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History of NFL teams trading first-round draft picks for veterans: Winners, losers from last five years – CBS Sports

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In light of recent trades involving quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, we’ve elected to take a look at the trades involving at least one first-round pick over the past five years. During that time, a total of 13 such trades were made across the NFL. Over the prior five years, there had been just five trades involving a first-round pick. Teams like the Colts and Rams have proven willing to swap high draft picks for elite talents with much less hesitation while the Jaguars and Dolphins have been more inclined to trade away those players. 

How are those deals working out for the teams acquiring the players? Let’s take a look:

July 25, 2020: Seahawks-Jets

Seahawks acquire S Jamal Adams
Jets acquire 2021 first-round pick, 2021 third-round pick, 2022 first-round pick, S Bradley McDougald

Seahawks’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card)
Jets’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 2-14

Adams has a very specific role in Seattle’s defense, which makes him more valuable to them. Most teams would not have felt comfortable surrendering two first-round picks for the right to pay a safety top dollar. The LSU product missed four games last season and still managed to record 9.5 sacks. It is impossible to say which team will get the better end of this deal, but it feels as though the Seahawks are standing on the doorstep of significant franchise decisions. The draft compensation is only a part of the conversation. Adams is entering the final year of his rookie deal and Spotrac.com projects that he will earn $12.7 million annually on a new deal, which equates to roughly 7 percent of their salary cap space.

March 16, 2020: Colts-49ers

Colts acquire DT DeForest Buckner
49ers acquire 2020 first-round pick (No. 13 overall)

Colts’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)
49ers’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 6-10

For the second consecutive year, Indianapolis made a big trade to acquire a veteran (in the Wentz trade, the Colts gave up a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder). The Colts did have to pay Buckner $21 million annually when he was acquired. The team got more production than they could have expected out of the No. 13 overall selection. However, when comparing his deal to the one that 2020 No. 13 overall selection Tristan Wirfs received, Indianapolis is paying out a little less than $17 million more annually than they would have paid that pick. Buckner could play a vital role in the team’s future success and how far the team goes will ultimately determine whether or not the trade was a success. If Indianapolis wins a Super Bowl with Buckner and Wentz, then no one is going to look back and begrudge the decision to trade those picks.

March 16, 2020: Bills-Vikings

Bills acquire WR Stefon Diggs, 2020 seventh-round pick
Vikings acquire 2020 first-round pick (No. 20 overall), 2020 fifth-round pick, 2020 sixth-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick

Bills’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 13-3 (AFC Championship)
Vikings’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 7-9

Buffalo had to pay Diggs a lucrative amount, but his impact on the field was evident. Josh Allen and Diggs had a very strong connection and that led to a deep playoff run. The future is bright. If the Vikings had not turned the pick acquired into Justin Jefferson, there would be little debate regarding who won that trade. It feels like a rare circumstance where both parties found a rewarding return. Minnesota was in dire need of salary cap relief and found that through this trade, while Buffalo found the reliable deep threat they had been lacking. 

October 19, 2019: Rams-Jaguars

Rams acquire CB Jalen Ramsey
Jaguars acquire 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first round-pick, 2021 fourth-round pick

Rams’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 16-10 (NFC Divisional Round)
Jaguars’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 5-21

Los Angeles paid a premium for the right to acquire Ramsey. His first year was not nearly as effective as he was in Year 2. The former Seminole played at a near Defensive Player of the Year level in Brandon Staley’s scheme. The team did eventually give him an enormous contract that kicks in this year. Parting with so many high draft picks is more palatable when a team is one or two pieces away from Super Bowl contention, but Los Angeles still had some deficiencies at edge rusher and along the offensive line.

September 16, 2019: Steelers-Dolphins

Steelers acquire S Minkah Fitzpatrick, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 seventh-round pick
Dolphins acquire 2020 first-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick

Steelers’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 20-10 (AFC Wild Card)
Dolphins’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 15-15

Fitzpatrick provided a spark to Pittsburgh’s defense initially, but that faded early in Year 2. The acquisition was unique in the sense that the Alabama product was in the second season of his rookie contract. The Steelers had cost control for the better part of four years, so it was essentially acquiring another first-round pick at cost. Fitzpatrick was picked No. 11 overall and Pittsburgh sent the No. 18 pick in return. Regardless of the team’s success, it is hard to argue that the AFC North franchise got the lesser end of that deal. Miami used the pick on USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson.

August 31, 2019: Texans-Dolphins

Texans acquire OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick
Dolphins acquire CB Johnson Bademosi, OT Julie’n Davenport, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick

Texans’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 14-18 (AFC Divisional Round)
Dolphins’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 15-17

Situation matters. Houston traded a lot for Tunsil to protect Deshaun Watson and now Watson may not be with the team in 2021. In all likelihood, the Texans would regress with a different quarterback under center. As part of the deal, Miami acquired the No. 3 and No. 36 overall selections this year. They could draft the top offensive tackle less than two years after trading Tunsil. When it came time to negotiate his contract, Tunsil had all the leverage, knowing that Houston could not afford for him to leave after giving up so many picks. His situation is why most teams attempt to agree to terms on a contract extension before the trade takes effect. 

