The trade market in the NFL has gotten far more active than it was when I covered the league more regularly (1996-2002). With some deals already in the books, I thought we’d create a football relativity scale to compare the swaps. This post will include both trades and restricted free agent signings, which basically become like trades because of the draft pick compensation that a team losing a player (usually) gets in return. We’re using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the biggest impact and 1 being a move that doesn’t really matter. (After the Jay Cutler trade, we of course tweaked the comparison.)
10 – Broncos trade QB Jay Cutler and an ’09 fifth-round pick to Bears for QB Kyle Orton, an ’09 first-round pick (No. 18), an ’09 third-round pick, and a 2010 first-round pick
In what may be remembered as the blockbuster trade of the decade in the NFL, the Broncos closed the door on the Jay Cutler imbroglio by dealing the disgruntled signal-caller to Chicago. Cutler is the Bears’ most significant quarterback investment maybe ever. If he fits in as a Bear, he solves a decades-long problem. But if Cutler fails in the Windy City, it will set the Bears back until Barack Obama runs for reelection. Still, Bears fans who haven’t seen a top-flight QB for scores of years rightly feel as if Christmas came early in the form of this Santa Claus, Indiana, native. The fact that the Bears are relying on Cutler’s Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett to start at wideout only makes the move a better fit.
For the Broncos, the pressure is now on. They got what they wanted from the deal – first-rounders this year and next, a third this year, and a quarterback who can start this year in Kyle Orton. There’s only about a 5 percent chance that Orton can be the long-term answer, though, and so they must get a QB of the future this year. If they don’t move up to assure that they get Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez – or take Josh Freeman if they’re believers in him – then this trade will be a step back. The worst thing Denver can do is to let it’s ego take over (again) and take a sixth-rounder and say he’s the guy for the future. They must use these picks well, including one on a quarterback, to make this huge haul from being fool’s gold.
9 – Patriots trade QB Matt Cassel (franchise player) and LB Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for a second-round pick (No. 34 overall)
The Patriots franchised QB Matt Cassel in order to trade him, and Saturday they dealt Cassel (along with LB Mike Vrabel) for a second-round pick (34th overall). It’s not a huge bounty for the Pats, but they also clear $18 million in salary-cap space in the deal. The Chiefs pay a fair but not exorbinant price for their quarterback of the future. Solving this issue this early allows the Chiefs to focus on their other myriad issues from here on out. GM Scott Pioli knows Cassel from New England, so he more than anyone has a feel for what the Chiefs are getting in this still-young QB. Mike Vrabel went from an underrated performer to an impact player to a grizzled vet in New England – and the last category is why the Chiefs want him to be part of their team. Pioli knows Vrabel can be a great influence in the locker room and in the defensive huddle. Vrabel’s value is as the veteran influence who can help the Chiefs learn a new defensive system as well as develop a personality of a winning team. When Romeo Crennel was in Cleveland, he brought in Willie McGinest to do a similar thing. This part of the move that won’t win a ton of games in Kansas City, but it should help the Chiefs’ young players learn how to win. It appears this deal will go down in Chiefs lore as one of that helped begin to turn things around.
8 – Bills trade OLT Jason Peters to Eagles for ’09 first-round pick (No. 28), ’09 fourth-round pick, and a ’10 sixth-round pick
Peters, a college tight end, developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle in Buffalo, but for the last 2 offseasons he’s been discontent over his contract. That seemed to affect his play in ’08, as it was down a level from his ’07 performance. Because Peters wasn’t happy, the Bills decided to turn the page. They’ll need to replace him, because he was a major building block in their offensive line. This deletion could even make the Terrell Owens addition a little less impactful, because quarterback Trent Edwards (who has been injury prone) won’t have the same protection. The No. 28 pick probably won’t yield a top tackle, but having that pick could allow the Bills to get a top tackle with their pick at No. 11.
For Philly, this is a much needed addition. After letting longtime starting OTs Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan leave via free agency, the Eagles (who have always emphasized line play on both offense and defense) needed help. Peters will step in on the left side, while free-agent addition Stacy Andrews likely will get the right tackle spot. That’s a pretty good recovery by the Eagles.
