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The Winners and Losers From the NFL Trade Deadline

It was quiet—for some teams, it was too quiet. While a number of franchises made strides to improve their short- or long-term futures in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline, a number of others missed out on opportunities to improve their prospects.

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The NFL trade deadline has come and gone, and, well, it was anticlimactic. The Rams and Dolphins were the only teams to make a noteworthy move prior to the Tuesday cutoff, with L.A. sending cornerback Aqib Talib and a fifth-rounder to Miami for a future pick in what is little more than a salary dump. And despite rumors that big-name stars like Chris Harris Jr., Le’Veon Bell, Trent Williams, and Jamal Adams were actively on the block, blockbuster trades never materialized.

But as boring as the actual trade deadline was, when you add in a bevy of deals that have gone down over the last few weeks, there was more than enough action to impact the second half of the year. Here’s a quick memory jog: The Rams sent two first-round picks and a fourth to the Jags for cornerback Jalen Ramsey while shipping a fifth-rounder to the Browns for center Austin Corbett; the Giants offered up third- and fifth-rounders for defensive tackle Leonard Williams and $4 million; the Cardinals gave up a conditional sixth for running back Kenyan Drake; the Eagles sent a 2021 fourth to the Browns for Genard Avery; the Ravens sent linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-rounder to the Rams in exchange for cornerback Marcus Peters; the Patriots dealt a second to the Falcons for wideout Mohamed Sanu; the Seahawks gave the Lions a fifth-rounder for safety Quandre Diggs and a seventh; the Texans sent the Raiders a third for corner Gareon Conley; the Cowboys acquired defensive lineman Michael Bennett for a conditional 2021 seventh; and the 49ers sent third- and fourth-rounders to the Broncos for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-rounder.

With so much to digest, let’s take stock of some of the winners and losers from the NFL trade deadline.

Winner: Teams Tanking Well

Tanking is always a painful process—for both the team and its fans—and the Dolphins have been absolutely brutal to watch this year. But while Miami’s gotten outclassed by every opponent on the field, it’s obvious that there is, at the very least, a long-term plan in place. The team has off-loaded most of its high-value, tradable assets―most notably Minkah Fitzpatrick, Laremy Tunsil, and, this week, Drake―in order to accumulate a mountain of draft capital over the next two years. And on Tuesday, they traded a future pick for a fifth-rounder and Rams corner Aqib Talib, essentially taking on Talib’s contract for the rest of the year in exchange for that fifth-round pick from L.A., which is looking to clear some cap space to sign Ramsey to a long-term deal. Miami can afford the $5.8 million left on Talib’s deal this year, and in addition to all those picks, the team is projected to have an NFL-best $109 million and change in cap space going into 2020.

Of course, the Dolphins still must effectively use that massive cache of picks (they’ve got 13 selections in the 2020 draft, including three first-rounders and two second-rounders) and cap space to acquire the types of franchise-changing players who can turn them into a contender. But it’s hard to not respect their commitment to the proverbial process. Miami, more than any of the other cellar-dwellers this year, has gone all-in on its rebuild.

Loser: Teams Tanking Poorly

On the other hand, there’s the 0-8 Bengals. Cincinnati’s roster isn’t quite as bereft of talent as Miami’s, but the team’s performance this year proves the Bengals are in need of a massive, multiyear rebuild as well. Andy Dalton’s time in Cincinnati has likely come to an end; stars like A.J. Green and Geno Atkins aren’t getting any younger; and there’s holes at just about every position on the roster. Cincy’s best bet would’ve been to embrace reality, punt the second half of the season, accumulate picks, and build up cap space (which right now is projected to be a middle-of-the-pack $55 million in 2020) by trading away big-money contracts of its aging veterans.

Only, the team doesn’t seem interested in doing any of that. Instead, they are reportedly taking the position that “it’s not their job to make other teams better” and that they still “care a lot about winning football games this year.” The Dolphins are trying to be bad; the Bengals are just bad.

Winner: The Jets

The Jets are bad, yes, but they’re in a different stage of rebuild than the Bengals and Dolphins. With a potential franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold playing on his cheap rookie contract for the next three years, the Jets should be in the business of creating a strong support system around Sam Darnold, not trading key pieces away. By avoiding the temptation of dealing Le’Veon Bell, Robby Anderson, and defensive stud Jamal Adams, the Jets were, perhaps inadvertently, winners at the trade deadline.

Loser: The Jets

The team has already denied putting Adams and Bell on the block, but considering the deluge of reports on negotiations for a deal with Dallas, the damage might already be done. Adam Gase has already proven himself more than capable of alienating one of his best players in Bell, and new GM Joe Douglas may have done the same with Adams.

Winner: The Guys Who Woke Up on Contenders

The NFL’s a business, and everyone’s getting paid—but it just can’t be very fun to go in to work every day and put your body on the line playing for one of the worst teams in the league. Careers are short in the NFL, competitors want to win, and every losing season represents one fewer chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

For Mohamed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders, getting moved in the runup to the trade deadline probably felt a little bit like winning the lottery. Thirty-year-old Sanu goes to the team that robbed him of the chance for a Super Bowl ring back in Super Bowl LI; he leaves the quagmire that is the 1-7 Falcons and heads to an 8-0 New England team that’s chugging along toward a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance. Thirty-two-year old Sanders, meanwhile, ditches the spiraling Broncos and get a shot at a second Super Bowl ring with the juggernaut 49ers.

Loser: The Guys Who Woke Up on Cellar-Dwellers

Sorry, Aqib. At least you won’t have to pay state income tax in Florida.

Winner: The Rams’ Coaching Staff

Jalen Ramsey is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, a sticky man-to-man defender with size, speed, and plenty of physicality against the run. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who’s renowned for his ability to fit scheme to the talents of his personnel, can do just about anything he wants with Ramsey, whether that means asking him to travel with opposing no. 1s, blitzing him off the edge, playing press, or playing off-coverage looks. Ramsey is, simply put, an elite shutdown cornerback, and the former Jaguar brings the potential to play on an island on his side, erasing one-third of the field for opposing passers. That opens up a whole new world of schematic tweaks for the Rams coaching staff.

Loser: The Rams’ Draft Scouting Department

Adding an elite talent to the secondary didn’t come free, though, and L.A. sent Jacksonville two first-rounders (one in 2020, one in 2021) and a 2021 fourth in the Ramsey deal. Add in a 2020 fifth-rounder in the Talib trade and a 2021 fifth for Corbett and the Rams have offloaded an incredible amount of draft capital for the next few years to acquire pieces for immediate contention.

After all its wheeling and dealing, L.A. now has five picks in the 2020 draft and just four in 2021.

Winner: The Giants’ Hog Molly Quotient

Giants GM Dave Gettleman has never been shy about his love for building through the trenches, and that was again abundantly clear on Monday when he sent third- and fifth-round picks to the Jets for defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Williams is an athletic lineman with plenty of upside and joins a talented interior-line crew that includes B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and 2019 first-rounder Dexter Lawrence. New York is certainly not short on Hog Mollies.

Loser: The Giants’ Important Player Quotient

When it comes to both short- and long-term championship roster building, Gettleman probably should’ve focused on other, more crucial positions … like, say, edge rusher, cornerback, offensive line, or receiver. In the short term, the 2-6 Giants aren’t another interior defensive lineman away from contention. And in the long term, there’s no guarantee Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season, will even re-sign in New York.

Loser: The Redskins

Washington’s dogged resistance to trading Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams reached absurd new heights on Tuesday. Rotoworld’s Pat Daugherty summed it up best: