NFL Trade Deadline 2019: Grading the Biggest Deals

Leonard Williams is a Giant, Kenyan Drake is heading to Arizona and Aqib Talib now plays for the Dolphins. What’s the initial reactions to this somewhat sleepy NFL trade deadline? Here’s grades for the biggest moves.
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Kenyan Drake, Aqib Talib, Mohamed Sanu

This NFL trade deadline had plenty of rumors and potential of big moves (Jamal Adams? Le’Veon Bell??) but ultimately there wasn’t a ton of action when the 4 p.m. deadline came and went. Below, we grade the biggest moves.

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Aqib Talib to the Dolphins: This is a classic salary-dump situation—the Rams needed to open up some cap space, and the Dolphins had room to take on Talib’s $4.2 million contract this season (think Brock Osweiler’s trade to the Browns). Miami also gets a fifth-round pick in this deal as they load up amid their tanking efforts. Aqib was placed on the IR with fractured ribs back in Week 5, so he’s not even eligible to play until Week 15. Is there a possibly that he never actually suits up for the Dolphins? Absolutely.

DOLPHINS’ GRADE: A

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Leonard Williams to the Giants: It’s a move reminiscent of the Mets’ trade deadline acquisition of Marcus Stroman, in that the Giants are clearly fading out of contention but are interested in cutting the line for free agency in 2019. We had Williams pegged for the Eagles, though Dave Gettleman’s obsession with defensive line strength is difficult to curb. The move forces the Giants to quickly evaluate Williams and the pressure is also on to sign him given that they parted with a third and fifth-round draft pick for the right to see him over the course of eight games. Good on the Jets, who get slightly above compensatory value for a player they were never going to sign long term.

GIANTS’ GRADE: D+

High risk for the Giants, assuming that Williams stays healthy for the remainder of the season and grades out well enough to earn a long-term extension. While he helps them right away, the team is 2-6.

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Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals: After sitting out the team’s trip to Pittsburgh for Monday Night Football, it was obvious a new horizon was in store for Drake. As it turns out, the running back-needy Cardinals are his new destination. Oddly aggressive despite their 3-4-1 record, Arizona is looking to immediately replace the production they’ve lost at the position due to injuries. Drake is better than what is out on the free agent market right now.

CARDINALS’ GRADE: B–

A conditional sixth that can turn into a fifth, according to NFL.com, might be a little bit high if Drake ends up lighting it up this year, however, it’s obvious that GM Steve Keim is working to quickly legitimize this experiment with Kliff Kingsbury. The team is better than many expected at this point already.

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Michael Bennett to the Cowboys: Despite this season’s renaissance performance from Robert Quinn, I still suspected Dallas might search for some rotational depth at pass rusher to anchor their defense. Vic Beasley is obviously the headliner in that group in terms of available assets, but Bennett comes at a much lower asking price. The former Buccaneer/Seahawk/Eagle/Patriot was moved for a conditional late-round pick, which could end up being a steal if Bennett produces some memorable moments down the stretch. Bennett pulled off 2 1/2 sacks and four quarterback hits in just a handful of games with the Patriots this year. He was playing less half the team’s snaps over the course of seven games.

COWBOYS’ GRADE: B–

Low cost, medium upside for a team that could use more experience down the stretch of a divisional fight.

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Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers: Sanders appeared to be the consolation prize for both undefeated Super Bowl contenders looking to upgrade their wide receiving corps. Mohamed Sanu was familiar to both Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan while Sanders was coveted by Belichick in free agency a few years back. The 32-year-old, though, managed to score a touchdown in his first game with the 49ers and should fit in quickly with an offense that expertly schemes open talented route runners.

49ERS’ GRADE: B

While the premium for receiver help this time of year was relatively high (Sanu fetched a second-round pick and Sanders got a third and fourth, with a fifth-rounder coming back to the 49ers), he makes one of the hardest teams in football to scheme against even harder.

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Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots: Quite possibly one of the most telegraphed moves of the Belichick era, the Patriots coach was obviously looking under every rock for wide receiver and tight end help, and he ended up paying a high premium for the Falcons’ No. 3 target. After the loss of Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown, New England is hoping to ease the burden on Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett with the addition of a versatile, scheme perfect wideout who is already providing himself useful. Sanu has two catches for 23 yards in 37 snaps as a Patriot.

PATRIOTS’ GRADE: A-

I think anyone suggesting the Patriots overpaid here should realize that they can keep Sanu in 2020 and mitigate any expenses with a future compensatory selection. Sanu is the perfect kind of receiver for Josh McDaniels’s offense, and if you’re eyeing another Super Bowl, a second-round pick is relatively inconsequential in the long run.

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Gareon Conley to the Texans: Houston was late to the cornerback market, which meant they had to choose potential over proven commodities. Conley, the former Raiders first-round pick, could be had for a third-round pick which is far less of a premium than the Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey, but far more of a premium than the Rams paid for Marcus Peters. In his first action with the Texans, he helped the team beat Oakland with a critical play down the stretch. Jon Gruden seems to have the ability to awaken hidden talent on his roster by pairing them with other coaches. We’ll see if Conley has a similar run of success in Houston as Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack have had elsewhere.

TEXANS’ GRADE: C

Most people would pan this deal, but I applaud the organizational alignment (or lack thereof, not really sure what to call it when everyone agrees with you because you’ve fired everyone who doesn’t). The Texans are all-the-hell-in. They’re down to two top-100 selections in 2020 if their current pick numbers hold.

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Jalen Ramsey to the Rams: Probably the biggest stunner of the trade season. Cornerback wasn’t necessarily the move the Rams needed to make this fall, but it fit in well with general manager Les Snead’s long view on the relative value of future picks against current, already-developed talent. Ramsey keeps them in a divisional arms race that is growing more serious by the day, and is one of the few players capable of locking down one side of the field on his own.

RAMS’ GRADE: B+

Ramsey logged 66% of the snaps in his debut against the Falcons, causing a forced fumble, and 100% of the snaps in this past week’s win over the Bengals. Yes, the Rams won’t have a first-round pick until the current president’s third term, but if this ends up being the hoist they need to overcome some of their offensive deficiencies, we’re guessing Snead won’t miss it.

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Marcus Peters to the Ravens: In his first game action with the Ravens, Peters baited potential MVP Russell Wilson into a rare mistake. This is the kind of player Peters has become, despite a history of blustery behavior in Kansas City. Baltimore’s defense, which also added Earl Thomas this season, can continue to evolve their scheme under creative coordinator Wink Martindale. They also received him for the modest sum of a backup linebacker and fifth-round pick; a loss further mitigated by the fact that Baltimore gets the eventual compensatory return if it doesn’t work out.

RAVENS’ GRADE: A

Eric DeCosta and the Ravens have a phenomenal understanding of player value. Joe Flacco netted a fourth-round pick in a trade, and the Kaare Vedvik trade got them a fifth-round return. Vedvik isn’t even on a roster right now. But Peters is, and should help propel them to a division title.

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Austin Corbett to the Rams: Like the Texans and the cornerback market, the Rams went shopping for offensive line help but had to choose potential over proven talent. Corbett, a very high second-round pick, played sparingly in Cleveland and while it’s usually a bad sign that the Browns were willing to part with him that early, John Dorsey’s evaluation shouldn’t be the final word here. Corbett was inactive against the Bengals in his second game with the team.

RAMS’ GRADE: C

Kind of hard to judge at the moment, though this trade has the potential to look really bad for the Browns if Corbett develops into a starter on this team. The Browns got rid of him despite a significant lack of depth up front.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.