The NFL trade deadline this year was the most active we’ve ever seen, and it followed several weeks of blockbuster trades that changed the league’s landscape. A few of the trades were win-wins that legitimately helped both parties, but a number of them turned out to be lopsided.
Skilled general managers find themselves at the winning end of most of these trades, and these form a big part of team management and roster building, especially in the modern NFL, where aggressively moving assets has become the norm.
Mid-season trades used to be rare, but now they can form a critical part of a Super Bowl push or a strong reload in the draft. Let’s take a look at which teams won or lost as the deadline closed.
NFL Trade Deadline Winner: Carolina Panthers
- Traded away: Robbie Anderson, Christian McCaffrey
- Received: 2023 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, 2023 fourth-round pick, 2024 fifth-round pick, 2024 sixth-round pick, 2025 seventh-round pick
The Panthers entered the trade window with just two picks inside the top 100 of the NFL draft and might have been put into a spot where they would have to draft their quarterback of the future without any supplementary draft picks to help him out.
After the trade deadline, the Panthers have four picks inside the Top 100 and a few new picks in 2024 and 2025. When they traded Robbie Anderson to the Cardinals, it was more an exercise in extracting value out of a contract they wanted to shed anyway; they saw his spat on the sideline with receivers coach Joe Dailey as the last straw and moved him for a pair of future picks.
The Christian McCaffrey trade was a more bittersweet moment for the team, who lose a dynamic back who still should have tread on the tires, but generated a second-round, third-round, and fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft, as well as a fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft.
The Panthers didn’t ship away a number of their other trade candidates, including Brian Burns, DJ Moore, Eddy Pineiro, or Derrick Brown, but there’s only so much that can be accomplished with draft picks – many of these players are exactly the kinds of foundational pieces one would want to select with a draft pick, and Carolina can build around them in the years to come.
NFL Trade Deadline Loser: New York Jets
- Traded away: Jacob Martin, 2023 sixth-round pick (conditional), 2024 fifth-round pick
- Received: James Robinson, 2024 fourth-round pick
The Jets didn’t give up much to acquire James Robinson, but it still stings that they gave up assets for a back that cannot carry the offense like they needed Breece Hall to do. It’s hard to imagine that the Jets are better off today than they were before the trade, even if it didn’t cost that much.
The offense simply wasn’t going to function without the explosive capability of Hall, and even then, they were propped up by unsustainable play that masked their quarterback. Now, without Hall and the quarterback position laid bare even further, the Jets look like they’ve lost all their momentum without much room to earn an AFC playoff bid.
It’s unlikely that Robinson won’t meet the conditions that elevate the pick from a sixth-round selection to a fifth-round selection – he is only required to hit 600 rushing yards for the Jets – so they could lose a bit more just to tread water.
They added to that by trading away good depth in an emerging pass-rush unit for a future mid-round pick swap, allowing them to move up from the fifth round to the fourth. Martin isn’t a starting-quality player, but he’s a good piece to have on a roster, even one as rich in edge rushers as the Jets turned out to be.
NFL Trade Deadline Winner: Christian McCaffrey
- Previous team: Carolina Panthers
- New team: San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to tell if the San Francisco 49ers really “won” by trading the rest of their 2024 draft class – already out a first-round pick because of their trade-up to acquire Trey Lance – for a running back, but it’s unquestionably a better environment for McCaffrey.
The do-it-all former Panther has already benefited from working with an expert play designer that recognizes his wide range of talents.
In a perfect world, McCaffrey becomes a LaDainian Tomlinson-style back with the ability to score at any moment in any way. The fact that he gets to return to the Bay Area, playing in a stadium less than half an hour away from Stanford (his alma mater), is a nice bonus on top of everything else.
If the 49ers can keep up this offensive success with McCaffrey helping to run the show, it also means that McCaffrey has landed with an organization with a much better shot of landing in the playoffs for the next couple of years.
NFL Trade Deadline Loser: Los Angeles Rams
- Traded away: Nothing
- Received: Nothing
The Rams were in on a number of trades, including for McCaffrey. But their general disregard for draft capital left them without the tools to meaningfully compete for the running back’s services and instead forced them to offer selections well into the future as opposed to those in the 2023 draft.
