Looking Back…Who Won the Panthers-Bills Kelvin Benjamin Trade?

The History

Part of the famous 2014 receiver class, Benjamin exploded onto the scene. His 1,008 yards tied Greg Olsen for the team lead. After such a successful rookie campaign, expectations were through the roof for his second year.

Then, an ACL injury brought the hype train to a screeching halt. Faced with the adversity of losing his top receiver, Cam Newton responded with an MVP season and 17-2 record (with one of those losses unfortunately coming in the Super Bowl). Still, the Panthers had just completed one of the best seasons in league history without their stud receiver, so morale remained high.

Benjamin nearly posted 1,000 yards again in 2016, but the team failed to recapture its magic and stumbled to a 6-10 record. Midway through a weight-watching 2017 season, Carolina made the choice to move on from its recent first-round pick.

Buffalo was the perfect trade partner. After poaching their head coach and general manager from the Panthers earlier that year, this was an opportunity to potentially snag a star from the same organization. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane had experience with Benjamin from their Carolina days and valued him enough to pull the trigger

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Expectations were almost non-existent in McDermott’s first year, but his team was a feisty 5-2 when they traded for Benjamin. Three days after the trade, the Bills lost to the Jets with Benjamin unavailable.

From there, Buffalo fell back to Earth. Including the Jets loss, they went just 4-5 the rest of the way. It’s tough to put too much blame on Benjamin, though, as the Bills were far worse than their record and fortunate to finish 9-7.

Still, Benjamin was a massive disappointment, even by the most generous standards. His best game for Buffalo that season was 5 catches for 70 yards in a blowout loss to the Patriots. Every other time out, he posted 42 yards or less. On top of that, a knee injury cost him two games.

Overall, it was a dud first season for Benjamin. He was acquired to bolster a lackluster receiving corps and catapult the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years. And while the team accomplished the latter (before promptly losing to Jacksonville in one of the worst quarterback matchups in postseason history), Benjamin doesn’t deserve much credit for that. Not only was his production underwhelming, but it came with these receivers stealing targets from him.

Even so, Benjamin’s fifth-year option—accepted by Carolina before the trade—gave him an opportunity to redeem himself.

Unfortunately, year two in Buffalo wasn’t any better. In fact, it was pretty much a mirror image of the year before. His best game (4 catches for 71 yards) came in a blowout loss while his next-highest yardage output was 45.

With a 4-8 record and little return on their investment, Buffalo chose to cut their losses by releasing Benjamin. Kansas City quickly snapped him up, but even Patrick Mahomes couldn’t save Benjamin. His two catches with the Chiefs proved to be his last in the NFL, as he looks to be de facto retired.

Benjamin showed as a rookie that he had the tools to be a successful receiver, but his ACL injury brought effort and attitude concerns to the surface. Not long after, those concerns swallowed up his career.

To make matters worse, Benjamin trashed Newton instead of taking responsibility for his failures. This is a guy who had more memes made about his weight than catches outside of Carolina and yet he thought people would take his side over Cam’s.

While this move didn’t work out, the Panthers North experiment has been successful overall. Much of their roster has Carolina ties or was drafted with the same philosophy in mind. The prices of some of those signings have been questionable and Josh Allen has his doubters, but the Bills are the favorites to win their division and threats to make a deep playoff run.

Even though the team is in a good place now, this was still a terrible trade. It’s not an issue of overcompensation—third and seventh-round picks certainly don’t break the bank—Benjamin was just that bad in Buffalo. Between his poor production and locker room presence, he hurt the team more than helped it.

Carolina Post Trade

Photo by Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Carolina was a good team both before this trade and after it. 5-3 with Benjamin, they finished 11-5 and playoff bound. The slightly improved record doesn’t conclusively show they improved after the trade, but there’s a case to be made.

For as productive as Benjamin was, his impact didn’t match the numbers. From 2014-17, Carolina’s regular season was 18-21-1 with him and 21-3 without him. Without his go-to target, Newton worked through his reads more and the offense was more dangerous as a result.

Benjamin’s departure opened the door for Devin Funchess to take over as WR1. The third-year man responded immediately with 17 catches for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns over the first 3 games post trade. But, as has become a theme of his career, the flashes didn’t sustain for Funch. After spotty production to end the season, he flopped as top dog in 2018.

As a team, Carolina imploded after a hot start. A 6-2 record was followed by 7 straight losses before a season-ending win over the Saints’ reserves. Funchess’ year was a similar story—minus the hot start. With just 549 yards on the season, his most memorable game was a dropfest in his Detroit homecoming.

