoz compared to what the Seahawks have been running out there at left tackle the past few years. This can only help Wilson’s protection and the Seattle run game, which is currently a myth.
A go-for-it move by the Bills at the deadline. They acquire Kelvin Benjamin from the Panthers, giving Taylor a true No. 1 wide receiver and rewarding their roster for its 5-2 start with a move that’s sure to energize a group of players used to seeing veterans heading out the door. Buffalo running backs have more catches (47) this season than their wide receivers do (45), and Bills wideouts rank last in the league in both catches and yards. They traded Sammy Watkins in the preseason and needed a top wideout. Taylor and the run game have been good, but this elevates the potential of the passing game as the Bills try to run down the Patriots and end a 17-year playoff drought.
The 49ers coach gets Garoppolo on a two-month audition, during which time he can decide whether he’s the long-term answer and use all that cap space to sign him or decide that he’s not and use it on Kirk Cousins after all. The Niners had a surplus of picks and money, and this is a move that gives them a head start on next spring’s very interesting quarterback market.
Traded from a team that just lost 40-0 to a 7-1 juggernaut in first place in the NFC East. The Eagles needed a running back who could gain tough yards behind their injury-rattled offensive line and who could help protect Carson Wentz against the blitz. Ajayi is both, and while the Dolphins had long-term concerns about the health of his knees, this is a this-year move for the Eagles, who see an opportunity to grab the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Sure, he’d been getting by all year (until Sunday) without Duane Brown at left tackle. But dealing away Brown doesn’t help Watson’s protection. This is an obviously brilliant young quarterback but also one who holds the ball for long periods of time (highest-in-NFL 2.91 seconds per drop-back entering Week 8). Brown was likely to help Watson in the second half as the league gathers tape on him and figures out ways to counter his strengths.
I still expect Cousins to do well on the free-agent market, assuming Washington doesn’t use the franchise tag on him again. But if he was dreaming of playing for former offensive coordinator Shanahan in San Francisco, that door started creaking shut with Garoppolo heading out there. And Cousins’ other former coordinator, Rams head coach Sean McVay, is having success with Jared Goff in L.A. Cousins should still expect teams like the Jets, Browns, Jaguars, Broncos, Cardinals, and maybe the Bills to line up and throw money at him, but he might not end up in his absolute top-choice situation after all.
I know, I know, but hear me out. Sure, he’s going to get to start for the 49ers instead of sit on the bench for the Patriots. But first of all, when? One of the next two games, or after the Week 11 bye, once he has had some time to learn Shanahan’s system? And second of all, is that really an upgrade of his situation? You could make the case that Garoppolo would have been in a much stronger position to cash in as a free agent next March had he stayed in Brady’s shadow, never played and sat on that two-game 2016 sample that had the whole league convinced he was the next big thing. Now, he’s going to play for one of the two worst teams in the league, with basically no receivers and no (healthy) tackles, and if he doesn’t do well, there’s a chance he won’t hold as much market appeal to teams who aren’t the Patriots and haven’t seen him practice every day. This is all moot if the Niners give him the deal he wants now. But if they don’t, and they don’t decide to keep him after the season, November and December could potentially do more harm than good to Jimmy G’s future prospects.
Because, watching the Panthers this season, it feels like half of the offensive game plan was to have Newton chuck it high somewhere near Benjamin and hope Benjamin came down with it. And yes, Devin Funchess and Ed Dickson are also tall, and Greg Olsen could be back in a couple of weeks. But Benjamin was a Newton security blanket for a long time, and it’s hard to imagine Cam’s in love with the sight of him walking out the door.
Wanted out of Pittsburgh, didn’t get it. Got benched last week for speaking up about it and ripping a teammate. Bryant has been told by Steelers management that he’s a part of their plans for the rest of the season, and if he plays well he could put himself in position to get traded in the offseason. But for now, he’s languishing in a role he hates on an offense that hasn’t yet clicked. His 2017 experience isn’t matching the hopes he carried into it off his one-year suspension.
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