That means they come out of the trade window as also-rans when they need more immediate help. Because they couldn’t find it, it looks like they’ll be destined for the awkward middle position of the league order, where wins come from time to time, but draft value plummets.
To make matters worse, the Rams are competing in the same division as the 49ers, who demonstrated to the Rams exactly why they felt the need to outbid them in pursuit of McCaffrey.
Not only that, but the Rams were in for Panthers’ edge rusher Brian Burns and once again had to proffer future picks instead of anything useful to Carolina in 2023. They were out of that race, too.
NFL Trade Deadline Winner: Chicago Bears
- Traded away: Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn, 2023 second-round pick
- Received: Chase Claypool, 2023 second-round pick, 2023 fourth-round pick, 2023 fifth-round pick, A.J. Klein
The trades for Khalil Mack and Justin Fields had left the Bears in a position where they ended up with the second-fewest picks in the top 100 since 2018, falling only behind the Rams – whose trades resulted in a Super Bowl win.
The result was a roster bereft of young talent, made worse by the fact that the talent they did acquire would often leave in free agency.
Quinn had been disappointing and couldn’t seem to produce without a star edge rusher to take attention away from him. Smith was embroiled in a persistent contract dispute with the Bears, and it seemed increasingly unlikely that they’d be able to work out a long-term deal.
On top of that, they got a headstart in acquiring young talent with the addition of Chase Claypool. Claypool had a phenomenal rookie year but later struggled and couldn’t reel in catches on a consistent basis. He didn’t have the greatest quarterback situation this year or last, but it’s not exactly the case that he’ll have one in Chicago.
But from Chicago’s end, that’s just fine. It gives them another tool to better evaluate Justin Fields, whose recent turn of play should give the Bears some optimism that there may be something yet in Fields.
NFL Trade Deadline Loser: Brandin Cooks
- Previous team: Houston Texans
- New team: Houston Texans
Brandin Cooks rumors have been in constant circulation, and it made a good deal of sense for the Houston Texans to move him for picks – even though the Texans already have more draft capital than any other team in the league.
Perhaps that fact is what allowed them to stick to their guns on trade value, taking no deal instead of a bad deal in order to preserve their future credibility and play out the season with some talent for Davis Mills.
That’s all fine and good, but for Cooks, it’s a bad situation. He clearly wanted to move on, and it made sense. Without an answer at quarterback and not many wins on the horizon, it’s easy to see why Cooks would want to maximize his value before earning an extension with whichever team would have picked him up.
He’s generating the second-fewest yards per game of his career, and he’s about to incur a $26 million cap hit in 2023. With a guaranteed salary of $18 million for 2023 and an $8 million prorated signing bonus in 2024, he’d be difficult to cut. And that was a reason teams weren’t willing to make a move for him.
But any extension he would be given, something he might want in order to have long-term contract security, would be contingent upon his performance. Without a good quarterback or working environment, it’ll be tough for him to prove the kind of value that merits a useful extension.
NFL Trade Deadline Winner: Minnesota Vikings
- Traded away: 2023 second-round pick, 2024 third-round pick
- Received: T.J. Hockenson, 2023 fourth-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick (conditional)
The Vikings saw the division get weaker and themselves got stronger. Here, the Lions lose a quality tight end, and the Bears lost two starting-quality front-seven players. While the Bears gained back a potentially quality offensive player in Chase Claypool, the overall strength of the division plummeted, and the Vikings already had a good lead with a few tiebreakers in hand.
Throw in the fact that the Green Bay Packers, often mentioned in potential trade discussions for a receiver or other key starter, didn’t acquire any new players and the Vikings must be riding high coming out of the deadline.
After an injury to Irv Smith Jr. – who was already underperforming – limited their offensive flexibility, the Vikings went out to find a tight end who has the ability to put up 50 yards a game, even when limited at quarterback. The fact that Hockenson is a good blocker who has downfield capability and can win in the red zone means that they have their first true multi-capable threat at tight end in a very long time.
Moving down from the second round to the fourth round in 2023 and the third round to the fourth round in 2024 is a relatively small price to pay for a player that still showcases first-round talent. That fourth-round pick becomes a fifth-round pick if the Vikings win a playoff game, which wouldn’t bother the Vikings much at all.
