Three hundred sixty-five days ago, Kansas City and Washington opened the offseason trade market by swapping quarterback Alex Smith for corner Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick. The move made sense for both sides; Washington suddenly had a plug-and-play replacement for the departing Kirk Cousins, while Kansas City got badly needed help in its secondary and opened up a spot in the lineup for 2017 first-rounder Patrick Mahomes.
You know what happened next. Smith led Washington to first place in the NFC East before going down with a career-threatening leg injury. Fuller struggled in his debut season with Kansas City, but all Mahomes did was post one of the best seasons from any quarterback in league history during his first season as a starter. He’s the favorite to win league MVP honors this weekend.
In a league in which trades are far more common than they were in years past, one deal can be enough to transform a franchise. There are at least three teams that might not have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the deals they made over the past 12 months. Every trade can’t hope to live up to that standard, but amid the various swaps we’ve seen, there’s plenty left to discuss and analyze.
Let’s evaluate the 30 most impactful trades from the past 365 days and give some perspective on what happened next. Some of those deals seemed significant at the time before petering out, while others that seemed innocuous yielded tangible, immediate results. I’m ordering and grading them in terms of how they impacted the 2018 season as opposed to picking one side or the other, so even though the Smith trade didn’t really work out for Washington for reasons it couldn’t have expected, the move had a significant effect on what happened to both teams.
Let’s work our way toward the most impactful trades of the year and begin with the moves that didn’t quite shake the foundations of the NFL:
These are the moves that might have seemed important when they were made but bore little consequence after:
Tyrod Taylor‘s move to the Cleveland Browns ended up being a bust, as Hue Jackson showed little aptitude with his new quarterback before benching the former Buffalo Bills starter for rookie Baker Mayfield.
The Oakland Raiders made a pair of utterly useless moves in giving up a third-round pick for Martavis Bryant and a fifth-round selection for AJ McCarron, who combined to play 232 offensive snaps in 2018.
Over the summer, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones suggested that new acquisition Tavon Austin would touch the ball 12-24 times per game on offense. The former Los Angeles Rams wideout ended up with just 14 touches all season.
The Teddy Bridgewater trade seemed like a fascinating gambit from the New Orleans Saints, but Bridgewater threw only one pass before a rusty performance in a meaningless Week 17 start against Carolina. With the Saints mostly capped out and Drew Brees returning, New Orleans will have to resist the lure of free agency to recoup a draft pick for the popular former Minnesota Vikings starter.
The Jacksonville Jaguars traded a fifth-round pick for Carlos Hyde after the Browns starter averaged 3.4 yards per carry on his first 114 rushing attempts. They gave Hyde 58 carries over the subsequent eight games and he averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Demaryius Thomas offered the Houston Texans some sorely needed help at receiver after Will Fuller went down, but the longtime Denver Broncos star averaged less than 40 receiving yards per game before tearing his Achilles tendon in December.
The former New England Patriots running the Tennessee Titans organization went against Bill Belichick’s propensity for trading down by moving up for a pair of front-seven pieces in last year’s draft. Linebacker Rashaan Evans struggled early with a hamstring injury and didn’t seem to find a set role in the lineup before playing better in December. The other defender makes the list below:
30. Washington buys help for its playoff run
Packers trade: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Washington trades: 2019 fourth-round pick
This trade made a lot more sense when it went down, given that Washington was 5-2 and had a 50.9 percent shot of making the postseason, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. It was clear that the Packers didn’t intend to keep around the free agent Clinton-Dix after the season, and while D.J. Swearinger was breaking out for Washington, going after the rangy first-round pick made tons of sense for Jay Gruden’s team. It didn’t work. Clinton-Dix was thrown into the lineup immediately and struggled, while the team’s playoff chances were shredded by a series of offensive injuries.
Impact grade: D+
29. Giants get linebacker help
Rams trade: LB Alec Ogletree, 2019 seventh-round pick
Giants trade: 4-135, 6-176
The Rams helped make space for their offseason acquisitions by trading Ogletree to the Giants, who have needed help at inside linebacker seemingly since Antonio Pierce left after the 2009 season. The Georgia product didn’t dramatically propel the Giants’ defense forward — it ranked 24th in defensive DVOA for the second consecutive season — but he did rack up two short pick-sixes, which is fun.