7 – Seahawks trade LB Julian Peterson to Lions for DT Cory Redding and a 5th-round pick in ’09
Peterson’s first two years in Seattle were dynamic, as he used his freakish athleticism to make plays all over the field. But last season was not a good one for Peterson, who had just 5 sacks and struggled along with the rest of Seattle’s defense. After giving fellow LB Lofa Tatupu a big contract and franchising LB Leroy Hill, Seattle couldn’t stomach Peterson’s price tag anymore. Defensive tackle is a big need area, so they get Redding, who got paid big bucks last year. Redding has promise and makes some big plays but isn’t a force as consistently as a true bellwether DT should be. That’s why Detroit was willing to part with him. It will be interesting to see if new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz can unleash Peterson again. The guess here is that he can, and here’s why: Schwartz was in Tennessee when the Titans turned Jevon Kearse into “The Freak” who terrorized quarterbacks. I think Kearse and Peterson are comparable as athletes and in their builds. Something tells me that the plan in Detroit is to make Peterson the defense’s biggest weapon. Peterson has that level of ability, so that sounds like a good plan to me.
7 (con’t) – Chiefs trade TE Tony Gonzalez to Falcons for a 2010 second-round pick
Gonzalez is the most accomplished tight end in the game today, and he might end up with the best numbers of any tight end ever. He’s made 10 Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons and has 916 catches, nearly 11 thousand receiving yards, and 76 touchdowns. And he’s not slowing down; he had 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 scores last year in the Chiefs’ wild-and-crazy spread offense. But with new leadership in Kansas City, Gonzalez’s role going forward was a bit uncertain, and he’s made no secret of his desire to play for a contender. Atlanta is that, and Gonzalez shouldn’t have that much pressure on him in the ATL because the Falcons have a true No. 1 receiver in Roddy White. White and Gonzalez are a pretty good tandem for Matt Ryan to work with. And while Gonzalez is little more than an efficient blocker, the Falcons have a good blocking tight end in Justin Peelle who can rotate with or even play across from Gonzalez. All in all, it’s a good addition that will cost the Falcons nothing now but a second-rounder in 2010. By the way, the Chiefs may be thankful to wait a year on that pick, because it’s entirely possible that the second-rounder will be higher than the No. 55 spot, which is Atlanta’s second this weekend.
6 – Browns trade TE Kellen Winslow to Buccaneers for 2nd-round pick in ’09 and 5th-round pick in ’10
Kellen Winslow never quite lived up to his potential as a top-10 pick, but the second-generation tight end has certainly shown flashes of it in his five-year career – most notably during his 2007 Pro Bowl season. In Tampa, he’ll be at least the second receiving target (behind WR Antonio Bryant). Cleveland obviously wanted to turn the page and start over under a new coach and GM, and I’m not surprised they dealt Winslow. (I was expecting the trade to be WR Braylon Edwards to Philly, but this move is quite similar.) But the Browns will have to upgrade their offensive weapons if QB Brady Quinn (or Derek Anderson, if he starts) is going to have a chance of success. This move makes Tampa better, and it gives the Browns a chance to push the reset button harder and more effectively than they could have with Winslow still in the locker room.
5 – Eagles trade CB Lito Sheppard to Jets for fifth-round pick in ’09 and conditional pick in ’10
CB Lito Sheppard has wanted out of Philadelphia ever since the Eagles paid Asante Samuel instead of him lady offseason. Now Sheppard is getting his wish via a trade to the Jets. The Jets, who were so desperate for corner help last season that they signed Ty Law, now have a legitimate starter to pair with emerging star Darrelle Revis. Sheppard fits best as a No. 2 corner, so it’s a good landing spot for him. Philly is getting a fifth-round pick in ‘09 plus a conditional pick in 2010. They have Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and Joselio Hanson at corner, so the Eagles were dealing from a position of strength.
4 – Texans trade QB Sage Rosenfels to Vikings for 4th-round pick
In this post, we compared all of the quarterbacks in starting discussions on the relativity scale. Note that Rosenfels and incumbent Vikings starter Tarvaris Jackson were on the same tier. So does this make the Vikings better? Well, if you believe that competition will bring out the best in one or both of them, then maybe. But I’m more of the opinion that the Vikings now have 2 quarterbacks who are between the 25th and 40th best in the NFL, and that neither is going to elevate much beyond that point on a season-long basis. And that means that the quarterback spot remains a trouble spot for a Vikings team that is pretty strong almost everywhere else. This move does not a true contender make.
