Another trade deadline has come and gone, this one mildly eventful. The Rams, as they are wont to do, made the biggest splash by trading for Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, showing that Los Angeles likes its chances in a competitive NFC, if also revealing its loose-at-best understanding of the plot of Rounders. Other moves drew fewer headlines, but all have the potential to move the needle in one direction or the other. Welcome to Winners and Losers, trade deadline edition. Which one are you?
Winner: The Broncos’ 2022 Trade Package for Aaron Rodgers
The Broncos declared themselves sellers at the deadline when they traded Miller, one of their best defensive players and a team leader, on Monday. It’s a painful admission for a team that’s 4-4 with a plus-20 point differential in a wide-open AFC, but probably an honest one. The trade allows Denver to stock up for the future—the Broncos got a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick back from the Rams for Miller. That’s likely more than they would have been able to get for him straight up, but by agreeing to pay $9 million of the remaining $9.7 million Miller is owed on his current deal before he hits free agency after this season, the Broncos effectively bought an extra draft pick from the Rams as part of the transaction.
The Broncos now have 10 draft picks to spend next year, many of them high-value: Denver holds one first-round pick, two seconds, two thirds, one fourth, two fifths, a sixth-rounder they picked up late Tuesday from the Eagles in exchange for rookie cornerback Kary Vincent Jr., and two sevenths. We need only to look at the Rams side of the trade to be reminded of the philosophy that draft picks are only as valuable as the players they’re spent on, but the Broncos don’t necessarily need to turn around and spend those picks on college prospects who will always be unknown quantities. One other option looms large, and he happened to dress as John Wick for Halloween.
Winner: The Rams’ 2022 Undrafted Free Agent Class
The Rams’ disdain for draft picks comes with a caveat: They don’t like making high draft picks. While Los Angeles hasn’t made a first-round selection since 2016 and now doesn’t hold a non-compensatory pick in the 2022 draft until the fifth round, the Rams have selected 26 players combined in the past three drafts. Those players, in addition to undrafted free agents signed every season, aren’t important to the Rams in the same way that, say, Matthew Stafford, Miller, or Jalen Ramsey are, but they have value. When a team is as cap-stretched and veteran-heavy as Los Angeles is, rounding out the roster with cheap talent that can fill complementary roles is essential. A good player on a rookie contract is always a valuable asset, but there’s still a difference between (a) the $3.2 million average annual salary that the Jaguars pay Travis Etienne, the running back they took in the first round of last year’s draft using one of the picks the Rams traded them for Ramsey in 2019, and (b) the $1.2 million that Los Angeles pays a player like linebacker Ernest Jones or the $850,000 it pays guard David Edwards or defensive tackle Greg Gaines, all players drafted later than the 100th pick in their respective drafts who still play significant snap counts.
The TL;DR version is this: The driving philosophy behind the Rams’ picks-for-players strategy is to give up unproven assets for proven commodities, but there’s a secondary philosophy about volume drafting in the late rounds where players are cheaper that’s at play, too. It makes L.A. a good place to get drafted on Day 3 or signed as a college free agent, because the Rams need a good number of those players to make the team and to play.
Loser: The Broncos’ Halloween Party
One byproduct of the Miller trade was that several details of a Halloween party he hosted during his final days in Denver were revealed. Broncos tight end Noah Fant said during a radio interview Tuesday that Miller had been planning on hosting the party for teammates for some time, but had considered canceling it given that the team was losing, “and it kind of went south from there,” Fant said. Apparently, Quavo was going to be there. The party did happen (Fant said he didn’t go). Now Miller plays for the Rams. The moral of the story is that when the team Halloween party can’t stay drama-free it’s probably time to sell at the deadline. It is tough, though, if, in addition to a defensive leader, the Broncos also lost their party host.