Impact grade: D+
28. Titans trade up for a pass-rusher
Raiders trade: 2-41
Titans trade: 2-57, 3-89
General manager Jon Robinson moved up to grab former Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry as a presumptive replacement for Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo. Titans fans would have been delighted to hear in August that Landry would manage to produce more sacks than Morgan and Orakpo combined, but with both veterans missing time, their two combined totals weren’t even half of Landry’s 4.5. Landry did rack up 14 quarterback knockdowns, and using the 45 percent rule, his 6.3 expected sack total suggests he’s likely to take a step forward in 2019. With Khalil Mack on the roster at the time, the Raiders clearly had no need to grab a young pass-rusher in this spot.
Impact grade: C-
27. Eagles nab a pass-catcher at midseason
Lions trade: WR Golden Tate
Eagles trade: 2019 third-round pick
How much is one catch worth? Tate seemed to become a burden on the Eagles’ offense, which was already overfilled with options in the slot, and the former Seahawks and Lions standout racked up just 25.3 receiving yards per game with a lone touchdown during his eight games in Philly. After being marginalized, though, Tate came through with a big 28-yard catch over the middle of the field against the Bears in the wild-card game before bringing in a fourth-down throw from two yards out for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 16-15 lead with 1:01 to go.
Tate finished his season with 18 yards against the Saints in the divisional round, and with the Eagles in rough salary-cap straits, he has likely played his last game in a Philly uniform. General manager Howie Roseman gave up a third-round pick and paid Tate $3.7 million, but with the Eagles likely sitting out unrestricted free agency, they should recoup a compensatory pick in 2020 for their troubles. With a wildly unimpressive wideout market available, Tate should get in excess of $10 million per year on a short-term deal, which should be enough to net the Eagles a fourth-round selection.
Impact grade: C-
26. Dolphins acquire a defensive end
Rams trade: DE Robert Quinn, 6-209
Dolphins trade: 4-111, 6-183
The Rams essentially shipped off their former Defensive Player of the Year candidate for cap space, as Los Angeles ended up using the $10.3 million it saved by trading Quinn as part of the package to entice Ndamukong Suh to town. The Dolphins, who cut Suh, clearly saw themselves emulating the Eagles by building a deep rotation of edge rushers. It didn’t go well.
William Hayes tore his ACL; 2017 first-rounder Charles Harris missed a month with a calf injury and finished with one sack; Andre Branch continued to underwhelm after signing an inexplicable extension before 2017; and 36-year-old Cameron Wake slowed down some amid a knee scope. Quinn had just one sack in the first half of the season before racking up 5.5 takedowns over a six-week span afterward. He could be on the move again this offseason.
Impact grade: C-
25. Bengals trade for a left tackle
Bills trade: OT Cordy Glenn, 1-21, 5-158
Bengals trade: 1-12, 6-187
In desperate need of help protecting Andy Dalton after the organization let Andrew Whitworth leave town, the Bengals officially called an end to the Cedric Ogbuehi experiment and traded for Glenn, who immediately stepped in at left tackle. The 6-foot-6 Georgia product suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason and missed three games with a back injury, but Stats LLC suggests Glenn allowed just one sack in 13 games.
The Bengals’ offense faded after a hot start, but that was mostly thanks to the injuries suffered by Dalton and A.J. Green. The Bills could have used their former first-round pick to protect Josh Allen, but given that they used the 12th overall pick to trade up and grab the Wyoming product, keeping Glenn might have prevented them from drafting their new quarterback.
Impact grade: C
24. 49ers trade up for a speedy receiver
Washington trades: 2-44, 5-142
49ers trade: 2-59, 3-74
The 49ers gave up a surprisingly large haul to move up and grab Dante Pettis; picks 59 and 74 amount to 15.8 points in the Chase Stuart draft value chart, roughly equivalent to the 19th overall pick in a typical draft. It seemed curious given that the team already seemingly had too many weapons within Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but after everyone besides George Kittle went down injured, Pettis emerged as Nick Mullens‘ top target.
Over a four-week stretch from Weeks 12-15, Pettis caught 17 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. That’s not enough to proclaim Pettis as a guaranteed starter going forward, but that late-season blip could augur a season-long breakout with Jimmy Garoppolo back in 2019.
