So this is what it feels like to be an NBA fan, or an MLB fan, or an NHL fan …
Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, an occasion usually marked by countless rumors but very little real action, delivered thrills usually associated with other professional sports. The deals started early and they didn’t stop until the 4 p.m. ET cutoff, with numerous big-name players changing teams as Super Bowl contenders loaded up and other teams stockpiled draft assets.
NFL Trade Tracker: See all the deal’s ahead of Tuesday’s deadline
As the dust from the flurry of swaps settles, who will emerge as the biggest beneficiaries?
Winner: Deshaun Watson
The Houston Texans ensured their franchise passer’s sophomore season won’t be undone by Will Fuller’s ACL injury, sending a fourth-round pick to the Denver Broncos for veteran wideout Demaryius Thomas. (The deal also includes a swap of seventh-round picks.)
Thomas certainly won’t replace Fuller’s deep speed; at age 30 he’s far more chain-mover than burner. But the five-time Pro Bowler will help shield DeAndre Hopkins from persistent double-coverage and allow the Texans to shift promising rookie Keke Coutee to Fuller’s role.
With a rejigged trio of pass-catching options at his disposal, Watson’s next assignment will be delivering the Texans to the postseason.
By most accounts, the Chiefs tried to make a move to plug their leaky defense. They just couldn’t get the timing right.
Andy Reid and Co. were reportedly on the verge of a trade for disgruntled Seahawks star Earl Thomas in early October before the safety suffered a season-ending injury.
The Chiefs were later linked to the Arizona Cardinals and a potential deal for shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson, who apparently demanded a trade and then recanted days before the deadline. There were also rumors suggesting the Chiefs sniffed around Giants defensive backs Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins, but nothing came to pass there, either.
So, the Chiefs will forge ahead with Super Bowl aspirations and a defense that ranks second-last in yards allowed per game and not much better in points surrendered.
Patrick Mahomes has played like an MVP through eight weeks. He’ll have to keep his offense scoring at record pace as the Chiefs look to overcome the infamy of decades of January flops.
With only a part-time role on the Jaguars’ defense, former third overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. might be deserving of the “draft bust” label. But squint your eyes and you might also see a player who can be the final piece of the Rams’ Super Bowl puzzle.
Fowler has 14 sacks in two-and-a-half seasons, and surely a few more are in his future when he lines up next to blocker-destroyers Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Did the Rams give up too much for Fowler in a third-round pick and a fifth in 2020? Maybe, but with Jared Goff on a rookie deal and the best roster in football save for a (formerly) glaring hole at edge rusher, the Rams know their time to strike is now.
Surely the Packers see themselves as Super Bowl contenders, so why did they act like sellers at the deadline?
Days after tailback Ty Montgomery fumbled on a boneheaded decision to return a kickoff out of the end zone, costing Aaron Rodgers the chance for a game-winning drive, the Packers shipped Montgomery off to the Ravens. The return? Just a seventh-round pick in 2020. It might have been less insulting for Montgomery simply to have been cut.
More puzzling, the Pack sent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix packing with only the Redskins’ fourth-round pick as compensation for the former Pro Bowler.
The moves open up the depth chart for the Green Bay’s promising young tailbacks and secondary but also leave the team perilously thin in position groups that have factored prominently in its recent postseason failures.
Winner: Le’Veon Bell
The Steelers’ holdout running back wasn’t dealt before the deadline, something he essentially guaranteed by waiting to sign his franchise tender.
Bell will play for the Steelers or nobody in 2018. And even though he will eventually sign his tender – he has to if he wants to become a free agent in 2019 – it’s hard to imagine the Steelers taking promising young runner James Conner off the field for a malcontent. At most, Bell should be a role player.
That sounds like an ideal situation for a player whose top priority is limiting the wear and tear on his body before hitting the open market.
Winner: Blake Bortles, Loser: Jaguars
Despite watching their 3-1 start atrophy to 3-5, the Jaguars are sticking by their starter.
Ignoring widespread calls for the team to trade for Teddy Bridgewater or maybe Tyrod Taylor, Jacksonville showed no interest in finding an upgrade on the wildly erratic Blake Bortles, or at least some competition to challenge his place atop the depth chart.
A trendy Super Bowl pick before the season, the Jaguars will need their defense to find its 2017 form – and fast.
Loser: Giants, Winner: Rest of NFC East
Every move the Giants made this spring signaled their intent to maximize Eli Manning’s final years and compete to win a Super Bowl now. They passed on drafting a young quarterback and opted to select tailback Saquon Barkley second overall, made 30-year-old Nate Solder the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman in free agency, and traded two draft picks for middling veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree.
But a “win now” strategy doesn’t work if you don’t actually win.
With a 1-6 record, the Giants admitted their errors and changed gears. Within the span of 24 hours, former first-round pick Eli Apple was shipped to New Orleans for a fourth-round selection in 2019 and a seventh-rounder in 2020, and run-stuffing D-tackle Damon Harrison headed to Detroit for a fifth-rounder.
The Giants might have turned a few more deals Tuesday (defensive backs Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins were rumored to be available) were the franchise not dealing with news that rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta was arrested for allegedly almost running over a cop.
With the Giants belatedly disassembling their roster, the rest of the NFC East loaded up for what promises to be a tight race. The division-leading Redskins bolstered their surprising defense with former Pro Bowl safety Clinton-Dix, the reigning champions in Philadelphia gave Carson Wentz a new weapon in Golden Tate, and the Cowboys basked in the glow of their recent blockbuster for Amari Cooper.
The NFC East is as captivating as it’s been in a while, but Big Blue is a long way from relevance.
Winner: Jon Gruden, Loser: Oakland
With a 10-year, $100-million contract in hand, the Raiders’ bench boss clearly feels no pressure to win now.
Gruden didn’t wait for deadline day to make his biggest moves. Khalil Mack didn’t even make it to Week 1 on the roster and Cooper’s trade to Dallas feels like ancient history despite occurring little more than a week ago.
Armed with three first-round picks in 2019 and two in 2020, Gruden can reshape the Raiders in his image. It will be a years-long process, which means any fruits from this season’s moves are likely to be borne after the franchise relocates to Las Vegas in 2020. What incentive is there for fans in Oakland to pay to watch a bad team that will soon depart for greener (the green hue of cash, at least) pastures?