Lawrence: Trading Up

NFL teams are more willing than ever to trade draft capital for established playmakers. Some moves have paid dividends; others, well, not quite

Amy Lawrence
November 12, 2019 - 9:54 pm
Minkah Fitzpatrick Steelers

USA Today Images


Now through Week 10, the NFL landscape is dotted with contenders who have used major trades to bolster their chances to win a Super Bowl. From the Ravens and Steelers to the Patriots and Texans to the Seahawks and 49ers, who captivated us Monday, front offices are showing a greater willingness to offer up assets, primarily draft picks, to inject potential game-changers into their locker rooms.
Of course, there is always risk associated with giving up value, whether future or present, to bring in athletes who may or may not provide the spark, skill and impact desired. For every deal that produces dividends, there's a dud that wasn't worth the trouble. But with the high stakes at the NFL poker table and the pressure to compete as quickly as possible, more franchises are plunging into the trade market.
With roughly 16 million viewers glued to Monday Night Football in the Bay Area, several trade products were on display in primetime. As much as Seattle's move to acquire Jadeveon Clowney was criticized in September, he's providing a major boost to the pass rush. Against San Francisco, the results were flashy: five tackles, five quarterback hits, one sack, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble, and one dynamic touchdown! The former overall number one draft pick now has a pair of TDs and a trio of forced fumbles; just as importantly, he's been on the field every week despite a history with injuries. Following the victory, Clowney said, "This is why they brought me here, for games like this."
Even as the Niners dropped their first game of the year, the March addition of Dee Ford for a second-round pick is part of a revamped pass rush. Along with rookie Nick Bosa, the defensive front is vicious. Ford already has five-and-a-half sacks to go along with his two forced fumbles; Bosa is sitting on seven sacks through nine games. On the other side of the ball, San Francisco recently traded for veteran Emmanuel Sanders to infuse speed, experience, and leadership into a young receiving corps. His connection with Jimmy Garoppolo was instant; through his first couple games, Sanders hauled in 14 catches for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He tried to play through cartilage damage to his ribs Monday but eventually hit the locker room early. His presence was missed, especially in overtime, when the Niners needed to open up the offense and move the ball downfield. Healthy, Sanders can proffer the same kind of impact Amari Cooper made with Dallas after he was dealt at last year's deadline.
In the AFC North, a couple trade products validated the faith their franchises placed in them. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick returned a fumble for a touchdown and snagged his fifth interception in Pittsburgh's win over the Rams that catapulted the Steelers above .500 for the first time this fall. He's the first Steeler with picks in three consecutive games since Troy Polamalu more than a decade ago. Along with two TDs and his forced fumbles, Fitzpatrick adds bite to a secondary that's been the Achilles' heel in Pittsburgh in recent years. When GM Kevin Colbert traded away a first-round pick to Miami for Minkah, more than a few analysts questioned his wisdom. With Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, why would the Steelers spend a top pick when they aren't making the playoffs?? At 22, Fitzpatrick will pay dividends in the future; for now, he's transforming the defense into a strength. In Baltimore, the addition of cornerback Marcus Peters is just as tangible. With his second pick-six since his trade, the veteran acquired from the Rams injects credibility, smarts and vision to the Ravens' D.
Taking Peters' spot in Los Angeles is Jalen Ramsey, who demanded a trade out of Jacksonville. In a blockbuster move, the Rams forked over a pair of first-rounders for a guy who brings energy and intensity to the field. The notorious trash-talker is part of a series of adjustments that put LA among the league's best defenses in the last three weeks. Wade Phillips' unit has allowed a mere 12 points and 299 total yards per game.
In the AFC South, multiple trades are shaping the course of the season. As the division leaders, the Texans rush for nearly 143 yards per game, fourth among NFL teams. The August deals they made are a big reason why. Carlos Hyde has racked up 704 yards with three touchdowns since his trade from Kansas City, while the versatile Duke Johnson has more than 500 all-purpose yards with three scores since he moved from Cleveland. In Nashville, the Titans have shifted to Ryan Tannehill as their starting QB after he was brought in to compete with Marcus Mariota in the spring. His completion rate is 71.3% in five games, and Tennessee is back to .500 since he took over.
With the trade deadline just passed at the end of October, we wait to measure the impact of moves like Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots, though he managed ten catches and a touchdown in his debut with Tom Brady. In Kenyan Drake's initial game with the Cardinals, he amassed 162 total yards and a score against San Francisco. In Dallas, the Cowboys hope three-time Pro Bowler Michael Bennett will add depth and experience to their defensive line. The New York Giants seek any kind of help with their defense by bringing in Leonard Williams from the Jets.
Not every deal pans out. Let the Raiders serve as a cautionary tale. They traded away third- and fifth-round draft picks for Antonio Brown, who didn't last long enough to play even one game before he wore out his welcome. Quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, and Josh Rosen were all moved this spring; and while each had a chance to start, none of them is playing right now. Flacco's neck injury landed him on injured reserve. Both Keenum and Rosen were benched for ineffectiveness. In Cleveland, the stunning trade for Odell Beckham Jr. has yielded a single touchdown, though he does have 44 catches for 632 yards, second best on the team. And to be fair, none of Baker Mayfield's receiving targets has more than two scores.
The NFL is a high-risk, high-reward business. Sometimes, teams need to take a leap of faith. In 2019, the willingness to trade up is paying off!

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.