Free agency's whirlwind has shaken up rosters across the NFL, but that's not the only avenue for offseason change. The new league year has delivered a rash of trades, big and small.
Here's my report card on the most notable deals thus far.
DESHAUN WATSON TRADE
- QB Deshaun Watson
- 2024 6th-rounder
- 2022 1st-rounder (No. 13)
- 2022 4th-rounder (No. 107)
- 2023 1st-rounder
- 2023 3rd-rounder
- 2024 1st-rounder
- 2024 4th-rounder
The Browns were hellbent on an upgrade at the most important position in sports.
Last week's franchise-altering swap for Watson furnishes Cleveland with one of the game's most electric superstars under center. The trade also raises a flock of questions about the organization's core values.
Initially eliminated from the chase for Watson, Cleveland made an eleventh-hour push for his services. A mountain of high draft picks pleased Houston, while new money -- in the form of a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million megadeal -- helped change Watson's mind when it came to the no-trade clause.
Trade talks for Watson kicked into high gear after a Harris County, Texas, grand jury determined on March 11 that there was not enough evidence to charge the 26-year-old quarterback with a crime following allegations of sexual misconduct stemming from massage therapy sessions. On Thursday, a grand jury, in Brazoria County, Texas, also considered evidence in a criminal complaint against Watson and declined to bring charges. Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits and remains under NFL investigation.
Cleveland fans might see plenty from recently acquired backup Jacoby Brissett if Watson is slapped with a ban under the umbrella of the league's personal-conduct policy. That's a risk the Browns are comfortable with, going so far as to structure Watson's contract -- his base salary for 2022 is just $1 million -- to protect him financially from a potential suspension. That's cynical stuff right there, but for Cleveland, this is all about winning football games. And that is how I've chosen to determine the grades in this file, including the Browns mark above: strictly from a football perspective.
For Browns fans who can stomach Watson's arrival, parting with three first-round picks (plus a third and two fourths) is simply the cost of doing business. Rams supporters aren't shedding tears over the draft capital shipped away for Matthew Stafford. Cleveland's front office viewed Baker Mayfield, their version of Jared Goff, as someone who would never be enough at the position. If Watson remains the same player he was before last year's exile, the Browns -- armed with a talented roster -- become legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
The Texans, after raising eyebrows across America for the past year-plus, can now legitimately rebuild and put this mess behind them. The dark cloud hovering over Watson now becomes Cleveland's weight.
RUSSELL WILSON TRADE
- QB Russell Wilson
- 2022 4th-rounder (No. 116)
- QB Drew Lock
- TE Noah Fant
- DL Shelby Harris
- 2022 1st-rounder (No. 9)
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 40)
- 2022 5th-rounder (No. 152)
- 2023 1st-rounder
- 2023 2nd-rounder
The biggest winner here is Russell Wilson. His winding quest to escape Seattle airdrops him onto a Broncos roster filled with weaponry and led by Nathaniel Hackett, the offensive-minded head coach Wilson never enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest.
Long seen as a potential landing spot for Aaron Rodgers, Denver earns points for seamlessly shifting its sights toward Wilson after Aa-Rod inked a monster deal with Green Bay. Instead of wheeling out Teddy Bridgewater again -- or trying to sell the locker room on Drew Lock -- the Broncos have an unquestioned franchise arm in the gnarly AFC West. Even if Wilson has regressed a tad, I still see a player able to vie for MVP honors in the right situation.
The cost was high for Denver, but no more severe than watching another campaign flitter away with FILL-IN-THE-BLANK MILQUETOAST BRONCOS QUARTERBACK X losing fights to Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr.
Seattle's side of the deal is complex and more about an organization turning the page on its most celebrated era. Coach Pete Carroll deserves blame for allowing the relationship with Wilson to burn out, but this stuff happens in the NFL -- especially in the age of empowered (and disgruntled) star quarterbacks.