NFL Trade Deadline Winner: Atlanta Falcons
- Traded away: Calvin Ridley, Dean Marlowe, 2023 seventh-round pick (conditional)
- Received: Rashad Fenton, 2023 sixth-round pick (conditional), 2023 seventh-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick (conditional)
The Falcons were all-in on the trade deadline, trading away two players who operate as big assets for picks that could become quite valuable. If Ridley does not get reinstated soon, the Falcons earned some great marginal value for a player that won’t see the field.
If he does get reinstated sooner rather than later, they earn some immediate capital in the form of a 2023 fifth-round pick (instead of a sixth-round pick) and could see their 2024 return rise from a fourth-round pick to a second-round pick in the case that Ridley gets an extension. If Ridley doesn’t get an extension but does play a significant number of snaps, that 2024 pick becomes a third-round selection.
The number of conditions can be dizzying to track, but the point is that the Falcons will be getting good compensation for the player they had the rights to but couldn’t put on the field. On top of that, they traded some of their defensive back depth for a bit more draft capital and parlayed that into a tryout for a very talented cornerback that the Chiefs didn’t need.
If Rashad Fenton works out, that means the Falcons have an exclusive negotiating window with a talented player that might give cornerback A.J. Terrell some help in the long term.
NFL Trade Deadline Mixed Bag: Kansas City Chiefs
- Traded away: Rashad Fenton, 2023 third-round pick, 2023 sixth-round pick
- Received: Kadarius Toney, 2023 seventh-round pick (conditional)
The Chiefs are soon returning first-round rookie Trent McDuffie to the roster and are getting outstanding play from fellow rookie Jaylen Watson, drafted in the seventh round. Not only that, fourth-round rookie Joshua Williams has been part of the rotation, and so has third-year player L’Jarius Sneed.
It’s a good cornerback room that gets a little weaker with a cheap trade. The Chiefs weren’t going to shell out an expensive extension for Fenton in the final year of his contract, but his talent level is worth more than a seventh-round pick. Still, it’s better than nothing, and it’s not as if Fenton was lighting up the box score for them – he was benched, after all.
But his 2019-2021 seasons were strong enough that Fenton should have commanded a stronger market. On the flip side of things, the Chiefs continued to bolster their athletic receiver corps with Kadarius Toney, a first-round pick for the Giants who could never demonstrate consistency.
The fact that the Giants, already bereft of receiver options, were willing to part ways with such an incredible athletic talent tells us quite a bit about his development at receiver. Still, Toney has a lot of potential and could provide underneath explosiveness, given his outstanding capability as a yards-after-catch machine.
Toney only earned 420 yards in his rookie season and hasn’t seen the field this year. So the fact that the Chiefs gave up a third-round pick is curious – his history of production doesn’t merit that, even if he has fantastic potential. The Chiefs got better and didn’t give up the world in the process, but it’s tough to say they were real “winners.”
NFL Trade Deadline Winners: Miami Dolphins
- Traded away: Chase Edmonds, 2023 first-round pick, 2023 fifth-round pick, 2024 fourth-round pick
- Received: Bradley Chubb, Jeff Wilson Jr., 2025 fifth-round pick
The Dolphins are in the thick of the AFC East race with an explosive offense that hopes to keep pace with the divisional rival Buffalo Bills. But the Bills – and Chiefs – are more complete teams than the Dolphins, and Miami needs to be able to compete with a more well-rounded roster. They’re getting good production out of edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, but it would help to give him (and Christian Wilkins) some help.
Bradley Chubb will give them that and improve on the poor pressure rate the Dolphins have been generating. A tertiary effect will be improved coverage, as the Dolphins won’t feel the need to send as many blitzers in order to create that pressure. Losing a first-round pick stings, but Chubb is exactly the player they would have drafted with that pick if they could have.
And given that they’re trading away the 49ers’ first-round pick, it’s a pretty late pick in the process – a discount that takes into account the fact that they will have to extend Chubb soon.
They also functionally upgraded the running back room by swapping Chase Edmonds – sent to the Broncos as part of the Chubb trade – for Jeff Wilson Jr. from the 49ers. Wilson was doing well, but the 49ers running back room was getting crowded, especially with the addition of Christian McCaffrey and the possible return of Elijah Mitchell.
Wilson and Raheem Mostert should form a powerful 1-2 punch that can supplement the explosiveness of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.