Relative to other sports, the NFL’s trade deadline is usually a snooze-fest. But in a year where crazy has become the new normal, Deadline Day 2017 has been an absolute doozy. I already addressed New England’s surprising, but ultimately necessary decision to move Jimmy Garoppolo in Tuesday’s Dose, so instead let’s focus on what went down in Buffalo, Seattle and Philadelphia.
The Bills made a significant upgrade on Tuesday, landing receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina for third and seventh-round picks in a late-developing blockbuster. The move is very on brand for the Bills, who are coached by former Panthers DC Sean McDermott and run by GM Brandon Beane, who is also a Carolina product. The Bills have been the surprise of the league so far, cruising to a 5-2 record with impressive wins over the Broncos, Falcons and Raiders in the early going.
So far Buffalo has gotten by on the strength of a stingy defense and a power running game headed by workhorse LeSean McCoy. But as good teams often do, the Bills correctly identified their biggest weakness and fixed it by bringing in a young, top-flight wide receiver. A big body (6’5/245) with a nose for the end zone (18 touchdowns in 40 career games), Benjamin gives the Bills the downfield weapon they’ve lacked since trading Sammy Watkins to the Rams during training camp. This represents an enormous upgrade for Tyrod Taylor, who has one of the strongest arms in the NFL but rarely gets a chance to use it throwing to mistake-prone rookie Zay Jones and underwhelming slot receiver Jordan Matthews.
Back in Charlotte, Devin Funchess will slide in as the Panthers’ default No. 1, though soon Greg Olsen (broken foot) will be back to assume his role as Cam Newton’s preferred safety net. Olsen is expected to resume practicing this week and could be activated from injured reserve as early as Week 11. Benjamin’s departure should also come as good news to Christian McCaffrey, who currently leads all running backs in receptions (49) while ranking second in receiving yards (378) behind only Washington’s Chris Thompson (442).
Three thousand miles away in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle beefed up its offensive line by acquiring Texans LT Duane Brown in exchange for CB Jeremy Lane and two draft picks (a 2018 fifth-rounder and a second-rounder in 2019). As far as trades go, this one was a no-brainer for both sides. Brown went to three Pro Bowls and garnered two All-Pro selections during his 10-year stay in Houston but was clearly in need of a change of scenery. The disgruntled 32-year-old staged a lengthy holdout, only resurfacing in Week 8 to prevent his contract from tolling. His one game this year, ironically enough, came against the very same Seahawks team he was just traded to. Brown along with teammate DeAndre Hopkins was at the forefront of last week’s protest against Texans owner Bob McNair, who insensitively compared players to “inmates” in a “prison” at a recent league meeting.
While Brown’s best years are probably behind him, he represents an immense upgrade over Rees Odhiambo, who holds PPF’s worst tackle grade by a significant margin. Brown will be tasked with protecting Russell Wilson, who helped facilitate Monday’s trade by renegotiating his contract to give the Seahawks more cap space. Brown’s departure means the Texans will have to turn back to Chris Clark at left tackle. That’s obviously not ideal, though Rookie of the Year contender Deshaun Watson had no trouble carving up opposing defenses when Clark was filling in for Brown earlier this year.
There was some thought that Seattle could move Jimmy Graham at the trade deadline, though coach Pete Carroll refuted that claim almost immediately when the rumors first surfaced on Sunday morning. Graham cemented his status as one of the most productive tight ends in football Sunday by scoring a pair of touchdowns including the game-winner in a 41-38 shootout with Houston. Even if Graham departs in free agency, trading him mid-season would not have been consistent with Seattle’s win-now mentality.
The fireworks didn’t end there, however. Still incensed in the wake of Thursday’s shutout loss to Baltimore, Dolphins GM Chris Grier sent a message by trading the team’s lead running back, Jay Ajayi, to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick in 2018. Ajayi’s Miami swan song will not be remembered fondly, at least by his fantasy owners. Ajayi broke out for 21 yards on his first carry, yet managed just two yards on 12 carries the remainder of the night. Coach Adam Gase, who has been critical of Ajayi in the past, voiced his frustration after the game, calling out Ajayi for trying to “hit home runs” and imploring him to do his “job.” Gase went on to call the Dolphins the “worst offense in football.” That may sound hyperbolic, but after logging a combined six points in their three losses this year, it was clear the Dolphins needed an offensive shakeup.
Ajayi has followed up his breakout 2016—a year that saw him rush for 200 yards on three separate occasions (two of them against Buffalo)—with a dismal 2017. There have been flashes of the old Ajayi—he’s rushed for 100 yards twice—but most of his success has been volume-based and he hasn’t scored a touchdown all season after visiting the end zone eight times in 2016.
Joining the Eagles would seem to be a net positive for Ajayi’s fantasy outlook, assuming he can wrestle away workhorse duties from LeGarrette Blount. Eagles VP of Football Operations, Howie Roseman, was noncommittal on who would start Week 9, though it stands to reason that Ajayi will need at least a week to learn the ins and outs of Doug Pederson’s playbook. While not an adept pass-catcher, Ajayi certainly has more receiving chops than the one-dimensional Blount, who is also six years Ajayi’s senior.
One report Tuesday suggested Miami’s willingness to throw in the towel on Ajayi was due to a chronic knee condition, but the Eagles didn’t uncover any significant red flags when going over Ajayi’s medical records. Regardless, the Eagles’ offensive line is a strength (even without the help of stud left tackle Jason Peters) and Philadelphia’s resurgent passing game led by MVP candidate Carson Wentz should lead to more goal-line opportunities. Ajayi’s arrival could also come at the expense of Wendell Smallwood, who is now in danger of being a healthy scratch on game days. Corey Clement should remain active due to his expertise on special teams.
Ajayi was the best of a lackluster bunch in Miami, leading the team with 465 yards on 138 carries through his first seven games. That didn’t leave much work for backups Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake, who have accrued 57 yards on a combined 22 carries this year. Fantasy owners will inevitably rush to the waiver wire to grab what’s left of Miami’s shattered backfield, though neither Williams nor Drake are likely to move the needle much. Drake should get the first crack at replacing Ajayi but will likely cede passing-down duties to Williams. If Ajayi was ineffective as an every-down player in Miami, there’s little chance of Drake and Williams having success as role players in the same offense.
While this year’s deadline provided more sparks than usual, most of the big names stayed put including Martavis Bryant, Vontae Davis, Eric Ebron, Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Jarvis Landry, Dion Lewis and Josh Sitton. The Jets snuck in one last trade before the 4 PM ET buzzer, adding to their secondary by acquiring second-year CB Rashard Robinson from San Francisco. New York needed a healthy body with Morris Claiborne (foot) and Buster Skrine (concussion) both on the shelf, though the addition of Robinson certainly doesn’t qualify as an upgrade. He’s struggled badly this year, earning PFF’s No. 109 cornerback grade out of 114 qualifiers at the position.