I'd love to see the Seahawks use their new draft currency on Malik Willis, an exciting young player who would immediately give the club a new identity under center. Baker Mayfield is an option, too -- and he kind of fits Seattle's vibe -- but don't you dare wheel out Lock as a figure of fascination. Noah Fant arrives as an intriguing piece on offense, while Shelby Harris can flat out play. The bushel of picks wipe away some of the stink around the Jamal Adams trade, but general manager John Schneider is under immense pressure to turn these assets into Seahawks stars of tomorrow.
MATT RYAN TRADE
- QB Matt Ryan
- 2022 3rd-rounder (No. 82)
The Colts filled their quarterback void with the top remaining option at a palatable price. Ryan can still wing the ball and arrives in Indy as a sharp upgrade over the ditched Carson Wentz. With Atlanta absorbing Ryan's outrageous $40.5 million dead cap hit, the Colts will pay their new starter a doable $24.7 million this season and $29.2 million in 2023.
Atlanta hit a wall with Matty Ice after last week's failed pursuit of Watson, but it was high time for a change. The roster is a ghost town. Having decided against addressing the quarterback position in last year's draft, the Falcons are now strong candidates to add a rookie alongside the recently acquired Marcus Mariota. Second-year coach Arthur Smith can't be thrilled with any of this.
Frank Reich, though, has a player in Ryan who can maximize the talent around him and keep defenses honest after they sold out last season to stop workhorse runner Jonathan Taylor. More help is needed at wideout behind Michael Pittman Jr. The offensive line has lost bodies to retirement and free agency. Holes exist, but Ryan puts Indy right back into playoff contention.
CARSON WENTZ TRADE
- QB Carson Wentz
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 47)
- 2022 7th-rounder (No. 240)
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 42)
- 2022 3rd-rounder (No. 73)
- 2023 3rd-rounder*
*Becomes a 2023 2nd-rounder if Wentz plays 70 percent of snaps in 2022.
Chris Ballard's handiwork is eye-of-the-beholder material.
He earns points for getting value back on Wentz. Beyond flipping second-round picks, Washington sent two thirds to Indianapolis, with one of these becoming a second if Wentz plays 70 percent of the snaps. Does that lessen the ill scent around trading for Wentz in the first place? Absolutely not, but the Colts -- with Ryan at the wheel -- tangibly upgraded.
Washington comes off looking desperate. After failing to pull off a trade for Russell Wilson, the Commanders quickly settled for a quarterback littered with questions. Washington also agreed to pay Wentz's absurd $28 million price tag for 2022, which forced the team to turn around and release a flock of veterans. I simply don't see the whole Wentz experience as an upgrade over the vastly less expensive Taylor Heinicke.
TYREEK HILL TRADE
- WR Tyreek Hill
- 2022 1st-rounder (No. 29)
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 50)
- 2022 4th-rounder (TBD)
- 2023 4th-rounder
- 2023 6th-rounder
The Dolphins gave up a bundle, but Tyreek Hill is the rare player who entirely changes how a defense must respond. A huge winner here is Jaylen Waddle, the talented second-year wideout who no longer must deal with No. 1 cover men. Cedrick Wilson is also in the mix, while DeVante Parker looms as the odd man out.
Miami is praying Hill's skills translate entirely to South Beach, handing him an enormous four-year, $120 million extension packed with $72.2 million in guarantees. The Dolphins also largely handed away their 2022 draft, but that No. 29 overall selection vibes closer to a second-rounder. I trust first-year coach Mike McDaniel to correctly unleash Hill, but Miami's Kyle Shanahan-inspired playbook has always revolved around heavy work on the ground. Either way, the heat is turned all the way up on Tua Tagovailoa, the third-year starter with plenty of weapons and no more excuses.
The move changes how we look at the Chiefs. The trio of Hill, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes has utterly beguiled opponents for years. JuJu Smith-Schuster steps into a key role, especially after Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle bolted in free agency. And K.C. snatched up Marquez Valdes-Scantling on Thursday, but even his deep speed can't replace Hill's juice. In a super-thorny AFC West, the Chiefs are in for a dog fight.