Impact grade: C
23. Browns get their No. 1 wideout
Dolphins trade: WR Jarvis Landry
Browns trade: 4-123, 2019 seventh-round pick
The Dolphins placed the franchise tag on Landry in the hopes of getting a draft pick and ended up netting a fourth-rounder from the Browns. Miami appears to have used the seventh-rounder to acquire 16-game starter Akeem Spence from the Lions. The fourth-round pick was used on tight end Durham Smythe, who caught six passes as a rookie. After signing Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson last offseason, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains bizarrely suggested that the Dolphins would use three tight ends for stretches in 2018; in the end, Miami used 13 personnel 33 times for 64 yards and just five first downs, each of which ranked among the lowest marks in football.
The bigger name in the trade was Landry, who signed a five-year, $75.5 million deal with the Browns after coming over from Miami. His first year in Ohio was uneven. Landry wasn’t used as a source of cheap yards in his new home; his average target traveled 10.8 yards in the air, way up from the almost comically low 6.6-yard average Landry worked with during his three years in Miami. Simultaneously, though, Landry went from catching nearly 69 percent of his passes from 2015 to 2017 in Miami to just 54.4 percent in Cleveland last season. The changes weren’t for the better, as Landry finished 79th in individual receiving DVOA, suggesting that the Browns might need to return Landry to his specialized role to get the sort of return they were hoping to garner from their top wideout.
Impact grade: C
22. Patriots take a flier on a talented pass-catcher
Browns trade: WR Josh Gordon, 2019 seventh-round pick
Patriots trade: 2019 fifth-round pick
Bill Belichick tried to find a weapon for his depleted receiving corps by swapping picks with the Browns to acquire Gordon, but while the Pats immediately inserted the one-time star into their starting lineup, Gordon lasted only 11 games before stepping away from the team to focus on his mental health. The NFL suspended Gordon for violating the league’s substance abuse policy shortly thereafter, and his professional future is once again uncertain.
Impact grade: C
21. Cardinals get their quarterback
Raiders trade: 1-10
Cardinals trade: 1-15, 3-79, 5-152
To get Josh Rosen, the Cardinals sent 26.8 points of value on the Chase Stuart draft value chart, roughly somewhere between the third and fourth overall pick. In Year 1, though, Rosen wasn’t an impact contributor. It seems fair to assign a huge chunk of the blame to an offensive line that was starting five backups by December.
The Raiders, meanwhile, used the 15th pick on Kolton Miller, who had an uneven season at left tackle. The 79th pick went to the Steelers for Martavis Bryant, which was a disastrous waste of a good pick. Oakland then traded 152 to the Ravens as part of the package to move up from 75 to 65, where it drafted fellow starting tackle Brandon Parker. Getting two starting linemen out of one trade is impressive, but Miller and Parker combined to allow 21.5 sacks in 2018, per Stats LLC.
Impact grade: C
20. Rams acquire a veteran corner
Broncos trade: CB Aqib Talib
Rams trade: 5-160
This trade would rank much higher if Talib had stayed healthy; the Rams allowed a passer rating of just 69.0 with Talib on the field, but when the veteran corner was taking a breather or sidelined by a midseason ankle injury, Wade Phillips’ defense allowed a passer rating of 108.6. Roughly, the Rams were the Bears with Talib on the field and the Bengals with Talib unavailable, but the Kansas product missed more than 63 percent of dropbacks. You get the feeling this figure might rise if we were including the Super Bowl to come.
Impact grade: C+
19. Rams get midseason edge-rush help
Jaguars trade: OLB/DE Dante Fowler Jr.
Rams trade: 2019 third-round pick
Like Tate, Fowler didn’t make much of an impact during the regular season, as the former third overall pick picked up only two sacks and five knockdowns in eight games for L.A. And like Tate, Fowler came up with a huge play in the postseason when he hit Drew Brees in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, forcing an interception that eventually set up the game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein. The difference, of course, is that Tate’s play pushed the Eagles to only the divisional round, while Fowler’s sack helped send the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Fowler has 1.5 sacks in two postseason games, and if he has a big night against the Patriots on Sunday, the 24-year-old is likely going to collect more money than you might think in free agency this offseason. The Rams would probably have to bow out of that bidding and settle for draft-pick compensation, just like the Eagles will with Tate.
