The NFL’s trade market has been busier than ever lately. Top receivers, quarterbacks, and defenders have all been traded recently, and there’s more to come. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 33 of the 52 transactions conducted in 2021 contained 1st or 2nd round selections, or 63.5%; the highest rate since 2016 and the second-highest in the last decade.
There’s a couple of major factors at play here, the two major ones being the salary cap and players are voicing their opinions more on their situations. The salary cap has grown significantly over the years, and player salaries have not always grown with it. The new seventeenth game will also make the cap grow more over the years, accounting for more roster flexibility and the ability to take on bigger contracts via trade. Following the model from the NBA of switching teams easily, more and more players are demanding trades.
The NFL can change significantly each offseason, and today I’ll be breaking down the top three big trades each year since 2018. The articles will release separately, one for each year.
The Khalil Mack Trade
When Jon Gruden got the coaching gig in Oakland, the first thing he did was try to trade standout players and acquire picks for a rebuild. This started with former defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Mack was a star in Oakland, with 40.5 sacks, 64 tackles for loss, and 84 quarterback hits. Mack didn’t want to negotiate a new contract with Oakland, and they were forced to trade him.
What the Raiders got
2019 1st round pick (RB Josh Jacobs at 24 by Raiders)
2019 6th round pick (Later traded) (Used to salary dump Kelechi Osemele to Jets)
2020 1st round (CB Damon Arnette at 19 by Raiders)
2020 3rd round (WR Bryan Edwards at 81 by Raiders)
Analysis- This trade seems a bit less beneficial for the Raiders, but you also have to consider that Mack did not want to play for Oakland anymore, which gave him more leverage to force a trade. However, the Raiders did get Jacobs, a decent running back and runner up for rookie of the year. As for the other players, none really made a big impact on their rookie year, and Arnette was widely considered to be a reach for the Raiders at 19. These players might make a jump in year two, so that’s something to look out for next season.
What the the Bears got
Khalil Mack, 2020
2nd round pick (TE Cole Kmet at 43)
2020 7th round pick (OL Arlington Hambright at No. 226)
Analysis- Trading for Mack accomplished exactly what the Bears set out to do. They got a franchise defensive player that since joining Chicago has gone to the Pro Bowl twice, gotten 30 sacks, and 45 QB hits. Kmet was also considered the best tight end in the 2020 draft and showed some promise his rookie year with 243 yards and 2 touchdowns while sitting behind Jimmy Graham on the depth chart. The Bears essentially traded a decent RB and a young corner for one of the best defenders in the NFL, a move that should benefit their defense for a while.
Who won: I think Chicago definitely got the better end of the deal here for right now. Although Mack forced his way out of Oakland, the Raiders still could’ve gotten some better value for the picks that they received aside from Jacobs. Chicago got a top defensive player and possibly their future at tight end in Kmet. Oakland freed up cap space and got younger players to rebuild on both sides of the ball, and if they begin to perform better, the trade will become more even.
Brandin Cooks/Marcus Peters
Notorious for dealing first-round picks recently, this won’t be the first major trade the Rams pulled off on this list. Les Snead, the Rams GM, values the proven player over the pick, so day 2 and 3 picks are used to build his teams. The Rams traded for both of these players to improve their team for a better chance at getting to the Super Bowl, something they eventually succeeded at.
What the Chiefs got
2018 4th round draft pick (S Armani Watts)
2019 2nd round draft pick. (S Juan Thornhill)
Analysis- The Chiefs parted mutually with Peters and traded him to the win-now Rams. However, the value they got back from trading the former DROTY was not that great. Thornhill has been a decent starter for the Chiefs intercepting 3 passes and returning 1 for a touchdown his rookie year. The most beneficial thing from trading Peters was saving on younger players so that the Chiefs could pay their stars.
What the Patriots got
2018 1st round pick (OT Isaiah Wynn at 23)
2018 6th round pick (Used to trade back) (CB Keion Crossen) (TE Ryan Izzo) (DT Byron Cowart)
Analysis- In the long run, this trade was not really worth it for New England. They didn’t want to pay Cooks, so they dealt him to the Rams, but since then, they haven’t had a better true WR 1. The players they got in return haven’t provided much of an impact so far, and Wynn has missed 24 games since being drafted. They did end up winning Super Bowl 53 against the Rams with Cooks on the other sideline.
What the Rams got
Rams receive: Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters
NE 2018 4th round pick (Used to trade back) (LB Micah Kiser) (DE Trevon Young) (LB Travin Howard)
KC 2018 6th draft pick (Used to trade back) (Used to trade Robert Quinn to Dolphins) (OL Brian Allen) (DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo)
Analysis- Just like the Bears, the Rams could accomplish what they set out to do by trading for Peters and Cooks. They got to the Super Bowl, and unfortunately, we’re not able to win it. Even though both of these players are not currently on their roster, they could still get value back by trading them again later.
Who Won- The Rams were able to accomplish their goal of making it to the Super Bowl and were able to stockpile picks and build a young roster. As of May 2021, they have the youngest average age in the NFL at 24.62. Les Snead was able to turn the picks he received back into more picks and players, and he built a young talented roster. The Patriots and the Chiefs could get players back and save cap space, but those players haven’t contributed as much as Cooks and Peters have for the Rams during their tenure there.
Amari Cooper was the next Raider to go in Oakland after Khalil Mack was dealt to the Bears. Despite 2,904 total yards in his first three seasons, the Raiders didn’t appear to want to commit to him long-term as he entered the fourth year of his rookie deal. So the Raiders dealt Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys, who were 3-4 at the time. In exchange, Dallas would give up their 2019 first-round pick, which was expected to be in the top ten due to their performance so far.
What the Cowboys got
Analysis- Cooper signed a five-year contract extension after being traded to Dallas and was well worth the money. He has accumulated over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns in 40 regular-season games with the Cowboys. He also helped lead them to the playoffs in 2018 and was a consistent WR1 for Dak Prescott.
What the Raiders got
2019 1st round pick (Johnathan Abram at 27 by Raiders)
Analysis- The pick they got in exchange for Cooper ended up being number 27. Cooper helped raise Dallas’ offense, and their draft pick went from a potential top-10 choice to the bottom of the first round in a matter of weeks. At the time, the Raiders were trying to rebuild their defense, something they do every year, and they chose Abram to help them. Unfortunately, since getting drafted, he has been hampered by injuries, missing 18 games in total. To make matters worse, according to PFF, Abram is now the lowest-graded safety in the league, primarily because of a 31.4 coverage grade. Two and a half years after the Cooper deal, the Raiders’ situation is just getting worse.
Who Won- In Jerry World, things couldn’t have worked out better for the Cowboys, as they now have a legitimate No. 1 receiver who has produced with multiple quarterbacks. He’s been a fantastic superstar and everything they could have hoped for in that trade. The Cowboys arguably have the best receiver trio in the NFL with Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb, and a top offense. In Las Vegas, they have yet to find a receiver that was as good as Cooper. Between trading for Antonio Brown and Zay Jones and signing Tyrell Williams, nothing has worked for them so far.