Understanding the Wacky NFL Trade Market

Updated: Apr 10


Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chiefs_181_(51616342470).jpg)


The whole NFL is losing its damn mind. Well, maybe not the whole NFL, but it sure feels like almost every team besides the two that appeared in the most recent Super Bowl are making rash, ill-advised, and desperate decisions. Just look at some these recent trades:


3/23/2022 - Kansas City Chiefs trade wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2022 1st-round pick, a 2022 2nd-round pick, a 2022 4th-round pick, a 2023 4th-round pick, and a 2023 6th-round pick


3/22/2022 - Atlanta Falcons trade quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2022 3rd-round pick


3/21/2022 - Houston Texans trade quarterback Deshaun Watson and a 2024 5th-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2022 1st-round pick, a 2023 1st-round pick, a 2023 3rd-round pick, a 2024 1st-round pick, and a 2024 4th-round pick


3/18/2022 - Green Bay Packers trade wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for a 2022 1st-round pick and a 2022 2nd-round pick


3/16/2022 - Seattle Seahawks trade quarterback Russell Wilson and a 2022 4th-round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2022 1st-round pick, a 2022 2nd-round pick, a 2022 5th-round pick, a 2023 1st-round pick, a 2023 2nd-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, and defensive end Shelby Harris


3/16/2022 - Dallas Cowboys trade wide receiver Amari Cooper and a 2022 6th-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2022 5th-round pick and a 2022 6th-round pick


3/09/2022 - Indianapolis Colts trade quarterback Carson Wentz and a 2022 2nd-round pick to the Washington Commanders in exchange for a 2022 2nd-round pick, a 2022 3rd-round pick, and a 2023 conditional 3rd-round pick


For the record, that's seven massive trades in little over two weeks. Stuff like this doesn’t usually happen in the NFL. Even stranger than the quantity of trades has been the utter lack of quality.


When examined closely, none of these trades make sense. Let’s start from the top…


Earlier today, it was reported that contract extension talks between Tyreek Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs had stalled. Next, came reports that Hill was given permission to seek a trade. Then, like a bolt of lightning, came the announcement that the Dolphins had agreed to a trade with the Chiefs to secure Hill’s services. On top of the package of picks they’re sending to the Chiefs, the Dolphins went ahead and made Hill the highest paid WR in the NFL.


The return the Chiefs got was massive, but it’s still curious that they would have been willing to part ways with one of the most explosive players in the NFL, and one of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets. Make no mistake, the Chiefs are worse today than they were yesterday. At the same time, you can understand why the Chiefs might be hesitant to make Hill the highest paid player at his position.


Hill, for all of his excellence on the field, has had a different story off the field. In December of 2014, Hill was kicked off Oklahoma State University’s football team following charges of domestic assault. He would later plead guilty and fall to the 5th-round of the 2016 NFL Draft because teams viewed him as a character risk. Given the police reported that Hill had thrown his 20-year old, pregnant girlfriend around his apartment like a “ragdoll,” sat on her, and repeatedly punched her in the stomach, I’d suggest that “character risk” doesn’t quite capture the violent nature of the crime.


In 2019, police investigated Hill’s residence in response to two allegations of child abuse. Although no charges were filed, an audio recording between Hill and his fiance discussing their son’s broken arm was leaked to the public. In the recording, Hill’s fiance says that their son is scared of him, to which Hill responds, “You should be afraid of me, too.” Seems like a swell guy.


Swell enough for the Dolphins, I guess. They went ahead and gave the Chiefs five draft picks, then turned around and gave Hill $72.2 million guaranteed.


Another huge trade involving a top five wideout was the Packers sending Davante Adams to the Raiders. This trade was notable for a couple of reasons. One, it was widely assumed that Aaron Rodgers, who agreed to a massive contract extension earlier in the offseason, was returning to Green Bay on the condition that Adams, his favorite target, would return as well. Two, upon acquiring said wideout, the Raiders made Adams the highest paid player at his position until the Dolphins and Hill eclipsed that deal today.