Thankfully for the Panthers, they didn’t put all their eggs in Funchess’ basket. Amid the since-departed receiver’s struggles, first-round pick D.J. Moore showed the future was bright. Explosive with the ball in his hands, Moore doubled down on his promising rookie season with the ninth-most receiving yards in the league last year.

Moore may be an improvement over Benjamin, but it’s been a rough couple seasons in Carolina. The draft picks they received have done nothing to help right the ship, either.

Gaulden, the selection with Buffalo’s third-rounder, was a questionable decision on draft night and an unquestionably poor one now. He rarely saw the field before getting cut midway through last season. A little over two years after being drafted, he is not on a roster.

Carolina’s other pick could end up with a better career than Gaulden despite being taken 150 picks later. That doesn’t say much, though, and Smith too has struggled to find snaps on defense. But unlike Gaulden, he’s carved out a role as something of a special teams ace. Decade-long careers can be built upon that, so Smith could stick around for a while.

Even if Smith becomes the Panthers’ next Colin Jones, it’s tough to call this a good deal for the team. Realistically, the best thing they got was removing the temptation to re-sign Benjamin. His numbers warranted a continued stay, but he clearly would have been a ticking time bomb had that came true.

Knowing it could have ended even worse is the best way for Panthers fans to look back on the Benjamin era fondly.

Final Verdict: Panthers Win

If there was ever a lose-lose trade, this might be it. Benjamin might not have been a great receiver for the Panthers, but he was at least productive, and they got almost nothing in return for him. Calling them winners is more by default than anything, as Buffalo failed even harder.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Eagles-Vikings Sam Bradford Trade?

The History

Less than two weeks before its 2016 season opener, Minnesota’s 23-year-old starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, suffered a gruesome and season-ending injury. Given their 11-5 record the year before, the Vikings were hesitant chalk it up as a lost season.

As a result, general manager Rick Spielman began to scour the trade block for a veteran quarterback. One name stood out, and Spielman got his guy.

This move was surprising at the time, and without Bridgewater’s injury, Bradford likely would have played out the year in midnight green. After all, Doug Pederson’s message all offseason was that Bradford would start while rookie Carson Wentz rode the bench.

But, every player has a price, and the Vikings met Bradford’s. After being acquired in 2015, Bradford impressed enough to earn a two-year contract, but simultaneously disappointed enough for the team to draft his replacement.

Minnesota Post Trade

Photo by Andy Clayton-King/The Associated Press

Minnesota chose to start Shaun Hill week one due to his experience in the system. That gave Bradford an extra week to study the playbook and a free mark in the win column. The Vikings added additional marks in each of their next four games as Bradford took over and posted six touchdowns with zero turnovers. It was early, but Minnesota and its shiny new acquisition were looking dangerous.

Then, the wheels started to fall off. Bradford turned the ball over three times in week six as the Eagles abused their former quarterback and gave Minnesota its first taste of defeat. It was the Vikings’ first loss on the season, but far from their last. Including the shellacking in Philadelphia, they lost 8 of 11 to secure couch seats for the playoffs.

At first glance, Bradford was far from the problem. He finished with a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and would have gone over 4,000 yards if he played all 16 games. Most impressively, he broke Drew Brees’ record for highest single-season completion percentage (Brees has bested it every year since).

Look further in depth, though, and you’ll see why surface-level statistics are often misleading (and why I think completion percentage is extremely overrated). Bradford was the perfect example of an overly conservative game manager in 2016.

Instead of throwing it up and giving Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs the chance to make plays, he usually just checked it down. While that limits turnovers, it puts more pressure on the defense to be perfect. To their credit, the Vikings’ star-studded unit stepped up to the plate more often that not. Few defenses were better that season, but Minnesota’s putrid offense sunk them to mediocrity.

In Bradford’s defense, the offense was missing a key cog. Adrian Peterson only suited up in three games in what was ultimately a disappointing, injury-plagued end to his career in The Gopher State. No matter what stage of his career he was in, AD undoubtedly would have made Bradford’s job easier.

Also, this was generally an impossible situation. One of the primary reasons the NFL has so few trades compared to other leagues is how complex and unique each team’s playbook is. Learning a whole new offense in a matter of weeks is no small feat.

It’s also worth noting that Minnesota only paid $7 million of his $18 million 2016 salary. That helped lessen the dissatisfaction towards Bradford while inspiring hope for a strong second season.

