The final opportunity for NFL teams to attempt significant tinkering – whether they think they’re legitimate contenders or realize they’re actually pretenders – passed at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday with the expiration of the league’s 2021 trade deadline.
The Rams made the most significant move Monday, acquiring Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. But there were quite a few mid-tier and minor transactions in the preceding weeks … as well as some notable players who weren’t liberated from their current situations and teams in apparent need that opted to stand pat.
Let’s dig in to who won and lost during the latest waypoint on the NFL calendar:
NFL TRADE DEADLINE TRACKER:Breaking down all the deals
NFL’S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS:Chiefs, Browns among 2021’s letdowns
Tua Tagovailoa: The Miami Dolphins’ second-year quarterback has consistently received backing from coach Brian Flores. He effectively got more from his employer Tuesday when the Fins passed on trading for Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. By all accounts, Miami was the only team that had seriously engaged in negotiations for Watson, and Tagovailoa has been dealing with the speculation for months. He’s also endured an unusual amount of scrutiny for a player drafted fifth overall in 2020 and just 14 starts into his career – especially given the rampant personnel shortcomings that have come to light for a 1-7 team. Now, Tagovailoa has nine weeks to prove he should be the long-term face of the franchise … or otherwise face a new wave of conjecture in 2022.
Alvin Kamara: He averaged more than 5 yards per carry, 6.6 yards per touch and scored 31 touchdowns when paired with fellow RB Mark Ingram II in 2017 and ’18. Now Ingram has returned and should be able to take on some of the dirty work for a team that may have to heavily rely on its backs with QB Jameis Winston lost for the season. Kamara and Ingram are also tight, and it’s a win for everyone seeing them conduct tandem press conferences again.
Kansas City Chiefs: Even after collecting three sacks in their Monday night defeat of the New York Giants, they still rank last in the AFC with 11 on the season. Enter veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram, obtained from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a sixth-rounder. The three-time Pro Bowler may be nearing the end of the line, but he’s scheme versatile and intimately familiar with the AFC West after spending his first nine seasons with the Chargers. Prudent gamble for K.C., which needs some kind of shot in the arm to reinvigorate its bid to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.
Zach Ertz: He’s already played two games with the Arizona Cardinals after patiently awaiting an exit in Philadelphia. With seven catches, 108 yards and a TD for a first-place team, Ertz is also in an ideal situation to showcase himself for one more nice contract in 2022.
Von Miller: He leaves a team stuck in the mud for arguably the best one in the league. Now Miller, who hasn’t appeared in a playoff game since his epic Super Bowl performance (2½ sacks, 2 forced fumbles) against the Carolina Panthers nearly six years ago, has a bona fide shot to add a second ring to what’s already a near-airtight Hall of Fame résumé
Los Angeles Rams of the present: They’ve teamed Miller with Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald, probably the best defensive player of his era, on a unit that was already leading the NFL with 25 sacks. And though LA surrendered a pair of valuable draft picks, the team only has to pay about $700,000 in salary while Denver picks up the remaining $9 million of Miller’s contract, per ESPN. Fiscally, tough to beat that kind of return on investment.
Denver Broncos of the future: Trading Miller was a tough decision but the correct one for new GM George Paton. Collecting a second- and third-round pick for a 32-year-old pending free agent – draft capital that Paton can use to obtain the quarterback, whether a veteran or rookie, he really needs in 2022 – is a downright coup.
Denver Broncos of the present: Miller, a civic hero, is gone. And exporting a captain from a 4-4 team for draft equity is a pretty clear signal that Paton doesn’t believe this club, as currently constructed, has the goods. Doesn’t bode very well for coach Vic Fangio or incumbent QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.
Los Angeles Rams of the future: They’re clearly in the midst of a Super Bowl window, and good for them striking while the iron is hot – which it usually seems to be in regards to coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead. But when the fall comes for a veteran-laden roster, it’s likely to be extraordinary. The Miller compensation means LA is currently scheduled to pick in the fifth and seventh rounds of next year’s draft with its organic selections – though the team will receive a third-round compensatory pick for the Detroit Lions’ hiring of Brad Holmes – and doesn’t have a first-round selection until 2024.
