The NFL trade deadline is often maligned for its inaction. Because it comes so early in the season and the league has such a rigid salary cap, there's rarely quantity or quality of moves.
Not the case this year. A record 10 trades were consummated on Tuesday's deadline alone, preceded by several other headliners in the days leading up to it.
So what does all of this mean? For one thing, it means that teams are more aware than ever of where they stand. Contenders bought and rebuilding teams sold. But some more interesting trends emerged along the way.
NFL Trade Deadline: 5 Lessons Learned
1. Contenders can never have enough talent
It's hard to remember the last season that the top team in each conference was so clear-cut this early. Though the Bills and Eagles are only up one game on the rest of their respective conference peers, the gap between them and everyone else feels much wider. However, they were not complacent and added even more talent to push them over the edge, in pursuit of the lone first-round bye and more.
The Eagles struck one of the earliest blockbusters, adding Robert Quinn, who finished second in the NFL with 18.5 sacks last season, to an already formidable defense that ranks fourth with a 51 percent pass rush win rate. Given their baby-soft schedule, they probably didn't need Quinn to win the division. But grabbing him as a luxury can serve as insurance — and prevent another contender from bolstering their pass rush.
Perhaps the Bills' lone flaw this season — and the past several — has been a weak rushing attack. While they didn't land a big star like Christian McCaffrey, they did move on from 2020 third-rounder Zack Moss to land one of the top pass-catching backs in Nyheim Hines. Of course, Hines will likely just be a situational player, but there are only so many places left for the Bills to upgrade this season, and they lept at the opportunity.
The biggest takeaway here? Super Bowl windows are only so wide, and it's important to capitalize on them. The Rams paid up for Von Miller last year and have a ring to show for it. Just don't look at what's left this season after Miller left and they had few draft picks to show for it.
2. The Dolphins and Vikings are going for it
Philly and Buffalo weren't the only playoff contenders to make a splash at the deadline. Miami and Minnesota — two borderline playoff teams before the season — made two of the biggest trades, ones that are likely to have an impact for several years.
The Dolphins were the lone team to give up a first-round pick, sending that and a 2024 fourth-rounder plus Chase Edmonds for Pro Bowl edge rusher Bradley Chubb and a 2025 fifth. While Chubb is set to hit free agency, the Dolphins are expected to offer him an extension with more than $20 million per year.
Head coach Mike McDaniel will also reunite with his former running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who is familiar with his system and has the potential to quickly improve a rushing attack that is picking up fewer than four yards per carry.
Minnesota was quickly able to fill its hole at tight end after Irv Smith Jr. suffered a severe ankle injury by adding T.J. Hockenson in a rare intra-division trade. The 25-year-old is one of the better young tight ends in the league and has another year left on his deal before he'll need to get paid, justifying the second-round draft pick compensation.
These moves will help solidify Miami and Minnesota's place as real playoff contenders, but these moves should also benefit them next season — provided the Dolphins can re-sign Chubb — when their contending windows will presumably still be open.
3. Are the Packers resigned to their fate?
Green Bay has been one of the biggest disappointments this season. After winning back-to-back MVP awards, 38-year-old Aaron Rodgers is finally starting to look his age, and the Packers are just 3-5. Part of that has to do with a lack of weapons, but the Packers have done nothing to address that.
Of the 22 players traded this season, half are skill position players. Not only that, but near-Pro Bowl-caliber players such as Brandin Cooks, Kareem Hunt, and Mike Gesicki were on the market. But the Packers stood pat with an uninspiring pass-catching group of Sammy Watkins, Romeo Doubs, and an injured, aging Randall Cobb.
There's plenty of time left in the season, and the Packers are just one game out of the final wild-card spot, but it speaks volumes that Green Bay didn't want to improve its roster at this pivotal point in the season. With three straight games coming up against the Cowboys, Titans, and Eagles, the Packers are in serious trouble.
4. Don't forget about the future
The biggest trades are the ones that impact this season, but two major trades went down with either unlikely to make an impact until 2023.
One certainly won't, since new Jaguar Calvin Ridley won't be eligible to play until at least next season, given his indefinite suspension for gambling. But the rebuilding Jaguars finally picked up a potential No. 1 receiver — apologies to Christian Kirk — for the price of just a fifth- and conditional fourth-rounder. If he plays well, that latter pick could become a second-rounder, but that will be a price worth paying if he's as good as he has been in the recent past.
The other intriguing move is the Bears adding Chase Claypool for their second-round pick next year. A pick that could land in the mid-to-late-30s is a high price to pay, but the Bears would be failing Justin Fields if they continued to give him little protection and a dearth of weapons. It was a risk worth taking, especially with Claypool's upside as a high No. 2 receiver or more.
Rebuilding teams are rarely considered buyers, but when talented players with multiple years of team control are on the market, almost any team can be a good fit.
5. Teams are still unafraid to pay up for stars
This past offseason was one of the wildest in NFL history. Several of the biggest stars in the league were traded after making contract demands and eventually got the sizable deals they wanted from new teams that coughed up multiple first-round picks.
Only the Broncos traded a first-round pick at the deadline, but several teams gave up major draft capital to land players they’ll need to immediately give major contracts. In addition to the Dolphins adding Chubb, the Ravens also traded a second-rounder for middle linebacker Roquan Smith, who is seeking a $20-plus million AAV deal.
It’s exciting to see contending teams go for it. It seems to be paying off for the Dolphins (Tyreek Hill) and Eagles (A.J. Brown) this season. But early returns are not great for the Broncos (Russell Wilson) and Raiders (Davante Adams), and those contracts will only get worse with time. What's clear is that these trades include incredible risk.
Not only will these teams be dedicating a large portion of their cap to these new, aging players, but they'll also be forfeiting the chance to add good, young players in the near future on cheap contracts. Not saying that it's not worth it, especially for contending teams. But it's a massive risk that teams continue to take lately rather than waiting to sign the same players in free agency at the end of the season without losing the draft picks.