Last year’s trade deadline taught us that it’s OK to be the aggressor. Jay Ajayi became a valuable piece for an Eagles team headed towards a Super Bowl. Marcell Dareus wound up being the missing piece to make a wildly talented Jaguars defensive line complete. And that’s without getting to Jimmy Garoppolo, who changed the outlook of an entire organization within two months of being dealt.
It also proved to be a harbinger for the future. The Dolphins dumping Ajayi was the first step in a culture fix on which Adam Gase and co. spent the offseason working. The Seahawks’ trade for Duane Brown set the stage for a long-held Seattle weakness to become (dare we say it?) a strength a year later, and created an issue for Houston that still hasn’t been solved. And the Bills’ swing for Kelvin Benjamin foretold a struggle to find offensive skill position talent that Buffalo is still fighting.
The overarching lesson to learn? Looking at the logic of trades from all sides is important, because the potential for all of the above could’ve been unearthed at this time last year. And so with the 2018 deadline in the books, that’s what we’re going to be going through here. After a long day working the phones, here’s the logic behind the five big deals to go down on Tuesday …
Eagles get: WR Golden Tate
Lions get: 2019 third-round pick
Philadelphia logic: If you take all the skill positions as a whole, Philly isn’t as deep as it was last year (LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Brent Celek and Trey Burton are gone; Ajayi, Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace are hurt), and getting Tate is a move to make up some of the difference. Tate’s an Eagle type of offensive player—tough, good after the catch (the league leader in YAC over the last two years) and versatile enough to play all three receiver spots. Also, there’s the feeling that if the Eagles let Tate walk in March, they’ll get back a good portion of what they gave up in a 2020 comp pick.
Detroit logic: Tate was in a contract year, and while he seemed to exemplify what the Lions want in players—tough, competitive, hard-working—the price point at the position, even for a 30-year-old, was going to make it difficult to bring him back for a sixth year as a Lion. That said, Detroit would have been content, based on what he’s bringing to the table, to ride the year out. Some in the building are very surprised he was moved, and when I asked one if there was any problem with him he reiterated a point he’d previously made to me via text: “N.O.”” The compensation—vs. a comp pick, it’s more substantial and comes a year earlier—is what altered that plan.
Texans get: WR Demaryius Thomas, 2019 seventh-round pick
Broncos get: 2019 fourth-round pick, ’19 seventh-round pick
Houston logic: In the aftermath of Will Fuller going down for the season, the Texans didn’t have any receiver depth behind All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and rookie slot Keke Coutee. Houston also has ongoing offensive line problems. Adding those together meant it was time to get Deshaun Watson some help. Given market conditions relating to supply and demand, it was easier—and cheaper from a draft-pick standpoint—to get a receiver than it would’ve been to find a lineman.
Denver logic: The Broncos went into their game at Arrowhead on Sunday with their options open. They came back with a 3–5 record and assets to trade. Thomas wasn’t the only one, but his reasonable financials ($4.5 million for the rest of the year) made him marketable, and his unreasonable financials for next year ($14 million base) meant he was likely down to his final eight games as a Bronco. Plus, they had the enormously talented Courtland Sutton waiting in the wings, and now his development gets accelerated.
Ravens get: RB/WR Ty Montgomery
Packers get: 2020 seventh-round pick
Baltimore logic: Part of why the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson was because the team was planning to build a more of a spread-oriented offense, which highlight what you may call “positionless” players. It’s why it’s easy to integrate Jackson in now, and it’s why Montgomery, who the Ravens love in the pass game, is perfect for that vision going forward.
Green Bay logic: They just weren’t going to go forward with Montgomery after last Sunday’s episode—he blew up on the sideline after being pulled from the game in the fourth quarter. So this is the equivalent of putting your couch out on the sidewalk in hopes someone would take it. One addendum I have to all that, by the way, is that Montgomery actually was following the team’s coaching on the kick return he fumbled. As the Packer coaches teach it, anything in the end zone within two yards of the goal line is a judgment call for the return man.
Redskins get: S Haha Clinton-Dix
Packers get: 2019 fourth-round pick
Washington logic: Simply put, the Redskins view Clinton-Dix as a Pro Bowl-level player, and have emphasized building their defensive foundation up the middle, and now safety becomes an overwhelming strength with D.J. Swearinger in the midst of a career year. And Montae Nicholson will likely slide into a reserve role to give the team great depth at the position.
Green Bay logic: The fact that the Packers were unlikely to reach a new deal with Clinton-Dix—in the final year of his rookie contract—was really the driving force. Also, the 2015 first-rounder had a great 2016, but a rough 2017. His rebound of the last two months allowed the Packers to sell high on him. And then, there’s the new defense. In Mike Pettine’s scheme, the safeties are somewhat interchangeable with the nickel corners, and so the team’s depth at corner, and desire to get Josh Jones and Jermaine Whitehead on the field more lined up with the idea of dealing a really solid player.
Rams get: DE/OLB Dante Fowler
Jaguars get: 2019 third-round pick, ’20 fifth-round pick
Los Angeles logic: The Rams’ greatest need was for an edge rusher, and injuries to Morgan Fox and Dominique Easley only heightened that. And in the team’s view, the price point made sense. The pick is conditional—it’ll be the highest compensatory selection or, if they don’t get third-round comp picks, the team’s slotted third-rounder. And they feel confident they’ll have comp threes, plural—one for Sammy Watkins, and another for Trumaine Johnson. In that case, they’d lose a pick in the low 90s, and still have three picks in the first three rounds (their second-rounder belongs to Kansas City as part of the Marcus Peters trade). And if they let Fowler go in March, they’ll get a 2020 comp pick coming back. There’s also the belief that getting away out of Florida will have a good affect on Fowler’s maturation (we’ll get into that in a minute). And his experience in college standing up and moving up and down the line make him a pretty decent match for what Wade Phillips asks of his outside linebackers.
Jacksonville logic: Remember when Jalen Ramsey got suspended? That wasn’t just about a fight or a tweet, but it was also a warning shot to the locker room. And consider this another. The makeup of the team has become combustible, and it’s the big personalities—like Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Fowler—that make it that way. So along with the fact that the Jaguars simply weren’t going to pay him as a top edge rusher, which made these known to be his final months as a Jaguar, there’s an element of addition by subtraction here at a position that’s strong regardless. The Jaguars still really like Fowler as a person, and he has matured some from the kid who drew a bevy of fines in his first couple years, with a long history of unforced errors (like being late). But he still wasn’t there the Jags wanted him, and privately they agree with the Rams’ assessment that leaving his home state could help him. The other blunt truth here is that he just wasn’t as effective as the other two. Ramsey has played 99% of the team’s defensive snaps this year, Ngakoue is at 70% and Fowler, who doesn’t play special teams, is at 32%. Add that together, and the idea of moving what would’ve been a decent comp pick up a year and tacking on a fifth-rounder in 2020 makes plenty of sense.