Loser: Odell Beckham Jr. (and Also LeBron)
As a general rule of thumb it’s not good to be in the news around the trade deadline, but Beckham always seems to find a way. On Tuesday, his father, Odell Beckham Sr., posted a video on Instagram that highlighted situations in which quarterback Baker Mayfield failed to find Beckham Jr. when he was open. The caption on the post included the hashtags #ihurt4him #thisreallyhurts and #veryhurtful, in case the video did not make it clear that Beckham Sr. is upset by this. Soon after, noted Browns fan LeBron James posted this tweet:
OBJ will show again why he’s special. WR1 #FreeOBJ— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 2, 2021
The problem here is that Beckham Jr. isn’t exactly being held hostage. (LeBron did an excellent impression of Dads Watching Football by confidently muttering things like “draw play right here,” and “good Cover-2” on the Manning-cast several weeks ago, but his ability to accurately assess the NFL landscape might end there.) Beckham remains a talented player who, all things considered, Cleveland would probably rather have on its roster than not, but it’s beyond obvious that his Browns tenure hasn’t gone as planned. Beckham has averaged 54.7 receiving yards per game as a Brown and caught 54.3 percent of his targets, both well short of the 92.8 yards per game and 62.7 percent of targets caught he averaged as a Giant. Since 2019, Mayfield has a 69.0 passer rating when targeting Beckham, the lowest figure of any NFL quarterback and receiver with more than 100 passing attempts in that span. Just this season, Mayfield has a 77.8 passer rating when targeting Beckham and a 98.9 passer rating targeting anyone else. Beckham is staying in Cleveland, but that seems more likely to be because the Browns have reportedly not gotten any offers worth seriously considering for him than because they’re desperate to hang on to him.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ season has been a surprising disappointment so far. Still, at 4-4 and well within the AFC wild-card hunt, they decided to be buyers at the deadline. Kansas City traded a sixth-round pick to the Steelers for edge defender Melvin Ingram III on Tuesday, an attempt to improve a pass rush that ranks 32nd in sack rate, 16th in pressure rate, and 29th in expected points added (EPA) on defense so far this season. Despite their issues with turnovers, the Chiefs still rank sixth in offensive DVOA. Having a good offense while turning the ball over so frequently is hard, and it’s still easy to see Kansas City figuring things out with slightly better defensive play and more turnover luck later this year. Ingram, who didn’t cost much, probably represents the first part of that—slight defensive improvement. He’d been outplayed by Alex Highsmith in Pittsburgh but still had some solid moments earlier this season, including a sack and three quarterback hits in Week 2 against the Raiders and two quarterback hits in Week 4 against the Packers. The pass rush isn’t the biggest issue for the Chiefs’ defense, but Ingram, Frank Clark, Chris Jones, and Jarran Reed are a decent group for a team where “decent” would go a long way. The Chiefs weren’t quite done after trading for Ingram, either: They traded guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to the Jets for tight end Dan Brown.
Loser: The Tennessee Titans
The Titans were never going to be able to replace Derrick Henry, let’s first acknowledge that. The only silver lining they had from his injury, though, was that it took place before the trade deadline when, in theory, Tennessee had time to make a big move. That big move wound up being … 36-year-old Adrian Peterson.
The Titans were in a challenging spot, to be sure, but what’s concerning about their reaction is less that Peterson probably doesn’t have much left and more what it says about how Tennessee looks at solving the massive problem of losing Henry. “A lot of teams rely on multiple backs to run the football within their same scheme,” coach Mike Vrabel said on Monday. While that’s true, no other team had a unicorn at the position like Derrick Henry, a player who saw more eight-man boxes than any other running back in the NFL last season and still led the league in rushing yards over expectation.
The Titans’ most likely move going forward will be focusing more on their passing attack instead of trying to re-create Henry’s production using several players. There are worse ways to do that than with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, but if the Titans wanted to try adding to their receiving room before the deadline to help that cause, they missed their chance.
Loser: The Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were heavily linked to running back Marlon Mack ahead of the deadline, a pairing that made nothing but sense. Mack was buried on the depth chart in Indianapolis and had come to an agreement with Colts brass to find a trading partner. The Ravens are a run-heavy team that lost their top three backs during the preseason. But the Colts wound up needing depth at running back and held onto Mack. The Ravens, meanwhile, despite making real strides in their passing attack, didn’t do anything to shore up their shortcomings at running back or offensive line.
Winner: The Buffalo Bills
The Bills have the best roster in the AFC, and their main competitors stood pat at the deadline (see above). Josh Allen and Co. are enjoying their perch, perhaps from one of Allen’s cow-print barstools.
Loser: The Steelers’ Defensive Depth
The Steelers’ decision to move on from Ingram wasn’t purely motivated by what was happening on the field: According to NFL Network, Ingram was unhappy about losing snaps to Highsmith and had decided he wanted out of Pittsburgh. “It’s better to have volunteers as opposed to hostages,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. Still, the trade does hurt Pittsburgh’s depth at edge defender, an area where the team has dealt with injuries to both Highsmith and T.J. Watt this season. With Ingram gone, backup options are uninspiring: Derrek Tuszka becomes a primary reserve and practice-squad player Taco Charlton was added to the roster.
Winner: The Carolina Panthers
You would be forgiven for forgetting that it was the Panthers, all the way back on October 6, who kicked off this year’s trade action by sending a sixth-round pick to the Patriots for cornerback Stephon Gilmore. But it still counts! And it counts as a win, particularly after Gilmore shadowed tight end Kyle Pitts (the no. 4 pick) effectively in his first game active for the Panthers on Sunday. Gilmore held Pitts to just two catches for 13 yards and made a game-clinching interception, soon after which Pitts told reporters that Gilmore “kinda gave me a ‘Welcome to the NFL.’” Trading for Gilmore only took a sixth-round pick because of his contract, health questions (he’s battled a groin injury this season), and because he was on the outs in New England, but his track record as a two-time All-Pro makes it easier to believe his first performance with Carolina wasn’t fluky. The Panthers appear to have gotten a very good player for very little.