Here is what it feels like to be inside an NFL franchise as the trade deadline approaches. Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he has people walk into his office to tell him how much more they like it when the Cowboys are making deals.
"It's fun to do deals, it's fun to do deals in life," Jones told me earlier this week. "It's a buzz. But have you ever had to pay for all the ones that didn't work out right?"
Worth remembering when noting that the Cowboys did not make a trade prior to Tuesday's deadline.
Not long ago, the deadline was a snoozer, with few teams making deals and even fewer headline names on the move. In 2015, exactly one player was traded within a week of the deadline. But for a variety of reasons -- a wave of younger, more aggressive general managers is a big one -- the days leading up to the deadline are now a hive of activity. Last season, 18 players were traded within a week of the deadline, 13 of them on deadline day itself. This season, 10 players were traded within the week, either of them within 24 hours of the deadline. Yes, judgment on the success or failure of transactions should be suspended until we have a decent sample size and we can see which teams make the postseason. But who has that kind of patience? Here's our snap decisions on who won and who lost at the trade deadline.
San Francisco 49ers: Under the "rich get richer" heading, we have the 49ers, who gave up only a third-round draft pick to get defensive end Chase Young from the Washington Commanders. Young will now line up opposite Nick Bosa, which is a significant boost for a team whose defense has flagged in the last two weeks, has lost its last three games and has dropped out of the NFC West lead. You knew that the 49ers were unlikely to stand pat in the NFC arms race, and when they return from the bye, they will have an improved defensive front, and -- they hope -- a healthy Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel. That's a much better team than we saw get smoked by the Bengals.
Philadelphia Eagles: Why do people still answer the phone when Howie Roseman's number pops up? Roseman has consistently used trades to address holes in the Eagles' roster, and the Eagles could be in the winners column simply for constantly looking to improve an already loaded roster. This season, with a team that is clearly among the best in the NFL (the Eagles are 7-1, the best record in the league), Roseman dealt two Day 3 draft picks and a safety (Terrell Edmunds) they were likely to cut anyway, to get Kevin Byard from Tennessee. Byard is 30, but he is a two-time All-Pro safety with 27 career interceptions and represents an upgrade for a pass defense that had a banged-up secondary. Byard made his Eagles debut in Sunday’s victory over the Commanders, six days after the Eagles acquired him, and notched seven tackles. Addendum: It wasn't a trade, but two weeks ago the Eagles signed veteran receiver Julio Jones. He may no longer be as fast as he once was, but he still has elite hands and scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Commanders. Of course.
Mecole Hardman: Little used after signing a one-year contract with the Jets (he had one catch in five games), Hardman got the ultimate soft landing when he was traded back to Kansas City, which had the benefit of familiarity and the bonus of the AFC"s top seed. It also has a receivers room that has been struggling to get into a rhythm, and that opens the door for Hardman to be valuable. Against the Broncos on Sunday, he played 24 percent of the offensive snaps, per Next Gen Stats, and was in on punt and kickoff returns. He muffed a punt, but Hardman has a role on a team that will likely make a deep run in January. That's a win for him by any measure.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings made the best of the brutal loss of Kirk Cousins for the season by trading for quarterback Josh Dobbs from Arizona. That's a signal that the Vikings are not throwing in the towel, and they shouldn't. They dug themselves out of an early hole -- receiver Justin Jefferson is also about to return from injured reserve -- and are firmly in the jumbled NFC playoff mix. With Nick Mullens on injured reserve, the Vikings needed insurance for rookie Jaren Hall. Hall is likely to start this week, but Dobbs gives the Vikings a quarterback with plenty of starting experience who played well in the first month of this season. The Vikings are winners simply for not throwing in the towel on the season -- they need only to look at the Jets.
