Episode 3 is here, with the guys answering your AMA questions. Besides that, Amaël and Ben do their usual breakdowns of recent NFL news. They also debate whether the G.O.A.T. should be based on talent or accomplishments and whether you should wipe sitting or standing.
Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.
Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.
Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.
If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.
Los Angeles Post Trade
If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.
However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.
Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.
Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.
Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.
Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.
Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.
Buffalo Post Trade
Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.
In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.
It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.
Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.
The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.
Final Verdict: Rams Win
Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.
Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.
This deal was huge at the time. New fans may remember him as a slow and overpaid redzone threat, but peak Graham was on a historic tear at his position. With Drew Brees feeding him, Graham was right there with Rob Gronkowski for the title of most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the league.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, the statistical dominance of the combo didn’t translate to team dominance. In Graham’s star 2011-2014 seasons, the Saints never advanced past the divisional round and missed the playoffs entirely twice. Even though Graham was far from the problem, it didn’t seem like New Orleans could get over the hump with the current roster.
To make matters worse, Graham wanted elite compensation for his elite status. New Orleans and its star spent the 2014 offseason locked in a contentious arbitration battle over Graham’s true position (with the Saints ultimately winning and applying the cheaper tight end franchise tag). Eventually, they agreed on a massive $40 million deal and the 2014 season played out per usual—with Graham posting gaudy numbers and the team stumbling to seven wins.
On March 10, 2015, Mickey Loomis decided something needed to change. That day, Graham was dealt to a Seattle team looking for offensive reinforcements following a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss. The Seahawks gave up their starting center and a first-round pick with the hopes that an upgrade at tight end would extend their streak of Super Bowl appearances.
Seattle Post Trade
The Seahawks were this close to being back-to-back Super Bowl champs, so adding one of the best weapons in the league had to certify them as a dynasty, right?
Kind of. Seattle is yet to have a losing season since the trade and advanced to the divisional round in Graham’s first year. But, they also haven’t made it past that round since.
Part of that is the result of the trade. It didn’t take long to realize Graham wasn’t going to make the same impact in Seattle as he did by the bayou. Unlike the pass-happy Saints, the Seahawks were built on defense and the run game.
Even still, Graham was on track to post strong numbers once again in 2015. Then, for the first time in his career, he suffered a serious injury. A torn patellar tendon ended his season and cemented a rocky start to his stay in the Pacific Northwest.
A bounce back 2016 season proved to be the outlier in Graham’s career outside of New Orleans. He lasted one more disappointing season in Seattle before somehow earning two more big contracts with the Packers and Bears. Despite playing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, glimpses of the old Graham were few and far between.
Besides getting less impact from their star acquistion than expected, this trade really crippled Seattle. On the bright side, they did a great job with the pick they received, coupling it with some of their own picks to trade up for Tyler Lockett.
That’s about all we have for the bright side. Trading away the linchpin of their offensive line led Seattle down the dark path of turnstiles protecting Wilson they’ve become known for.
As we all saw, age and injuries hit the Seahawks hard. The youthful and exciting Legion of Boom crumbled quickly. The money dedicated to Graham or the departed first-round pick would have been the perfect means to replenish the defense. Or reinforce the offensive line. Instead, those holes went on to sink Seattle’s championship aspirations.
Wilson and Pete Carroll have overcome these issues remarkably, with the aforementioned streak of winning seasons being truly mind-blowing outside of New England. Once the calendar turns, though, the heroic efforts of those two fall short against more complete teams.
It would’ve happened eventually, but the Graham trade accelerated Seattle’s transition from a young and deep team to an aging and incomplete one.
New Orleans Post Trade
Nothing really changed early on for New Orleans. The offense remained potent and the defense porous. Just as they did in Graham’s last year, the Saints went 7-9 in 2015 and 2016.
With Sean Payton’s genius guiding him, Brees continued to light defenses up, as Brandin Cooks took over as his favorite target. Overall, the Saints didn’t seem to lose much by trading Graham. Given that, it almost didn’t matter what the Saints did with the crown jewel of their return—Seattle’s 2015 first-round pick.
Well, it’s a good thing it didn’t matter because that pick did not turn out well. Their selection, linebacker Stephone Anthony, flashed as a rookie before injuries and inconsistency led the team to give up on him. Shortly into his third season, the Saints flipped Anthony for a fifth-round pick. Needless to say two unspectacular years of play and a day three pick in return are not a good return on a first-round pick.
That pick was the meat of the deal, but the sides ended up making up for the main course in this case. Dumping Graham’s contract helped to unclog the Saints’ perennially messy books. Max Unger started all but one game and made a Pro Bowl in his four years with the team. He played a large role in establishing the offensive line as a strength of the team, as it has remained for years now.
Both Unger and the money saved were instrumental in leading New Orleans to this current era of regular season dominance. There have surely been times when Brees missed his old favorite target, but that trade was a key stepping stone to the current team status.
Final Verdict: Saints Won
This trade was neither great nor destructive for either side. While Seattle got less impact out of Graham than anticipated, he was still solid and the pick they received was key to landing Lockett.
New Orleans completely botched their pick and missed the playoffs the first two years after the trade. Still, they win this trade relatively comfortably. They were going nowhere fast with Graham, so getting out of his contract while picking up a stud center was a shrewd move.
Who do you think won the Graham trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.
Amaël and Ben are back with an extra-long second episode. They start by redoing their teams’ first-round picks from 2014-18 before debating the best breakfast foods. Stick around for discussions on why Drew Brees doesn’t get the same hate as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers and who roller derby’s target group is.
The long-awaited debut of the greatest NFL podcast of all time is finally here. In this episode, Amaël and Ben give quickfire breakdowns of some off season stories before detailing their future plans for sports media domination.