Simply put… the first day of free agency was crazy with blockbuster trades and monster signings. On a day unlike any, perhaps in the history of the NFL offseason, major names were moved around and fans were left to weep into their suddenly out of date jerseys.
I get it. It’s business, but at the end of the day, these trades mean something huge on the field and everyone wants to know, who comes out on top. Free agency is still in full swing, but we can afford to pass initial judgement on these trades that are, in many ways, shaping the upcoming season.
1. Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions
Baltimore Gives: DT Haloti Ngata and 2015 seventh-round draft pick
Detroit Gives: 2015 fourth- and fifth-round draft picks
Winner: Detroit Lions now, Baltimore Ravens later
I’m giving this to Detroit right now, but it is close. Losing defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh (to the Dolphins) and Nick Fairley left the Lions very limited in the trenches. Ngata, while 31, is a solid replacement, bringing a similar game-changing skill set that Suh leaves to Miami possessing. Mid-round picks have value, but in terms of “win-now” Detroit had to make a play like this. Detroit is likely switching defensively to a 3-4 with the Ngata addition, which could impact the effectiveness of impact rusher Ezekiel Ansah, but the 3-4 scheme isn’t foreign to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin who spent time coaching with Baltimore. I honestly believe this was a necessary move for Detroit as they feel they are on the cusp of a deep playoff run and losing Suh and Fairley without a “Ngata-caliber filler” would have set them too far back. I like the trade for Detroit and I would consider them the winners… at least today.
Baltimore receives two mid-round picks for a five-time Pro Bowler. That’s hard to swallow for Baltimore fans and while I’m cautiously declaring Detroit winners in the short-term, Baltimore will be fine and could win this trade depending on what they do with the two draft picks. In the fourth- and fifth-round, you can find quality players and occasionally superstars. Losing the 31-year-old Ngata will hurt, but the emergence of nose tackle Timmy Jernigan will remedy that loss and if he continues to develop, the loss of Ngata may be utterly insignificant, simply resulting in two quality picks. Detroit wins now because they have the proven commodity that will produce for another year or two when they really need him, but if Jernigan builds on his rookie season and Baltimore effectively utilizes Detroit’s picks, this trade may look like the Lions were fleeced by this time next year.
2. Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles
Buffalo Gives: LB Kiko Alonso
Philadelphia Gives: RB LeSean McCoy
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
This trade is eerily similar to a fantasy football trade with two stars swapping teams straight-up and it is truly a rare site in today’s NFL (aside from yesterday evidently). Both teams find themselves with star players in key spots and this could easily be considered a win-win, but I like Philadelphia as the winner here.
McCoy is a phenomenal talent and is easily one of the best backs in the NFL, despite a rough outing last season. He is only 26 and has limited tread on the tires. Plus, he is dynamic in both the run and passing game, demanding respect from opposing defenses. I really like the guy and he will do great things for Buffalo in Rex Ryan’s offense, but we need to consider everything here and that’s why Philadelphia wins. Alonso is everything McCoy is, but plays middle linebacker. Alonso is only 24 and makes the Eagles defense very quick, but also very tough. He is recovering from an injury that derailed his sophomore campaign last season, but when he was healthy, he was one of the best linebackers in the league. The difference between McCoy and Alonso is that McCoy is relatively expendable. Running back is perhaps the most easily replaced offensive position in the game with key contributors seemingly rising out of the woodwork from the late rounds of the draft or going completely undrafted. Point is, it isn’t hard to find someone to fill in. In fact, today the Eagles signed former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews who, with a mid-round draft pick perhaps, will fill-in well for McCoy. Not many, if any, can match McCoy’s ability, but many individuals or pairings can match the statistical output.
The same can’t be said for the linebacker position where elite talent simply doesn’t grow on trees. You need to find a key player at the linebacker position, but can make do with a number of different, easy to obtain, running backs. That’s where Philadelphia wins this trade. Their star’s statistical output can be replaced even if he physical ability can’t be replicated.
