There is a lot left to play for in the 2022 NFL season, at least for most teams. The, and before long, the race for the Lombardi Trophy will be underway. But some clubs are already looking ahead to the offseason, where they might have a chance to rejuvenate their roster with splashy moves. Speaking of which, how have the biggest deals of spring and summer paid off this fall and winter? Which teams should be proud of their gambles, and which might be regretful?
We’re glad you asked. Let’s revisit some of the top trades of the 2022 offseason and regrade them according to current results:
Russell Wilson traded to Broncos
Yikes. The proper assessment is probably “incomplete” pending a new coaching staff, which feels inevitable as Denver enters Week 16 at 4-10 with one of the worst offenses in the NFL. But not even skeptics of Wilson’s relocation conceived of a scenario this bad. The ex-Seahawks star looked a bit more spry before suffering a recent head injury, but all in all, he’s been sluggish, slow to release the ball and painfully inaccurate for much of the year. Even if a new play-caller and healthier supporting cast arrives in 2023, he may need to become a QB he’s never been as his trademark mobility wanes. The Broncos did recoup a first-round pick by dealing Bradley Chubb this year, but they are essentially tied to Wilson for at least another two years due to the massive contract they handed him upon arrival; he can’t be cut without costing the team millions until 2024.
Deshaun Watson traded to Browns
QB Deshaun Watson (Texans), sixth-round pick
Three first-rounders, third-rounder, two fourth-rounders
Like Wilson, “incomplete” is probably the real grade because 2022 was never going to be a proper introduction for the embattled ex-Texans standout. But even if you adored his game as a fluid pocket passer early in his career, he’ll be entering 2023, at age 28, having played roughly 0.5 seasons in the last three years. Not only that, but Cleveland’s resources are decimated as a result of the picks surrendered to land him; the Browns are without first-round picks in each of the next two years, and the most important pieces of their lineup — the trenches on both sides of the ball — are increasingly ripe for reinforcements. Is there a scenario he is a borderline top-10 passer again? Perhaps. But in what offense, and for what coach, and how far into his lucrative contract? And we haven’t even touched on the ever-present shadow his alleged off-field misconduct has cast over the organization.
Matt Ryan traded to Colts
This is one of the most unique failures on the list for a few reasons: No. 1, it can’t be fully decoupled from the Carson Wentz trade, which later paid for Ryan’s arrival by netting a third-rounder; and no. 2, Ryan’s turnover-ridden crumble behind a shaky line might finally be the nudge that convinces team brass to halt the veteran QB carousel and invest in developmental options. So yes, it was a bad move in terms of 2022: it all but accelerated Frank Reich’s firing and left Indy unable to compete for an extremely winnable division. But in the bigger picture, Ryan didn’t cost a fortune, he was always going to be a one- or two-year rental, and his flop may well lead to a necessary offensive reset, exposing larger team-building flaws. Maybe even that is giving them too much credit.
Carson Wentz traded to Commanders
QB Carson Wentz (Colts), second-round pick, seventh-rounder
Second-rounder, third-rounder, conditional third-rounder
Everyone ragged on Washington the minute this one went down, mainly because the Colts basically broadcast their intentions to move on and still got the Commanders to give up a pair of potential Day Two picks. And the cost has, in fact, proven steep: current starter Taylor Heinicke isn’t much better, but the fact he’s even comparable to Wentz begs the question, why give up so much — and pay more than $30 million — for a negligible upgrade? We appreciate their interest in Wentz’s upside, and they can get out of the QB’s contract easily after 2022, but in retrospect, using the capital and cash for a veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo or Gardner Minshew might’ve actually kept them in the playoff race.
Tyreek Hill traded to Dolphins
WR Tyreek Hill (Chiefs)
First-round pick, second-rounder, two fourth-rounders, sixth-rounder
His claims about wanting and needing to leave Kansas City may be ridiculous, but he’s sure proved everyone wrong who doubted his ability to post video-game numbers with an inferior QB. Few players have had a more tangible impact on their respective signal-caller’s improvement. And Hill definitely has — sometimes single-handedly — elevated Tua Tagovailoa into solid QB play. The only real nitpick here is you wonder what the Dolphins’ ceiling is with Tagovailoa, whose deep-ball and off-script accuracy remains iffy. With just three picks in the first five rounds of the 2023 draft — and no first-rounder — thanks to Hill’s price tag, they are betting that the “Cheetah” will keep carrying the offense alongside Jaylen Waddle.
Davante Adams traded to Raiders
Very much like Hill in Miami, Adams has been his plain old explosive self in Las Vegas, even with a downgrade at QB. And so the cost has basically already justified itself: even turning 30 soon, with a massive salary, Adams remains one of the steadiest weapons at his position, proving all but QB-proof as a No. 1 target. The nitpick, again, lies more with overall team-building: what is the Raiders’ ceiling with this current setup? Forthcoming changes at QB and/or head coach wouldn’t be that shocking. The big Adams acquisition, then, is only muddied by the lack of clarity throughout the rest of the organization.
AJ Brown traded to Eagles
Few moves have done more for the trajectory of an organization than this one right here. Jalen Hurts is an MVP front-runner for more reasons than one — unlike, say, Tagovailoa, he is especially capable of creating on his own, particularly on the ground. But the Eagles QB has vaulted into true stardom in large part because of Brown. When the ex-Titans star is not dominating the middle of the field or winning deep, his imposing presence is opening lanes for DeVonta Smith. Better yet, he’s both younger (25) and cheaper than the other big-name trade acquisitions at his position (Adams and Hill), making him one of the most impressive building blocks on a well-rounded contender.
Marquise Brown traded to Cardinals
“Hollywood” had a Hollywood start in Arizona, legitimately replacing DeAndre Hopkins as a No. 1 threat with 38 catches for 417 yards and three scores in his first five games. It proved too good to be true. Brown’s still a solid longer-term option at 25 with elite speed, but a foot injury robbed him of basically half the season, and he’s now battled nagging/intermittent durability issues in three of his four NFL seasons. That’s reminiscent of a bigger-picture problem in Arizona, where the team has failed to properly add reliable developmental pieces around QB Kyler Murray. His performance in 2023, a contract year, will determine a lot.
Amari Cooper traded to Browns
The Browns have major question marks at some of the most important positions — QB, OL, DL — but if not for Cooper, their offense may have truly sunk this year. The run game remains the driving force in Cleveland, but his presence as a reliable route-runner gave Jacoby Brissett a safety valve and will presumably outfit Deshaun Watson with the same thing for at least a few years. The chief reason Dallas dumped him for very little was his $20M per-year price tag, but that now looks like a real bargain, considering he’s tied with five others as the 10th highest-paid wideout in the game, barely making more than guys like Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Kenny Golladay. At 28, for such a small acquisition cost, he’s been more than serviceable.
Khalil Mack traded to Chargers
It’s been a little while since Mack truly terrorized opposing QBs as a game-wrecker, and his numbers (45 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 10 QB hits) haven’t been particularly gaudy in his first year as a Charger. But with Joey Bosa sidelined for much of the year, his strength and experience have helped Brandon Staley’s squad stay afloat and, lately, improve to a playoff-caliber unit. He’ll become much more expensive in 2023, when he’s due more than $27M, but LA can get out of the deal without major ramifications. And with an immediate playoff run in mind, it’s not the worst thing in the world to overpay for a proven pass rusher down the stretch.