Trades are part and parcel of each NFL Draft. They increase the excitement and intrigue as teams barter with each other to improve draft position and capture their preferred targets. Trades can also be incredibly disruptive to other teams’ plans and draft boards, acting as a domino effect to greatly change the subsequent picks. Let’s dig in to the significant 2021 trades and how they helped to shape the draft order.
DAY 1 TRADES
San Francisco 49ers
12th pick (plus 2022 1st & 3rd, 2023 1st) traded with Miami Dolphins 3rd pick
This massive pre-draft night trade was the keystone to several early picks as round one was navigated, particularly by the teams in the top 10 picks. Primarily, the 49ers taking Trey Lance impacted on the other quarterbacks expected to go in the first round (Justin Fields and Mac Jones). Both toppled down the board out of the top 10.
With Lance off the board, the Falcons (who may have been considering the QB) pivoted to the next best player available in Kyle Pitts. The choice of Pitts then shaped the next three picks; JaMarr Chase to the Bengals, Jaylen Waddle to the Dolphins and Penei Sewell to the Lions. It is conceivable that if the 49ers had taken Mac Jones, as had been widely touted as a possibility, then picks 4-7 could easily have played out very differently. There is no doubt that the 49ers bold move to take their preferred QB helped determine the rest of opening night.
10th pick traded with Philadelphia Eagles 12th pick (plus 84th)
Ah, NFC East rivalry came to the fore once again. Picks 10 through 12 promised much and delivered. Once the Carolina Panthers (8th) and Denver Broncos (9th) had taken back-to-back cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II. There is no doubt that both cornerbacks would have been high on the Cowboys wishlist. But, Jerry Jones and his team needed to act fast with them off the board.
An opportunity then presented itself from a rival. The Philadelphia Eagles, and it was a chance to potentially scupper the New York Giants plan A. Devonta Smith, wide receiver from Alabama, was available and coveted by both Dave Gettlemen’s Giants front office and the Eagles GM Howie Roseman. A quick game of NFC East leapfrog ensued and the Eagles were able to whip Smith from under Gettlemen’s nose. Although, for once the Giants embattled GM was able to adapt his thinking, which we will return to in a minute.
The Cowboys for their part came up trumps. Able to draft dynamic linebacker Micah Parsons from Penn State as well as adding the additional 3rd round pick to their draft capital. Enabling Dallas to pick up four day 2 picks on defense. Good business all round for Jerry.
New York Giants
11th pick traded with Chicago Bears 20th pick (plus 164th and 1st & 4th 2022)
It is clear now that the Giants had prioritised a dynamic playmaker on offense as their first round pick. As soon as Jaylen Waddle had been taken by the Dolphins at 6th, Gettlemen was left with Devonta Smith from that top-tier of wide receiver targets. Following the Eagles smash and grab, the Giants needed to trade out of 11th as they stuck to their plan. But, simply moved to their next wide receiver (Kadarius Toney – good value at 20th). Rather than change tack to edge rusher or offensive lineman.
In the Chicago Bears, the Giants found a more than willing trade partner. The Bears were desperate to make a splash! With Justin Fields falling out of the top 10, making a play for their new long-term franchise QB became reality. The Bears have “bet the farm” in terms of the additional 2022 picks. Which was of great benefit to a developing Giants roster. But, Bears’ fans can now at least look forward to the 2021 season and beyond. The direct consequence further down the line was it restricted the New England Patriots to the only first-round QB left, Mac Jones. Fields could have been a good fit in Foxboro with Cam Newton as a mentor. Jones on the other hand will require vastly different offensive scheming to Newton. One for Josh McDaniels to work through if they believe Jones can be the longer-term starter.