New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks: Yes, that's correct, both teams win here. Just hours after the gut-punch loss to the New York Jets, the Giants accepted the bitter reality that, at 2-6, this season is essentially over, and traded Leonard Williams to the surging Seattle Seahawks. Here's the added wrinkle: The Giants are paying most of the more than $9 million salary due to Williams this season to get better compensation -- in this case, it's a second-round pick in 2024 and a fifth-rounder in 2025. Not bad considering the Giants acquired him from the Jets in 2019 for a third- and fifth-rounder, and Williams, who is in the final year of his contract, was unlikely to return in 2024. Given where things are for the Giants, this move allows them to continue their rebuild next offseason.
After Sunday’s win over the Browns, the Seahawks are 5-2, and with the 49ers on a three-game losing streak, the Seahawks have jumped into first place in the NFC West. This is the second move in recent days to beef up the defensive front, following the signing of free agent Frank Clark last week to join the Seahawks own emerging linebacker Boye Mafe.
Chicago Bears: I'm not joining the chorus criticizing their trade for the Commanders' defensive lineman Montez Sweat. Draft picks are currency with an unknowable payoff. Might the second-rounder that the Bears gave up for Sweat -- whose contract expires at the end of the season -- turn into an All-Pro? Sure. It could also turn into a bust. Sweat is definitely not a bust -- he has 6.5 sacks this season, which is more than half of the Bears have total -- and now the Bears can work to sign him to a long-term deal. The idea here is to acquire talent and the Bears need it on their defense, which has among the worst pass rushes in the league. The Bears are likely to have two very high picks in the first round, and are expected to have about $100 million in cap space, and they will have to make a decision about the future at quarterback, but for now they are building up their defense around whoever that will be. Could the Bears have waited to sign Sweat in free agency? Yes. They might not have landed him and the price might have been a lot higher than they will have to pay if they can get an extension done soon. Another win: The Bears held on to cornerback Jaylon Johnson after giving him permission to seek a trade earlier this week.
Buffalo Bills: They got cornerback Rasul Douglas from the Packers, a critical addition to a defense that has been battered by injuries, including to cornerback Tre’Davious White, who is out for the season with an Achilles tear. Given teams coming up on the schedule for the remainder of the regular season -- the Bengals, Eagles, Chiefs, Cowboys, Chargers and Dolphins – shoring up the pass defense was a must.
Washington Commanders: Someone please get a microphone in front of defensive lineman Jonathan Allen soon. Allen made it clear he was sick of losing a little over a week ago and the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young aren't likely to make him feel any better about the short-term future of the team that gave him an extension two years ago. The starting defensive line that was all first-round picks never lived up to expectations, but trading both Sweat and Young signals that the Commanders are hitting the rebuilding button under new owner Josh Harris, whose time as the Philadelphia 76ers owner suggests he is plenty comfortable with bottoming out in order to engineer a rise. With Ron Rivera coaching for his job on a team that is now minus two of its most talented players, and a football braintrust that is the product of previous ownership, the only real question is who will be around to use the draft picks the Commanders acquired in the trades.
People who want even more trade action: With an 18-week regular season (17 games), teams are not even halfway through their schedule, which means most teams still have a theoretical shot at making the playoffs -- or of dropping out of the race. That makes it more difficult for the teams in the middle -- which is most of the league -- to determine if they should be buyers or sellers, and that means less activity. The league pushed the trade deadline back two weeks in 2012 (it used to be after Week 6) but with the lengthening of the season, it might be time to move it back further.
Teams that needed offensive line help: Which was pretty much everyone. The Vikings traded Ezra Cleveland, one of the best young guards in the league, to Jacksonville for just a sixth-round pick. That's a great pickup for the Jaguars, whose top priority has to be the protection of Trevor Lawrence. But with no other offensive linemen available, much of the league will have to look elsewhere. The Jets, for instance, signed Rodger Saffold to their practice squad.
Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones was adamant that the Cowboys were unlikely to make a deal, reiterating that he likes his roster. That might turn out to be the right decision -- and we'll get a good indicator on Sunday when the Cowboys face the NFC's top team in Philadelphia. But all around them, the Cowboys' top competition was wheeling and dealing, with the Eagles, Niners, Lions and Seahawks acquiring pieces before the deadline.