Impact grade: C+
18. New Orleans trades up for an edge rusher
Packers trade: 1-14
Saints trade: 1-27, 5-147, 2019 first-round pick (1-30)
We’re not paying enough attention to just how much the Saints paid to move up to grab pass-rusher Marcus Davenport in the middle of the first round. They finished with the third-lowest draft pick in football for 2019 and, by the Stuart chart, still managed to give the Packers 29.3 points of draft capital. That’s something between the second and third overall pick in a typical draft, and it’s not even for the sort of quarterback the Saints expect to take over from Drew Brees for the next decade.
Instead, New Orleans used two first-round picks to move up to draft Davenport, who was regarded as a promising project coming out of UTSA. What we saw in 2018 was, well, a promising project. Davenport racked up 4.5 sacks and 12 knockdowns in 13 games while rotating in at defensive end. He missed three games with a toe injury, and it’s still absolutely too early to say whether the 22-year-old Davenport will turn into a superstar, but the Saints paid for this pick as if he were the top player on their board. The break-even for this trade is Davenport maturing into Calais Campbell. It’s tough for this sort of investment to work out for any draft candidate who isn’t a quarterback.
Impact grade: C+
17. Patriots turn a returner into a … running back?
Raiders trade: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, 6-210
Patriots trade: 5-159
When the Patriots traded for Patterson in March, it looked like New England was buying low on a successful kick returner who was out of favor with the new regime in Oakland. That part was true, given that the 27-year-old Patterson averaged 28.8 yards per return and took a kickoff 95 yards to the house in a 38-31 victory over the Bears. What nobody could have expected, though, is that Bill Belichick would see a 220-pound struggling wide receiver and turn him into a power running back. Patterson carried the ball 42 times for 228 yards this season and played a regular role at halfback when the Pats were down Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill and Sony Michel for a stretch in midseason.
Impact grade: C+
16. Buffalo grabs its quarterback of the future
Buccaneers trade: 1-7, 7-255
Bills trade: 1-12, 2-53, 2-56
While the final trade to get Josh Allen involved three picks, the Bills needed to make several other deals to get these selections in the first place. On the whole, the Bills dealt Cordy Glenn and Sammy Watkins along with the 21st, 53rd, 158th and 195th selections to acquire E.J. Gaines along with the 7th, 187th and 255th picks in the draft. Gaines lasted only one year with the Bills, so Buffalo needs Allen to pan out for this deal to work.
Year 1 with Allen in charge was a mixed bag at best; the first-round pick was excellent as a scrambler but struggled mightily with the downfield throws that were supposed to be his calling card. The Bills went 4-3 over their final seven games, but those four wins were over the Jets, Jaguars, Lions and Dolphins. The Bills have plenty of cap room to work with this offseason, and they’ll go after weapons to help their second-year passer in 2019.
Impact grade: C+
15. Bills move up for an every-down linebacker
Ravens trade: 1-16, 5-154
Bills trade: 1-22, 3-65
The more productive of Buffalo’s first-round picks in Year 1, by a significant margin, was Tremaine Edmunds. The Virginia Tech product filled up every line in the stat sheet, racking up two interceptions, two sacks, seven quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and 12 passes defensed. The latter ranked second among linebackers, and Edmunds led the team in unassisted tackles. With Edmunds, Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White, the Bills have an exciting young defensive core under coach Sean McDermott.
Impact grade: B-
14. Lions get a snack
Giants trade: DT Damon Harrison
Lions trade: 2019 fifth-round pick
When you acquire “Snacks” Harrison, you know what you’re getting: a dominant anchor for your run defense. Before acquiring Harrison, the Lions were allowing opposing teams to average 5.3 yards per carry and convert 25.5 percent of their runs into first downs. After getting Snacks away from the Giants, though, Matt Patricia’s defense allowed just 3.0 yards per carry and first downs just 15.4 percent of the time while Harrison was on the field. The 30-year-old tackle even chipped in with 3.5 sacks and seven knockdowns. He was everything the Lions could have hoped for when they made this trade, although the upgrade didn’t do much on the whole for a dismal defense.
