The sputtering and spiraling Green Bay Packers — despite both overt and behind-the-scenes cries for more receiving help from their future Hall of Fame quarterback — did not make a single move of significance in the weeks leading up to the deadline or at the cutoff itself. They stood pat despite the culture of the league changing to a degree that fostered so many blockbuster deals and despite so many potential pass catchers being dealt (and many more made available). Given the ever-rocky relationship between the Packers’ front office and Aaron Rodgers, expect to hear plenty about it, from the loose-lipped quarterback for starters, particularly if the team’s four-game losing streak portends where this season is headed.
“It’s surprising with so many receivers available,” said a personnel executive with a different team that was active at the deadline. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to publicly discuss internal trade conversations or other teams’ transactions.) “I really thought they were going to get [former first-round pick Kadarius] Toney,” who was dealt from the New York Giants to the Kansas City Chiefs last week. “He would have fit what they do,” the executive said. “I thought they would do something to try to get the passing game going.”
Another GM agreed the Packers’ inactivity was a potential pitfall.
“No disrespect and I really like those guys, but there is still some of that old school in them, from when [longtime general manager Ted Thompson] was there,” said the GM, who is under similar restrictions about discussing other teams. “The league is really changing, and if you are trying to win, then you’ve got to be willing to part with picks and be more aggressive. But they also might be looking at it like they just gave their quarterback $50 million [per year] and he isn’t like [Drew] Brees or [Tom] Brady. There wasn’t any discount so they could spread it around to other guys. He wanted every penny, and they might be sending a message back to him now.”
Said another GM: “Must be a f---ed-up place.”
Regardless of any motivations, the reality is that for all of Green Bay’s nosing around on Toney, Chase Claypool (who was traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Chicago Bears), Jerry Jeudy or Brandin Cooks, the Packers are stuck with the same guys Rodgers has been griping about. (Big winner: Pat McAfee, on whose show Rodgers will presumably discuss all of this.)
Christian McCaffrey is already providing big dividends, with a rushing, receiving and passing touchdown last week, and he only just arrived. Coach Kyle Shanahan “will get the best out of him,” a GM said of McCaffrey, noting that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t keen on pushing the ball downfield much anymore and that McCaffrey poses an enormous problem for defenses in the short and intermediate passing game. Yards after the catch are the name of the game in San Francisco, and McCaffrey delivers. That offense needed a jolt and got it.
Over the past two weeks, every executive I spoke with was shocked Carolina apparently wouldn’t take two first-round picks for pass rusher Brian Burns. “The Rams did everything they could to try to get him,” one GM said. “I can’t believe they turned that down. Now they almost have to pay him whatever he wants because everyone knows they turned down two [first-round picks] for him.” Another GM added that he thought the Panthers were asking far too much for cornerback Donte Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018.
Multiple front-office officials around the league were stunned that the Bears dealt their own second-round pick (not the one they got from the Baltimore Ravens for linebacker Roquan Smith) for Claypool. “That’s probably a pick in the top 10 of the second round,” one GM said. Claypool has talent, but his production was erratic. No team excels at finding wide receiver talent in the crevasses of the draft like the Steelers, and they aren’t a team that will pay multiple top wideouts; Dionte Johnson already got his extension. “I’m still not really sure why [the Bears] did it,” a personnel executive said. While some floated the idea that the Bears worried the 2023 draft might be bereft of receiving talent, other evaluators scoffed at that notion. “You can get a Claypool-level player and probably better with that pick,” one general manager said.
The team famous for “F--- them picks,” as General Manager Les Snead’s T-shirt read after last season’s Super Bowl win, couldn’t find the right combinations to give more draft picks away in exchange for proven talent. The Rams have major issues on the offensive and defensive lines, lack receiving impact beyond Cooper Kupp — expect a major push for the return of Odell Beckham Jr. — and couldn’t find a taker for running back Cam Akers. The deadline helped win them a Super Bowl a year ago with Von Miller and Beckham (several days later) coming on board, and they needed help more drastically this season.
Miami’s passing offense is unrivaled right now, and running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who arrived from San Francisco, could boost a middling ground game. Most of all, adding Denver pass rusher Bradley Chubb — in exchange for more of the draft haul they got from the 49ers to move up to draft Trey Lance last year — gives the Dolphins a pass rush that should take off. Miami has been blitzing a ton and getting burned by it but should be able to generate pressure without bringing numbers now because Chubb and Jaelan Phillips are top players in the league at pressuring quarterbacks. (Hat tip for former Texans coach and GM Bill O’Brien, who set this in motion when he dealt two first-round picks and a second-round selection to Miami in 2019 as part of the deal for left tackle Laremy Tunsil.)
“If Chubb can stay healthy, he will be a difference-maker for them,” one GM said. “The price wasn’t steep at all.” Another GM said, “If you are going to trade your best pass rusher — and supposedly the guy was a real leader in their building — you should get much more draft capital than that.”
By Thursday, the Dolphins and Chubb had agreed to terms on a massive five-year extension, according to multiple reports.
Not exactly a go-for-the-gusto management style there. Tennessee traded A.J. Brown at the draft, and its wide receiver production rivals the Bears for the worst in the NFL, yet the Titans have a great shot to win the AFC South and make something happen in January. Adding a weapon to help their play-action passing game and balance out the run-heavy offense would have been huge.
Ravens (somewhere in between)
Evaluators like new linebacker Roquan Smith plenty, and inside linebacker play has been a weakness since C.J. Mosley left for the New York Jets in free agency. But Smith and the Bears couldn’t get close to an agreement on what his next contract should look like, and with the Ravens needing their franchise tag for Lamar Jackson in 2023, they don’t have a mechanism to keep the three-down linebacker from testing the market. So trading multiple picks, including a second-rounder, for a rental, off-ball linebacker did raise some questions.
“I don’t think they’re going to be able to sign him,” one GM said. “That’s a rental to me. They’re not going to give him $21 million a year. And what does that say about what they really think of Patrick Queen,” the linebacker the Ravens took in the first round in 2020?
Another GM, who also is not allowed to publicly discuss other teams’ transactions, said on Wednesday that he would be troubled by the moves the Ravens and Dolphins made because of the lack of contract extensions for Smith or Chubb, although that was before Chubb agreed to his extension.