3. Chicago Bears and New York Jets
Chicago Gives: WR Brandon Marshall and 2015 seventh-round draft pick
New York Gives: 2015 fifth-round draft pick
Winner: New York Jets
I think this is pretty clear. I love the potential that comes with the NFL draft. You can hit the lottery and find Tom Brady in the sixth-round or you can strike-out with Ryan Left with the second overall pick. But see? That’s the point. The draft, for all it’s intrigue and studying, is still a shot in the dark. Even the most reliable of picks during the draft process can flame out. Does anyone remember the “sure fire top-five pick” known as OLB Aaron Curry, or do I need to mention Jamarcus Russell? Chicago saved themselves some salary cap and got a mid-round pick out of it, but they still lost a game-changing player who may or may not be replaced with said pick. Chicago is verging on a rebuild so I understand clearing house, but you can’t tell me that on the field, where these trades are supposed to count, that the Jets didn’t win this trade.
4. Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams
Philadelphia Gives: QB Nick Foles, 2015 fourth-round draft pick and 2016 second-round pick
St. Louis Gives: QB Sam Bradford and 2015 fifth-round draft pick
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
This trade is gutsy. I know the picks are there, but this is exchanging quarterbacks with the hope that the guy you got pans out more than the other guy. That’s why I like Philadelphia here.
Foles was productive in Philly’s offense over the past two seasons, but it is apparent that he has a ceiling and, frankly, I don’t know if I see Foles carrying a team deep into the playoffs. Personally, I think he was more a product of Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly and his creativity offensively, allowing Foles to oftentimes find receivers wide open downfield. Foles is an upgrade for St. Louis considering they could never seem to get Bradford on the field, but if healthy, I think Bradford is the superior quarterback and the margin may be larger than many expect.
Bradford has torn his left ACL in the last two seasons, which has stunted his development significantly. Throw in the fact that when he was healthy, he didn’t have anyone of significance to throw to and Bradford is perhaps the biggest question mark at the quarterback position in the NFL. I think those injuries were more bad luck than injury prone though and I believe he can be healthy for a full season. Under Kelly, a full season for Bradford could be huge. I like Bradford to come into his own in Philadelphia and flash the skills and awareness that he showed in his rookie year, making this a win for the Eagles.
Also, I’m highly doubting Kelly tries to trade up for Marcus Mariota in the NFL draft. I get it. He’s from Oregon and Kelly loves those Ducks, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Trading up requires pieces that you are willing to give up. I don’t think Bradford is valuable enough to quarterback-needy teams and I don’t think Kelly will give up more picks for Mariota. It’s a great storyline and something everyone is interested in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this trade for Bradford is because Kelly genuinely likes what Bradford offers.
5. New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans Gives: TE Jimmy Graham and 2015 fourth-round draft pick
Seattle Gives: C Max Unger and 2015 first-round draft pick
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
I know Unger is a great player and he will shore up the center of the offensive line to make things easier for quarterback Drew Brees in the middle of the pocket and I know New Orleans got a first-round pick in the deal, but come on… how can you not pick Seattle as the winners here?
Seattle gave up a first-round pick that doesn’t really even count as a first-round pick (31st overall) and a very good center for a talent that, following in the footsteps of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, has changed the entire face of the tight end position. Graham is an unstoppable force through the air and gives Seattle an incredible compliment to their power run game and punishing defense. Quarterback Russell Wilson finally will be able to let it loose to a difference-maker through the air and the second-best team in the NFL last season just got a whole lot better. I understand that Graham was hurt often last season (I had him on my fantasy team) and I understand that he comes with a large price tag, but if Seattle can afford him (they can), then they come out as big winners here. Losing the first-rounder and Unger hurts, but Seattle seems to find more success in the draft with later picks anyway. Plus, I don’t know if there are going to be any “Jimmy Graham caliber” players on the board with the 31st pick in the draft.
As for New Orleans, Unger is a great player who Seattle may find they miss more than they think when their run game is slow out of the gate next season, but you have to wonder what the Saints are planning. New Orleans went through a lot of trouble to re-sign Graham to a huge contract last season and less than a year later, they moved him, which doesn’t look too good on them. The more concerning thing for Saints fans has to be that a move like this (trading a star player in his prime) looks like the start of a rebuild. The big question now is if the Saints know it.