Von Miller: You could easily argue he’s the greatest Bronco of all time … not named John Elway. And Monday’s breakup was clearly difficult for Miller – he could barely contain his emotions on his way out of Dove Valley – the organization and even Elway, who drafted him second overall in 2011. “There was a lot of pressure on him as the No. 2 overall pick, and he exceeded all of those expectations during 11 great seasons as a Bronco,” Elway said in a statement. “Von dedicated himself to become an elite, record-setting pass rusher and future Hall of Famer while helping us to one of the winningest periods in team history.” The Rams are certainly hoping for just a bit of the same.
2011 NFL draft class: Quite possibly the greatest draft ever despite the relative lack of quarterback stars – you qualify, Cam Newton – and quite a few have moved on this year. Miller joins J.J. Watt, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones among those switching jerseys in their 11th NFL season. The best 2011 draftees who still remain with their original teams? Saints DE Cam Jordan, Steelers DE Cam Heyward and Cowboys LT Tyron Smith.
Aaron Rodgers: Welp. Seems like that trade for WR Randall Cobb – that happened in July – is going to be AR12’s parting gift from management. But the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers could have definitely used another receiver, cornerback and/or tight end – remember, TE Robert Tonyan (knee) is out for the season, and Pro Bowl CB Jaire Alexander (shoulder) still might be – as they try to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in a Rodgers reign that seems to be winding down.
Tom Brady: While TB12’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the still-loaded Tampa Bay Buccaneers – stood pat, the Rams got Miller, the Cardinals added Ertz, and even the division rival Carolina Panthers, who currently project into the NFC playoff field, obtained CB Stephon Gilmore, Brady’s former teammate in New England. At least Brady has the bye week to mull his situation after this blatant lack of support from his organization. (And – mostly – it’s just fun to label Brady a loser every now and again … even when tongue is firmly placed in cheek.)
Joe Flacco: Just when he gets traded back to the New York Jets, thinking he’ll get a chance to play in the absence of injured rookie QB Zach Wilson, “Magic Mike” White emerges as the league’s next Brady. Sorry, Joe. At least you get to be the backup for the NYJ – for a few more weeks – instead of the backup to the backup in Philadelphia.
Pass catchers: Barring a release for any of them, WRs Odell Beckham Jr. (Browns), Brandin Cooks (Texans), Jamison Crowder (Jets), N’Keal Harry (Patriots) and Allen Robinson (Bears) and TEs Evan Engram (Giants) and Hayden Hurst (Falcons) will remain in their current situations, several of them suboptimal to say the least. The Rams couldn’t find a taker for WR DeSean Jackson … though hard to figure – aside from financial considerations – why a 34-year-old Southern California native wanted to bolt possibly the best team he’s played on in his 14-year NFL career.
AFC contenders: With the exception of Kansas City, currently in ninth place in the conference, snagging Ingram, no team in the AFC really made a major acquisition. The Titans and Ravens could certainly use running back help, while the Chargers and Raiders are in need of reinforcements in the trenches. Tragically – meaning the motorist who was killed Tuesday – Las Vegas has even bigger issues in the aftermath of WR Henry Ruggs facing a charge of driving under the influence resulting in death. But on the (trivial) football side, it seems the AFC teams are so tightly packed right now, it’s hard to determine who should be buyers and sellers – especially with still-legit clubs like K.C., New England and Cleveland ready to displace some projected playoff squads.
Deshaun Watson: He’s not going to be a Dolphin. Yet. He’s almost surely not going to play football in 2021. He’ll probably have to reassess in a few months for whom he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause. And, more importantly, he may have to reassess his legal strategy as 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women alleging sexual assault and misconduct continue to hover over him. That said, no sympathy for Watson here – this is a personal and professional mess of his own making.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.