Impact grade: B-
13. Rams get an All-Pro cornerback
Chiefs trade: CB Marcus Peters, 6-209
Rams trade: 4-124, 2019 second-round pick
Few teams are interested in trading an All-Pro at a key position as he turns 25, but the Chiefs seemed adamant about dealing Peters after an up-and-down 2017 season. Kansas City’s cornerbacks were a mess before dealing Peters and continued to give Bob Sutton’s defense fits in 2018, but the Rams didn’t get the sort of shutdown play they were hoping for from their new addition. Peters picked off three passes and took one to the house, but he was badly torched by top receivers and struggled with Aqib Talib out of the lineup.
Peters remains enigmatic; he could pick off Tom Brady twice on Sunday and win Super Bowl MVP, or he could just as easily be the target of the Patriots’ offense. It remains to be seen whether the Rams will sign him to an extension this offseason.
Impact grade: B-
12. Packers move up for cornerback help
Seahawks trade: 1-18, 7-248
Packers trade: 1-27, 3-76, 6-186
After trading down with the Saints as part of the Marcus Davenport deal, the Packers used a third-round pick as the bait to move back up and draft Jaire Alexander. While they struggled mightily with injuries on defense, Green Bay has to be delighted with their first-round pick. As the season went on, the Packers gave him more and more responsibilities against the team’s top receiver. Bill Belichick, of all people, said Alexander would be “one of the top corners in the game for quite a while here,” which is good enough for us.
Impact grade: B
11. The Browns find a free safety
The various picks involved make this something like Kizer and the 193rd pick in the draft for Randall, which ended up as a huge steal for the Browns. While Kizer was going to be buried on the depth chart and posted a 40.5 passer rating in limited time for the Packers, Randall stepped in and excelled as Cleveland’s free safety.
The Browns finished with the fourth-best passer rating in the league against deep passes, and the ranginess of the former cornerback in center field played a huge role in inhibiting deep throws. Randall’s arrival also freed the Browns to push Jabrill Peppers forward toward the line of scrimmage. Randall is likely to sign an extension as early as this offseason.
Impact grade: B
10. Buccaneers finally get a productive edge rusher
Giants trade: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, 4-102
Buccaneers trade: 3-69, 4-108
Tampa didn’t do much of anything right on defense in 2018, but the trade for JPP netted the Bucs their best single season from an edge rusher in more than a decade. Pierre-Paul finished with 12.5 sacks, becoming the first Buccaneers defender to top 10 sacks in a season since Simeon Rice in 2005. The 30-year-old hadn’t topped the 10-sack mark himself since the 2014 campaign. He also chipped in with 16 tackles for loss, and while the Bucs’ defense was a horrific mess, Pierre-Paul wasn’t to blame.
Impact grade: B
9. Eagles add to their defensive line depth for cheap
The Seahawks clearly decided that they wanted to move on from Bennett this past offseason, but it’s hard to believe there wasn’t more of a market for one of the league’s most underrated pass-rushers. The three years and $20.9 million left on Bennett’s deal made him a relative bargain given the cost of edge rushers, and the 32-year-old continued to deliver during his debut season in Philly.
Bennett racked up nine sacks and a whopping 30 quarterback knockdowns, good for the fourth most in football, all while playing a relatively modest 69 percent of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps. Johnson never caught a pass in a Seahawks uniform before moving onto the Colts, but the Seahawks did use the 156th pick to help move up and grab All-Pro punter Michael Dickson at 149.
Impact grade: B+
8. Another Giants defender goes to the NFC South and excels
Saints trade: 2019 fourth-round pick, 2020 seventh-round pick
Giants trade: CB Eli Apple
It’s no surprise that the Giants moved on from their former first-round pick, as Apple fell out of favor during a disastrous 2017 season and wasn’t drafted by the current regime. What was surprising, instead, is that Apple went to the Saints and almost immediately upgraded the weakest point in their starting lineup by taking over for Ken Crawley at cornerback.
The Saints allowed a passer rating of 92.7 with Apple on the field, a mark that fell to 111.5 when Apple was on the sidelines. In a league in which cheap starting cornerbacks are nearly impossible to find, the Saints have the 23-year-old Apple under contract for two more seasons on his rookie deal.