14th (plus 143rd) traded with New York Jets 23rd (plus 66th & 86th)
The Vikings benefited from plenty of draft capital and two distinct needs (offensive line or edge rusher). They calculated that either could still be drafted nine places further down the board whilst picking up two additional day 2 picks from the Jets. About 90 minutes later, they could hardly believe their luck. They were still able to draft offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw (who they could have legitimately taken at pick 14). The best value trade back of the opening night got even better on day 2. As the Vikings picked up Kellen Mond and Wyatt Davis with the additional day 2 picks.
For the Jets this was a pricey but necessary move in order to secure versatile lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC. Tucker will further solidify the Jets O-line and keep rookie QB Zach Wilson well protected. This move was carefully calculated by GM Joe Douglas as there were teams picking in the 14-23 range, focused on the o-line and on Vera-Tucker in particular. Knowing he would not make it to pick 23 the Jets moved decisively. They had the extra capital to offer and the cost suggests others may have been interested.
Any one of the Raiders (17), Dolphins (18) and Washington Football Team (19) could have taken Vera-Tucker. Two of those three swung round to different needs (Dolphins to edge rusher – Jaelan Philips and Washington to linebacker – Jamin Davis). But, the Raiders maintained course taking Alex Leatherwood from Alabama. The first big surprise of the night. Leatherwood felt rich at 17th and may have been a back-up choice once Vera-Tucker was gone.
Kansas City Chiefs
31st (plus 94th, 136th & 2022 5th) traded with Baltimore Ravens (for Orlando Brown, 58th pick & 2022 6th)
This trade that took place only days before the draft may have a significant impact on the AFC playoff picture come next January. The Ravens have proved in recent years they are a contender. But, they had two glaring areas for improvement but with only one late 1st round pick at 27th. They needed to turn one pick into an edge rusher and a wide receiver. This trade plus the general lack of interest in both of those groups gave the Ravens a distinct advantage.
The combination of Rashod Bateman at pick 27 and Jayson Oweh at pick 31 will solidify the Ravens in an increasingly competitive AFC North and across the wider conference. They will, however, need to replace Orlando Brown, although they did pick up guard Ben Cleveland with the 94th pick. The Chiefs, for their part, picked up great value at pick 58 with linebacker Nick Bolton as well as further solidifying their o-line with Creed Humphrey from their own 63rd pick.
In total 11 trades were completed on day 2. It became more and more apparent that gradings and value on players varied significantly across teams. These differences in opinion resulted in a flurry of trade activity with six of the eleven trades in the first 20 picks.
The Denver Broncos traded up to pick 35 to take running back Javonte Williams once the Jets had passed on him one pick earlier. A great value trade for Denver as they put the pieces in place around Justin Fields and a suitably aggressive move to put them ahead of other sides who could have been looking at Williams (e.g. Dolphins, Eagles).
The New England Patriots moved up eight spots to pick 38 in order to secure defensive tackle Christian Barmore, who had slipped out of round one. Barmore would not have been on the board much longer as the highest rated defensive tackle in a poor position group this year. Their trade partner, the Bengals, were still able to draft tackle Jackson Carman as part of the early day 2 run on offensive linemen (6 of first 16 picks round 2). Two further trades (Chicago up to 39 and Miami up to 42) were also for the tackle position. Teven Jenkins had been mocked to the Bears at pick 20 so being able to lock him up one round and nineteen picks later was great business for Chicago.
Subsequent day 2 trades also resulted in unexpected great value picks. The Dolphins trade partner, the Giants, secured edge rusher Azeez Ojulari at pick 50. Plus, the Raiders made up for their questionable first round action by trading up to 43 to take safety Trevor Moehrig (one of three safeties snapped up at this point in the draft). However, the steal of the night and perhaps across the first three rounds was the Cleveland Browns moving up seven spots (at only the cost of a slightly lower 4th round pick) to draft linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah at pick 59 – phenomenal value!
Going into day 3 we should see more scrambling from teams. As trades will continue in this draft shapes up to be the most unpredictable in recent times. Should continue to be a lot of fun!
Feature Image credit: @NFL