April 23, 2019: Chiefs-Seahawks

Chiefs acquire EDGE Frank Clark, 2019 third-round pick
Seahawks acquire 2019 first-round pick, 2020 second-round pick, 2019 third-round pick

Chiefs’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 26-6 (Super Bowl champions)
Seahawks’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 23-9 (NFC Divisional Round)

A month earlier, Kansas City had dealt Dee Ford to San Francisco for a second-round pick. They essentially traded Ford and a first-round pick for Clark, who was immediately given a long-term deal worth $20.8 million annually. It is fair to say that the Chiefs got the better player in that exchange. Ford has played a total of 12 regular season games over the past two years. 

March 13, 2019: Browns-Giants

Browns acquire WR Odell Beckham Jr., EDGE Olivier Vernon
Giants acquire 2019 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick, S Jabrill Peppers, OG Kevin Zeitler

Browns’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 17-15 (AFC Divisional Round)
Giants’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 10-22

It is hard to declare anyone a winner in this deal. The Browns did win their first playoff game since the 1990s, but Beckham had been injured for awhile. It does not appear that any player exchanged in this deal will be a high-level performer for their new team in the long-term. 

October 22, 2018: Cowboys-Raiders

Cowboys acquire WR Amari Cooper
Raiders acquire 2019 first-round pick

Cowboys’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 21-20 (NFC Divisional Round)
Raiders’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 18-24

Dallas’ aggressiveness paid immediate dividends as they achieved immediate success. The long-term effects have been fleeting. His impact was no doubt hampered by the loss of Dak Prescott this season. The team gave him a sizable contract extension last offseason and many are already wondering how much longer he will be in Arlington since the Cowboys used a first-round pick on CeeDee Lamb. The Raiders used that pick to select safety Johnathan Abram, who has had a difficult time staying healthy.

September 1, 2018: Bears-Raiders

Bears acquire EDGE Khalil Mack, 2020 second-round pick, 2020 seventh-round pick
Raiders acquire 2019 first-round pick, 2019 sixth-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2020 third-round pick

Bears’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 28-20 (NFC Wild Card)
Raiders’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 19-29

Chicago went 12-4 in that first year and has played .500 football since. The performance of Mitchell Trubisky and the quarterback position, in general, has no doubt held the team back, but Mack’s presence has not been as measured in recent years. Although still a difference-maker, his sack totals have taken a dip. Chicago’s defense suffered a setback through the injury of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and it is fair to question how much of the defensive success should be attributed to former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Hicks. If Mack was not the missing piece then, was the deal worth sacrificing so much draft capital? They also paid him a record-setting contract at the time. The Raiders have not made the most of their end of the deal either. Running back Josh Jacobs and cornerback Damon Arnette were selected with those first-round picks.

April 3, 2018: Rams-Patriots

Rams acquire WR Brandin Cooks, 2018 fourth-round pick
Patriots acquire 2018 first-round pick, 2018 sixth-round pick

Rams’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 32-16 (Super Bowl) 
Patriots’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 30-18 (Super Bowl champions)

The trade was noteworthy because the team that traded Cooks defeated the team that acquired him in the Super Bowl. As we later learned, the wide receiver’s time in L.A. would also be short-lived. It is hard to claim either is a loser in the trade when both appeared in the Super Bowl. New England did essentially get its initial investment back in this trade. 

March 10, 2017: Patriots-Saints

Patriots acquire WR Brandin Cooks, 2017 fourth-round pick
Saints acquire 2017 first-round pick, 2017 third-round pick

Patriots’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 43-21 (Super Bowl champions)
Saints’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 49-15 (NFC Conference Championship)

In retrospect, New England essentially gave up a late first-round pick in exchange for one year of performance for Cooks, who made 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season in Foxborough. The Patriots would probably kill for that level of production from the position today. New Orleans used New England’s first-round pick on All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk so that worked out pretty well for them. In the grand scheme of things, New Orleans likely won the deal but New England did not sacrifice much in compensation.

September 3, 2016: Vikings-Eagles

Vikings acquire QB Sam Bradford
Eagles acquire 2017 first-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick

Vikings’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 38-25-1 (NFC Divisional Round)
Eagles’ win-loss record since trade and furthest advancement: 35-28-1 (Super Bowl champions)

Bradford appeared in 15 games that season, but appeared in just five others before his career came to an end. It was a steep short-term investment for a trip to the divisional round. Philadelphia used the pick on edge rusher Derek Barnett, who has had limited impact. Even in knowing that, anyone would be hard-pressed to label Minnesota as a winner in this deal.

The idea of claiming a winner and a loser is often subjective and it goes beyond the surface level parameters of the deal. Most of these trades also involved a level of financial commitment and that prevents teams from divvying funds to other positions. With that being said, there is an argument to be made that half of these trades were won by the acquiring team. Most of those perceived victories have come in the past two years. 

In making these deals, there should be a general rule applied by the acquiring team: the player should be one of the last missing pieces for a contending team. A team with several holes to fill should not trading substantial draft capital for one player because the financial commitment can hamper long-term plans. 

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