Impact grade: B+
7. Ravens trade up for a Heisman Trophy winner
Eagles trade: 1-32, 4-132
Ravens trade: 2-52, 4-125, 2019 second-round pick
After years of watching Joe Flacco flirt with mediocrity, Ravens fans had to be delighted when general manager Ozzie Newsome traded up in his final draft before retirement to grab a new quarterback. Lamar Jackson spent the first half of the year as a part-time player, but when Flacco went down with a hip injury, the Ravens pushed Jackson into the lineup and reaped the benefits. The Louisville product went 6-1 as a starter and shouldered an enormous amount of the offensive workload as a runner, racking up 119 carries over the final seven games. The offense fell apart in an ugly wild-card loss to the Chargers, but the Ravens have begun a new era with their promising young passer.
Impact grade: B+
6. Washington trades for a starting quarterback
Knowing that they were going to lose Kirk Cousins in free agency, Washington got ahead of the situation by agreeing to a trade for Smith in January. It seemed like a logical move to target a high-ceiling veteran, and while Smith didn’t play as well as he did during his final year in Kansas City, Washington was 6-3 when Smith went down with a gruesome broken leg against the Texans in Week 11. Jay Gruden’s team lost that game and went 1-5 the rest of the way, with their only win coming over a Cody Kessler-led Jags team.
The Smith deal might end up proving catastrophic, at least in the short term. It’s unclear whether Smith will ever play again. In 2019, Washington will owe Smith a guaranteed $15 million base salary as part of a $20.4 million cap hit. If Smith can’t pass a physical for the 2020 season, Washington would owe the former first overall pick a $16 million base salary as part of a $21.4 million cap hit. Washington would be able to move on from Smith in 2021 with $10.8 million in dead money on its cap. It’s obviously something they couldn’t have anticipated when they made the trade, but it could turn out to be disastrous for the organization.
Impact grade: A-
5. The Patriots get a tackle on the cheap
49ers trade: OT Trent Brown, 5-143
Patriots trade: 3-95
How did the Patriots pull this off? Given Kyle Shanahan’s affinity for smaller, quicker linemen, it’s not a surprise that the 49ers didn’t think the 6-foot-8, 380-pound Brown was a great fit for their scheme. When the 49ers drafted Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey in the first round, they no longer had a need for their former right tackle, who finished the year on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and was set to hit free agency after the 2018 season.
The Patriots didn’t necessarily have a need for a tackle after drafting Isaiah Wynn in the first round to partner with Marcus Cannon, but Bill Belichick saw an opportunity to grab a starting-caliber lineman for draft capital amounting to the 153rd pick in a typical draft. Brown and Wynn were likely going to compete for a starting spot, but when the rookie tore his Achilles in August, Brown slotted in as the Pats’ left tackle and delivered a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Belichick actually found two starters out of this deal, as the 143rd pick was used on Ja’Whaun Bentley, who began the year as a starting linebacker before going on injured reserve. (The 49ers drafted defensive back Tarvarius Moore with their pick.) The Pats will struggle to re-sign Brown, who will attract significant attention in free agency, but given their usual spending habits, they’ll probably end up netting a third-round compensatory pick in the same ballpark as the one they initially sent to the 49ers as part of the swap. In other words, the Patriots simply delayed their late third-round pick two years and came away from the move with a starting linebacker and one year of great play on Tom Brady’s blind side. Belichick is good at this.
Impact grade: A-
4. Rams add another weapon for Jared Goff
Rams trade: 1-23, 6-198
Patriots trade: WR Brandin Cooks, 4-136
Speaking of brilliant moves from Belichick, I wrote in April about how the Patriots coach rented a year of Cooks for what amounted to $1.9 million and a sixth-round pick. The Patriots sent a first-rounder to the Saints for Cooks and then got a first-round pick back from the Rams, who signed Cooks to a five-year, $81 million extension after the trade.
The remarkably consistent Cooks delivered another high-production season. Over the past four seasons, Cooks has played all 16 games and has been targeted between 7.1 and 8.1 times per game. He has caught between 4.0 and 5.1 passes per game, racking up 67.6 yards to 75.3 yards per game on those throws. His touchdowns have fallen in four consecutive seasons from nine down to five, but given the Rams’ emphasis on running in short-yardage situations, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The Rams are paying Cooks like a superstar, and he hasn’t yet had that dominant campaign as a pro, but the Oregon State product continued to show a dramatically high floor in 2018 and doesn’t turn 26 until September.