But, in typical Bradford fashion, he went down week one. In his first game back, he suffered a season-ending injury. That ended his time with the Vikings, as he somehow convinced the Cardinals he was worth a $40 million contract. Three games into the season, Arizona benched him after what were likely his last snaps in the NFL. He was released the next November and has yet to sign with another team.

Hilariously, Bradford is the 17th-highest paid player of all time, slotting in right behind Brett Favre. He might not be the best quarterback, but he certainly knows how to pick an agent.

For Minnesota, their last-ditch effort to save the season didn’t really pan out. They finished 8-8 in 2016 and fared much better once Case Keenum took over for Bradford.

Even though Bradford was solid overall, there’s little doubt the Vikings would take a do-over for this deal. Those extra picks could have pushed Minnesota over the hump in 2017 or yielded replacements for some of the team’s aging stars. With Bradford’s stay being short and uneventful, just a chance at either of those would have been an improvement.

Philadelphia Post Trade

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

As sad as Bridgewater’s injury was, it led to a perfect scenario for the Eagles. Without it, Bradford likely would have started as many games as he was healthy for and led the team to a similar record to the 7-9 one they finished with. Good on them for trading Bradford before he even played a single game played on his contract, too. Not all owners would sign off on that.

Dealing Bradford paved the way for Wentz to start as a rookie, something the team was initially against. With a difficult transition from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the NFL ahead, Pederson wanted his young qb to learn from the bench. Instead, Ginger Jesus was unleashed.

Wentz’ first season featured the typical mix of amazing throws and boneheaded mistakes. Overall, it was about as good as anyone could have expected from an FCS rookie. Plus, the experience he gained proved to be invaluable.

Wentz came out the following year and set the league on fire. He was a near-lock to win MVP before he tore his ACL in week 14. We all know how that story ended, with Nick Foles coming out of nowhere to lead the team to the Super Bowl.

So, without even considering the picks they received, Philadelphia had already seen accelerated growth from its star quarterback and a championship parade within two years of the deal. Sounds pretty good to me.

With Minnesota’s 2017 first-rounder, the Eagles took Barnett, who was most famous for breaking Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. That record led some to compare Barnett to The Minister of Defense before he even played a professional down. Others (rightfully) thought these comparisons were asinine and worried that his lackluster athleticism would cause him to struggle as a pro.

As a rookie, Barnett tallied five sacks in a rotational role and made a couple huge plays during the team’s playoff run. With a starting job the following year, Barnett was expected to take a huge step forward. But, a bum shoulder derailed the hype as he missed 10 games and the postseason. After a full offseason of recovery, the spotlight was back on Barnett in 2019. He was healthy for most of the year, but didn’t take the superstar leap Eagles fans hoped for.

Still, Barnett is a very good player, even if the White comparisons set him up for failure. His 6.5 sacks last year were underwhelming, but his 22 quarterback hits—tied for 16th-most in the league—are a better indicator of his value. For reference, Danielle Hunter, who also had 22 qb hits, finished with 14.5 sacks.

That’s not to say Barnett is on Hunter’s level, or even close to it, but it does suggest he was more disruptive than the sack total indicates. Sack numbers can be a little flukey, so Barnett could be due for some positive regression. Even if he hasn’t lived up to the hype, I don’t think he’s close to bust territory.

Philadelphia’s other pick is a similar story. Like Barnett, Sweat had large contingents of both fans expecting greatness and those calling him overrated. In his case, he was the top recruit in his high school class before suffering a brutal knee injury. Concerns over his body’s long-term sustainability dropped him to the bottom of the fourth round despite the talent and production of a much higher pick.

Between adjusting to a new scheme and needing to put on weight, Sweat played scarcely as a rookie. Then, in an increased role last year, he flashed. 2020 should bring another substantial bump in snaps for him, so we’ll get a better idea of how good he really is. Until then, it’s tough to judge the value of the selection.

Given how Wentz starting as a rookie was crucial to his growth and the Eagles’ championship, hindsight shows keeping Bradford would have hurt the team. Hell, without this trade, the 2017 Foles-Philly reunion probably never happens.

Netting potentially their starting defensive end duo of the future for a negative asset was well worth the $11 million signing bonus and $5.5 million in 2017 dead cap the Eagles ate. Howie Roseman killed this deal, just as he did countless times en route to the Super Bowl.

Final Verdict: Eagles Win

I understand Minnesota’s thinking behind this trade, and they were far from the only team to mistakenly put their faith in Bradford, but this is an Eagles win through-and-through.

Philadelphia has been a proponent of always having multiple capable quarterbacks for years, and it has proven to be genius every time, including this deal. Maybe we should all have a little more faith in the Jalen Hurts experiment.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.