DAVANTE ADAMS TRADE
- 2022 1st-rounder (No. 22)
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 53)
A year-plus of Aaron Rodgers drama gave way to peace under center and newly churning chaos at wideout. Retaining the star quarterback seemed to assure that his world-class receiver, Davante Adams, would stick around, too. Instead, the All-Pro wideout rejected more moolah from Green Bay to play with his college pal Derek Carr in Vegas.
I love the move from a Raiders angle, keeping pace in the AFC West by handing Carr the finest target in football. We're a month removed from Carr-related trade whispers. Today, he's joined at the hip with new coach Josh McDaniels, who has plenty of shiny toys to play with.
With Rodgers now flinging balls to Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan, the Packers have an overt need heading into the draft. They're far from doomed inside a flaky division, but Green Bay's offseason took an evil turn with this exodus.
AMARI COOPER TRADE
- WR Amari Cooper
- 2022 6th-rounder (No. 202)
- 2022 5th-rounder (No. 155)
- 2022 6th-rounder (No. 193)
Even if Jerry Jones wasn't delighted with Copper's 2021 campaign, losing the talented receiver for nothing more than a fifth-round pick (and swapped sixth-rounders) is a mess. Dallas was the rare team stuck in tricky cap hell -- and it was widely expected Cooper would be cut -- but it's disappointing the 'Boys couldn't land more.
CeeDee Lamb and the re-signed Michael Gallup still form a nice tandem, but it's impossible not to hate a declining Ezekiel Elliott counting for $18.22 million against the cap this season. Cleveland, meanwhile, signed up for Cooper's $60 million over the next three years, but none of that money is guaranteed after 2022.
The Browns -- now armed with Deshaun Watson -- gave up next to nothing for a solid player in Cooper who fills a big need. What's not to like?
KHALIL MACK TRADE
- LB Khalil Mack
- 2022 2nd-rounder (No. 48)
- 2023 6th-rounder
We get it: The Bears have wandered into a rebuild. Getting a second and a sixth back for Mack is no love story -- especially after swapping two first-rounders for him in 2018 -- but this amounts to a salary dump. The Chargers now absorb Mack's remaining three years at $63.9 million.
I dig this for Los Angeles because of Brandon Staley, the brainy defensive coach who knows Mack well and can be trusted to milk the pass rusher's rare abilities. Pairing Mack with Joey Bosa equates to a dark vision for enemy passers. The Bolts sit in a Super Bowl window with Justin Herbert on a rookie contract. That's when you make a move like this one.
ADDITIONAL DEALS OF NOTE
Raiders trade edge Yannick Ngakoue to Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
- Las Vegas' grade: B+
- Indianapolis' grade: B+
The Raiders felt fine moving Ngakoue after landing Chandler Jones. Ya-Sin gives Vegas a 25-year-old starting corner who looked the part in Indy. The Colts reunite Ngakoue with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who knows what he has in the defender after helping Yannick notch 10 takedowns a season ago.
Rams trade wideout Robert Woods to Titans for a 2023 sixth-rounder.
- Tennessee's grade: A
- Los Angeles' grade: C
I adore this for the Titans, who inherit a white-knuckle pass catcher known for his prowess as a rugged blocker. Woods is vastly more valuable than a throwaway sixth-round pick. The Rams, though, added Allen Robinson and reportedly still have eyes for Odell Beckham Jr.
Patriots trade guard Shaq Mason to Buccaneers for a 2022 fifth-rounder (No. 170).
- Tampa Bay's grade: A+
- New England's grade: D-
What are we doing here? The Patriots, long seen as ultra-savvy, appear to have willingly punked themselves while helping Tom Brady's Tampa legacy. The trusty Mason immediately bolsters a front five that waved goodbye to guards Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet. To be fair, this was partially a salary dump for New England, but shopping Mason -- the fourth-best guard in football last season, per Pro Football Focus' grading -- is a head-scratcher.