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With the 2020 NFL offseason almost officially here, the rumor mill is about to start spinning at a frantic pace. There will be much speculation about free-agent moves, draft decisions and, of course, trades.
Trades are an integral part of every NFL offseason, and teams can win big by leveraging players and/or draft picks. A trade can help net a team a franchise cornerstone, fill a critical hole, get out of a bad contract or create a functional cap situation.
However, not every trade proves to be a successful one. Some have negative effects that can linger years into the future. We’re going to examine some of them here.
These disastrous deals—largely one-sided in retrospect—should serve as cautionary tales for overzealous fans hungry for trade action.
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Back in 2006, the Miami Dolphins decided to swing a trade for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. They traded a second-round pick to the Vikings, which was not an enormous price, but they passed on signing free agent Drew Brees to do so. Brees, you may recall, recently broke the record for most regular-season touchdown passes in league history.
Culpepper played in four games for the Dolphins.
Now, it’s not entirely fair to fault Miami for this trade. Both Culpepper and Brees were recovering from serious medical issues—a shoulder injury for Brees and a knee injury for Culpepper. Team doctors determined Culpepper had a better chance of regaining pre-injury form.
“It’s not like it was even close,” former Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said in 2007, per Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
However, this trade still has to sting the Dolphins whenever Brees sets a new record or passes his way into the postseason. Miami has only been to the playoffs twice since trading for Culpepper and is still searching for a franchise quarterback.
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One of the oldest trades on this list, and one of the most memorable, involves the Cleveland Browns and their decision not to draft former Alabama receiver Julio Jones.
The Browns were on the clock with the sixth pick in the 2011 draft. Jones was available, but instead of pulling the trigger, then-general manager Tom Heckert traded the selection to the Atlanta Falcons for five draft picks: first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2011, plus first- and fourth-round picks in 2012.
Cleveland turned those picks into Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weedon, and it used the last pick to trade up for Trent Richardson. Weeden was the last of those players to see an NFL playing field, in 2018.
Jones, meanwhile, has racked up more than 12,000 receiving yards, has made seven Pro Bowls and remains one of the most dangerous receivers in the game.
Making fans further feel the effects of this fiasco is the fact that Cleveland recently traded two first-round players—safety Jabrill Peppers and the 17th pick in the 2019 draft—for Odell Beckham Jr. That’s a move the Browns don’t make if Jones is on the roster, and it’s not like Cleveland is in a position to be giving up talent.
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A year after Cleveland fumbled away a shot at Jones, the Washington Redskins made a bold move to land a quarterback. They traded up to the No. 2 spot to land former Baylor signal-caller Robert Griffin III, sending a haul of picks to the St. Louis Rams to do so: first- and second-round selections in 2012, plus 2013 and 2014 first-rounders.
Griffin had one brilliant season in Washington before a torn ACL derailed his career and immediately made this a regrettable deal.
Losing out on three first-round selections is going to set any franchise back, and it has done so for Washington. Griffin took the Redskins to the postseason as a rookie, but the team has only been back once since then.
Trading up for him also put Washington in an odd position with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who it selected in the fourth round of the same draft. Cousins eventually took the starting gig but never had the full support of the franchise.
Cousins signed with the Vikings in 2018 and just took them into the second round of the playoffs. It’s fair to wonder if he’d be doing the same for the Redskins had they passed on Griffin and backed him from the beginning.
Washington is still searching for a franchise quarterback, most recently using the 15th pick in the 2019 draft on Dwayne Haskins.
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In the 2016 and 2017 drafts, the Cleveland Browns passed on two chances to draft franchise quarterbacks. We’re lumping them together, though if the Browns didn’t trade away the first opportunity, the second one would be irrelevant.
In 2016, Cleveland could’ve drafted former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall. Instead, the Browns dealt the selection to Philadelphia, receiving five draft picks in return: first- third- and fourth-round choices in 2016, a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 second-round pick. The next year, they traded away a shot at former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, receiving 2017 and 2018 first-rounders from the Houston Texans in exchange for the 12th overall pick.
Only 2018 third-rounder Chad Thomas remains from the Wentz deal on Cleveland’s roster—his selection was acquired through another trade down. First-rounder Corey Coleman is long gone. Cleveland sent Philadelphia’s 2017 first-rounder to Houston, and the Texans picks became the aforementioned Peppers and Denzel Ward.
In 2018, the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield, who may or may not be a franchise quarterback. However, they’d be much further along in the rebuilding process with either Wentz or Watson under center. Both were in the playoffs this year, and Wentz has already helped deliver a Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia.
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Mitchell Trubisky still has time to develop into a franchise quarterback for the Chicago Bears. This isn’t an attack on his potential. However, the fact that Bears general manager Ryan Pace dealt three valuable draft picks to secure him hurts.
The Bears send 2017 third- and fourth-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers, along with a 2018 third-rounder. In return, they got the opportunity to move up from No. 3 overall to the second spot to grab the former North Carolina signal-caller.
It’s worth mentioning that Chicago passed on both Watson and Patrick Mahomes in order to snag Trubisky, but that’s a topic for a different day.
The reality is that San Francisco was never going to take Trubisky at No. 2, and there probably wasn’t a team willing to trade to that spot. Pace got fleeced for a trio of picks—players who could have helped the Bears this past season.
Third- and fourth-round picks generally turn into starters or valuable role players. For Chicago, three of them turned into a quarterback who is dangerously close to bust territory.
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This one might not sting as much as some of the deals on this list because the New England Patriots have won a Super Bowl since making the move. However, their 2017 in-season trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers still smarts.
The Patriots only got a second-round pick in exchange for Garoppolo and later traded it to the Detroit Lions. New England has continued to flip the picks acquired in that deal with fourth- and sixth-round selections in the 2020 draft still to come. One of those picks turned into quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who may or may not be the successor to Tom Brady.
Garoppolo, though, appears on his way to being a franchise quarterback. He’s about to play in Super Bowl LIV, and at 28 years old, he is only entering his playing prime. Retaining Garoppolo would have been costly—he was scheduled to become a free agent in 2018—but would have provided New England with a succession plan.
As things stand, the Patriots may be looking at the end of the Brady era. He has a chance to explore free agency this offseason, though the Patriots reportedly won’t wait on his decision before addressing their quarterback needs.
“I don’t believe the New England Patriots are waiting until March 16 to get an answer from Tom Brady,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on Get Up.
In other words, New England may move on from Brady if he decides to test the open market. It would likely be transitioning to Garoppolo if it hadn’t traded him two-and-a-half years ago.
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As is the case with the Garoppolo trade, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl since trading away wide receiver Brandin Cooks. However, one could argue that doing so prevented New England from making a serious run in 2019.
During the 2018 offseason, New England dealt Cooks to the Rams for a 2018 first-round pick. That pick became offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who has started all of eight games for the Patriots. Though Cooks battled some injuries in 2019, he has racked up more than 1,700 yards for the Rams and helped them reach the Super Bowl last year—which, of course, New England won.
This move really hurts, though, because New England’s biggest issue this past season was the inability to stretch the field offensively. That’s Cooks’ specialty, and the Patriots’ 2019 offense may have been a different animal with him in the fold.
Desperate for receiving weapons, the Patriots dealt a second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons at the deadline for wideout Mohamed Sanu Sr. While Sanu is a fine possession receiver, he isn’t going to threaten vertically.
The Patriots were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, largely because the Tennessee Titans had no respect for their ability to strike deep.