4 (con’t) – Patriots trade CB Ellis Hobbs to Eagles for two 2009 fifth-round picks
In this draft-day trade, the Patriots let go Hobbs, a great athlete who has been above-average but not great for New England. He’s a little too wild-eyed to be a consistent corner, but as a nickel back he’s good. Hobbs is also a dangerous return man. He makes sense for Philly after the Eagles traded Lito Sheppard, especially considering that Sheldon Brown is now asking for a deal. The price was right for the Eagles to add some depth just in case.
3- Eagles trade WR Greg Lewis and a 2010 draft pick to Patriots for a 2009 fifth-round draft pick
I’ve always liked Lewis, but he never became a consistent starter in Philadelphia. With the emergence of DeSean Jackson as a rookie last year, Lewis became merely a bit player in Philly. In New England, Lewis will drop into the Jabar Gaffney role as an outside receiver to complement Randy Moss and Wes Welker. That’s a role Lewis can succeed in. He’ll make at least three or four significant plays for the Pats in ’09 — well worth the cost of a fifth-round pick.
3 (con’t) – Dolphins trade C Samson Satele to Raiders for a 2009 sixth-round pick. Teams also swap fourth-round picks.
Satele was a second-round pick two years ago and an instant starter as a rookie, but he fell out of favor in Miami when Bill Parcells took over. Satele is more of a quick center than a powerful one, and Parcells has always preferred beefier linemen. When the Dolphins signed C Jake Grove this offseason, the writing was on the wall for Satele. But he’s a good get for Oakland (who lost Grove) and will probably start there.
3 (con’t) Jets trade DE Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam, and QB Brett Ratliff along with a first-round pick (17th overall) and a second-round pick to Browns for a first-round pick (5th overall)
This was the Mark Sanchez draft-day trade, and it would of course rate much higher on the scale in that light. But we’re rating it here solely on the veteran players who moved, and the truth is that none of them are special. Coleman is a decent 3-4 defensive end who’s good against the run, but he’s 30 years old, which means he’s not a core guy. The Browns tried to get Elam as a restricted free agent, but the Jets matched his 1-year, $1.5 million deal to keep him. Elam showed flashes of ability last year, but he was slated to be a backup in New York. He should at least be a starter in Cleveland. Ratliff is a former undrafted free agent who made a big splash in the preseason last year, but quarterbacks have often done without transferring that success to the regular season before. So I still view Ratliff as a long shot to ever be an NFL contributor. All in all, I think the Browns settled a little too easily in this deal in terms of the vets they got.
2- Cowboys trade DB Anthony Henry to Lions for QB Jon Kitna
An actual player-for-player trade is still pretty rare in the NFL, but this swap is exactly that. Kitna, who wanted out of Detroit after being benched for the year with a short-term injury last season, is an upgrade for the Cowboys at backup quarterback. (Brad Johnson was washed up when he had to play last year.) This gives the Cowboys more security in case Tony Romo gets hurt. Henry is no longer quick enough to play corner, but he has the size to move to safety, so he’s worth a shot for the Lions. Detroit needs so much help that they might have been better off just taking a draft pick from Dallas, but Henry should at least make the team.
2 (con’t) – Falcons trade WR Laurent Robinson to Rams. Teams also swap fifth- and sixth-round picks in ’09
Robinson showed promise in his rookie season in ’07, but he fell out of favor last year in Atlanta. Still, he’s a prospect who could turn into a third or fourth receiver, and given St. Louis’ dearth of receivers, he’s worth the small price. The Rams don’t even lose a draft pick – they just move down 20 spots or so in two rounds.
1 – Jaguars trade DT Tony McDaniel to Dolphins for 7th-round pick
McDaniel has been injury prone in his three year career, missing 23 games in that span. But the Dolphins believe he can be a rotation defensive end in their 3-4 defense. At this minor price, why not give him a shot?
1 (con’t) – Packers trade LS J.J. Jansen to Panthers for conditional 2011 7th-round pick
There won’t be a more minor deal this offseason than this, with a player who missed his first pro season due to injury being swapped for a pick two years from now. But it’s worth noting because it’s a sign of how hamstrung the Panthers are by the Julius Peppers situation. They are so tight against the cap that they couldn’t re-sign reliable veteran long snapper Jason Kyle. Instead, the Panthers will rely on a minimum-salary rookie who is completely untested as a pro. They need to do something with Peppers soon — a trade, a new deal, whatever — or else the only other additions will be via miniscule moves like this.