2021 NFL offseason trade rankings: Rams’ push for Matthew Stafford headlines most impactful deals in offseason

Table of Contents InconsequentialMildly impactfulPotentially high-impactQuarterbacks and stars The 2021 NFL offseason has been filled

The 2021 NFL offseason has been filled with a variety of trades. We’ve seen multiple starting quarterbacks change teams. We’ve seen one team overhaul its entire offensive line while another O-line was completely gutted. We’ve seen defensive starters move all around the league. 

With that in mind, we’re using this space today to rank the offseason trades. Two notes before we get started: First, we’re only ranking trades that involved players. No draft-pick-for-draft-pick deals. We’d be here all year if I had to do that. Second, instead of ranking the deals by who got the best return, we’re ranking them based on their potential impact on the 2021 season. 

Away we go…

Inconsequential

As you can see, this group of trades includes exclusively late-round picks and swaps of players who seem very unlikely to be starters at any point this season. The one deal involving a player who had a chance to be a starter (Isaiah Wilson) ended up not meaning anything because Wilson flamed out of the Dolphins organization within days. The only reason that trade didn’t land at No. 22 is because of what it told us about the Dolphins’ organizational philosophy, which is likely to be more impactful this season than any of the players that changed teams here. 

Mildly impactful

These trades all involve potential starters and late-round draft picks, but the starters are all guys who are either below-average players at their position (Ereck Flowers), play non-premium positions (Malcom Brown is a run-stuffing defensive tackle in a pass-focused league), coming off of major injury (Benardrick McKinney), or going to teams that have almost no chance of competing for a Super Bowl this year (Marcus Cannon, Shaq Lawson, Michael Brockers). 

There’s the potential for Flowers to impact the Football Team, but that impact is unlikely to be positive. McKinney could rebound for the Dolphins, but he’s still an off-ball linebacker going to a team that already has a player ahead of him on the depth chart (the recently-extended Jerome Baker) and likes to flood the field with defensive backs. Brown could help an improved Jaguars defense, but a player in his position can only make so much impact. The sixth- and seventh-rounders selected with the picks that changed hands here are more likely to not make their respective rosters than to have a major impact this season. 

Potentially high-impact

These four trades involve swaps of players for mid-to-late round draft picks, but all of their players either play a premium position, were traded to a potential Super Bowl contender, or both. Three of the four players can likely be counted on as average-or-better starters (Brown, Hudson, Jackson), and the fourth (Hughes) is a former first-round pick getting a second chance with an organization that has shown the ability to coax better-than-expected play out of players at his position.

Hughes is headed to the Chiefs, which gives him a chance to play a key role on a Super Bowl favorite. The Chiefs have found players like Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, and Rashad Fenton over the last few years, none of whom were considered starter material before they got to K.C. Perhaps the defensive staff can tap back into what made Hughes a first-round pick.

Brown is going back to New England, where he played the best football of his career. We’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends. He’ll play well for the Patriots again. Hudson should be a key piece of the protection unit for Kyler Murray, giving the Cardinals a major upgrade at an important position. Jackson should improve Russell Wilson’s offensive line as well. All three of those offensive linemen were traded away from the Raiders, which dramatically impacts that team’s chances of contending for anything because what was once the strength of the team, is no longer. 

Quarterbacks and stars

6 Chiefs Orlando Brown, 2021 2nd (Nick Bolton), 2022 6th Ravens 2021 1st (Odafe Oweh), 2021 3rd (Ben Cleveland), 2021 4th, 2022 5th
5 Broncos Teddy Bridgewater Panthers 2021 6th (traded)
4 Panthers Sam Darnold Jets 2021 6th (traded), 2022 2nd, 2022 4th
3 Titans Julio Jones, 2023 6th Falcons 2022 2nd, 2023 4th
2 Colts Carson Wentz Eagles 2021 3rd (traded), 2022 2nd (conditional 1st)
1 Rams Matthew Stafford Lions Jared Goff, 2021 3rd (Ifeatu Melifonwu), 2022 1st, 2023 1st

Now we’re into the truly impactful trades. All players at premium positions, some potentially high draft picks, and mostly involving teams that are or could be real contenders. 

The Chiefs’ trade for Brown would have ranked higher on this list had they not already spent so much money and other resources while remaking the offensive line. Brown moves the needle, but all of the other work Kansas City did (signing Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe, drafting Creed Humphrey, getting Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from his opt-out year) has a chance to be just as impactful. We’re only grading the trade itself, not the overall effort to improve Patrick Mahomes’ protection unit. 

The two swaps of quarterbacks who have been below-average players during their careers and heading to teams that are unlikely to be true contenders come next on the list. They’re quarterbacks, so they are potentially highly impactful deals, and it’s possible they contributed to both the Broncos and Panthers passing on Justin Fields in the draft. But for this season, their impact might not be that big. 

The Titans desperately needed to add another wide receiver. They lost Corey Davis. They lost Jonnu Smith. They lost offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. They were about to head into the season with Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and not much else. That’s no longer the case. They added arguably the best receiver of his generation, a player who can still play at an extremely high level… when he’s healthy. That’s the key. 

The Colts might have a Super Bowl-ready rest-of-the-roster. But it won’t matter if Wentz can’t rediscover his 2017 form now that he’s reunited with Frank Reich. If he can, that’s another contender in the AFC. If he can’t — but stays in the lineup all year — the Eagles get a potentially pretty high first-round pick from the Colts. That’s a recipe for major impact one way or the other. 

The Rams do have a Super Bowl-ready roster, and now they have a quarterback with enough talent to lead it. They had to pay dearly to pick up Stafford while also dumping Jared Goff’s contract, and because they have such a star-laden team, that lack of depth could hurt them in future years. Their chance to win is right now. This year and next. That’s why the deal for Stafford was the most important swap this offseason.