The Raiders paid a big price for Adams’ services. In addition to making him the (formerly) highest paid wide receiver, the Raiders sent the Packers their 1st and 2nd-round draft picks in 2022. Fortunately for the Raiders, Adams was teammates with quarterback David Carr in college at Fresno State. They had better hope this duo can replicate their college chemistry, otherwise this trade could get ugly fast.


This past Tuesday, another big trade was announced. The Indianapolis Colts, who have been trying to replace the retired Andrew Luck since 2019, acquired Matt Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons. The price? One, measly 2022 3rd-round pick. Yes, we’re talking about a 36-year old quarterback, but this is the same guy who took his team to the Super Bowl just six years ago and has an MVP to his name. If Russell Wilson is worth three first-round picks and three starting-caliber players, shouldn’t Ryan be worth at least one first? Am I going crazy?


The Browns, meanwhile, determined that they were not going to be outdone when it comes to wild quarterback moves. When the Browns announced that they were finalizing an agreement with the Texans to acquire Watson, it was a shock, not because the Browns weren’t seen as a good fit or that they already had quarterback Baker Mayfield on the roster, but because just days earlier it had been reported that the Browns were no longer in the Watson-sweepstakes. What changed?


Well, just one day after the Browns front office announced it was no longer pursuing Watson, a bomb was dropped on their heads: Mayfield, seeing the writing on the wall, demanded a trade. But this still begs the question: how did the Browns get back in the Watson trade frenzy?


I’m putting on my conspiracy-theory hat for a second. My best guess? When Mayfield announced he was demanding a trade, the Browns’ front office was put in an untenable situation. They couldn’t allow Mayfield’s trade demand to sabotage their 2022 season. So, in order to remedy the situation, the Browns’ reps contacted Watson's reps and made one thing clear: put Cleveland back in the running, and that $230 million contract you were offered by the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will be fully guaranteed.


It seems impossible to me that the Saints and Falcons would have been willing to put so much guaranteed money on the table for Watson’s services, given this is a player who, not only faces 22 civil lawsuits for sexual impropriety, but also hasn’t played football in over a year, and will likely be facing a suspension of at least six games during the 2022 season. Mayfield backed the Browns into a corner and this was their desperate attempt to get out.


Keep in mind, too, that in addition to giving Watson the most guaranteed money in the history of the NFL, the Browns also offered up three first-round picks. That’s paying a premium for past production. Now, this is not to say that Watson can’t be an excellent QB moving forward - he’s obviously been dynamic in the past - but Cleveland is taking a massive, massive risk.


It’s even more strange to see these enormous overpays in comparison to deals where teams managed to get excellent value. For the Browns, on the other end of the trade spectrum, they managed to acquire Amari Cooper and all they had to give up was a 5th-round pick and swap 6th-round picks with the Cowboys. That the Colts were able to get Ryan for a third-round pick should be illegal.


So, what do we make of all these trades…well, for one thing, it’s a good time to be in the sellers market. Teams are desperate. Draft picks have become glorified Monopoly money. Star players dominate the NFL landscape, and NFL teams are more willing than ever to move heaven and earth to get them.


All of this chaos suits teams like the Cincinnati Bengals perfectly. They have been content to sit back this offseason and watch as all these other franchises cannibalize themselves. Meanwhile, the Bengals quietly and efficiently attacked their lone weakness. The days of Joe Burrow being sacked 70 times are over, and the Bengals didn’t have to break the bank to do it.


At the same time, what the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed over the last two years is that pushing all your chips onto the table in pursuit of a Super Bowl win can pay off. When Tom Brady chose Tampa, they didn’t hesitate to bring in talents like Rob Gronkowski or Antonio Brown, no matter the long-term concerns. The Rams recognized they had a Super Bowl-caliber team, minus at quarterback, so they traded for Matthew Stafford and promptly won it all.


Not every team that made a big trade this offseason has a Super Bowl-caliber roster, though. That’s the rub. Teams like the Rams and Bucs demonstrated how to go all in when your team is ready, but the trick is knowing if and when your team is ready. Only one team can win the Super Bowl at a time. Things may seem peachy in Cleveland, Vegas, Miami and Denver now, but it's a pretty good bet that none of these teams will even sniff the Super Bowl.


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