Impact grade: A-
3. The Jets trade up for a quarterback
Colts trade: 1-3
Jets trade: 1-6, 2-37, 2-49, 2019 second-round pick
As fans and the league on the whole generally underrate second-round picks, it’s fair to say the Jets gave up a huge haul when they might have been settling for the third-best quarterback in the draft. Now that we know the Jets will send the second pick in the second round to the Colts to finish this swap, Indy sent 27.6 points of draft capital to the Jets and got 56.7 points back in return. That’s a difference of 29.1 points, which is somewhere between the second and third overall pick in a typical draft. By trading down, the Colts managed to more than double the value of the pick they held and generated a second top-three pick out of nothing. That’s a huge victory before any picks have been made.
The Jets ended up with Sam Darnold, of course, and we’ll know a lot more about whether Darnold is their long-term answer in the years to come, but he didn’t make much of an impact in 2018. The Colts enjoyed a more immediate impact from their selections. At No. 6, Indy chose guard Quenton Nelson, who was a first-team All-Pro. The 37th pick was on fellow lineman Braden Smith, who allowed three sacks in 13 starts while settling in at right tackle. Indy traded down from the 49th selection and picked up an extra fifth-round pick from the Eagles. The two picks from that trade went on Kemoko Turay, who generated four sacks and 13 knockdowns as a rookie, and Jordan Wilkins, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 60 runs as a reserve running back. Indy might very well have chosen Nelson at No. 3, but by trading down, they managed to pick up three players who were immediate contributors to a playoff team.
Impact grade: A
2. The Cowboys transform their offense
When I wrote about the Cooper trade in October, the best arguments I could find to justify Dallas’ outlay were the idea that the Cowboys needed to evaluate Dak Prescott and that the 3-4 Cowboys still had a reasonable shot at winning a wide-open NFC East.
I don’t think the Cowboys could even have imagined things would go as well as they did, though. Cooper had one of the best three-game stretches in recent memory, racking up 473 yards and five touchdowns in a crucial series of victories over Washington, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Prescott posted a passer rating of 104.6 with Cooper on the field, with that mark falling to 86.8 when Cooper was on the Raiders or on the Dallas sidelines.
The division then broke for the Cowboys after Alex Smith went down with an injury. The Cowboys lost their first game with Cooper and then went 7-1 down the stretch, including a 4-0 mark in the NFC East. Cooper added 166 yards and a touchdown in two playoff games. The move seemed curious at the time, but it’s difficult to imagine Cooper leaving Dallas anytime soon. This one worked out for Jerry Jones & Co.
Impact grade: A
1. The Bears go all-in for a dominant edge rusher
What else could top this list? The Bears were better than you thought on defense in 2017 and extremely likely to improve in 2018, but Mack took the defense to another level. He thoroughly dominated in the first half of the Week 1 opener against the Packers, and while the Bears ended up losing that game, he was a game-changing force for most of the season. Mack finished with 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. The Bears would have been a good defense without him, but when he wasn’t 100 percent, Chicago allowed 31 points to the Dolphins and 24 points to the Patriots before unsurprisingly dominating Sam Darnold and Nathan Peterman while Mack rested his ankle. I don’t need to tell you Mack was great.
The Raiders, meanwhile, finished the year with just 13 sacks on defense, the second-worst total of the past 20 seasons. Mack wouldn’t have saved the Raiders from an obscure 2018 campaign, but they had absolutely no solution in his absence. They will almost certainly have to use at least one of the picks they get from the Mack trade to go after a pass-rusher, and the chances of that defender coming close to Mack’s impact aren’t particularly high.
Judging a trade like this after one year isn’t really fair in most cases. The Raiders haven’t even drafted any of the players who would form the return of this deal. Given that the Raiders reportedly chose Chicago’s offer because they expected the Bears to return high draft picks, though, it’s hard to argue that they scouted their possibilities well. It also served as the white flag for Oakland’s season before it even began. The most impactful trades in a typical season will transform one team. This trade transformed two.
Impact grade: A+