Cutdown weekend: Patriots, Seahawks highlight uptick in trades

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For the second straight year, a trade was the biggest news to come out of roster cutdown weekend. It's a trend that NFL fans should get used to.

On Friday, the day before teams were required to trim their rosters from 90 to 53 players, Seattle made a power move, acquiring standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the Jets. Saturday's deluge of transactions didn't include anything as seismic as that, but there were still an incredible amount of other trades. And like with a lot of NFL trends, Bill Belichick is leading the way.

The Patriots acquired more veterans via trade in 2016 (five) than any other organization. The team has already surpassed that total in 2017, dealing for seven players since the league year began. New England made four trades in the last week alone, including the surprising acquisition Saturday of former first-round Colts receiver Phillip Dorsett in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. In an era where too few quality players hit free agency, this is another avenue with which to build a roster. Nine trades were completed Saturday, making it 45 for the year. For comparison, there were only 31 trades completed combined from 2008 to 2011, the year the current collective bargaining agreement was struck. The uptick can be attributed in part to the rising salary cap, which allows greater flexibility.

Richardson comes to Seattle on an $8 million contract, which the Seahawks were able to fit comfortably on their roster. The deal was reminiscent of Minnesota's acquisition of Sam Bradford from the Eagles on Sept. 3 of last year, with both the Seahawks this year and the Vikings last year using draft capital and leftover salary-cap space to boost their rosters. Teams simply didn't have that kind of cap space on a routine basis five seasons ago.

Unlike the Bradford trade, the acquisition of Richardson could impact the Super Bowl chase. The Seahawks were my pick as the best defense in football and Super Bowl LII champions before this trade added fresh legs to a defensive line that already included pass rushers Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Richardson was unblockable in the preseason; he provides Seahawks coach Pete Carroll an assortment of options with linemen who can play inside and out.

Richardson, of course, was hardly the only player traded or released in the last 48 hours. Other trades you should know -- and the rest of the fallout as teams dealt with the reality of having one cutdown deadline this year instead of two -- are below:

Trading days

1) The Dorsett-for-Brissett move was flashy because it involved a former first-round pick (Dorsett) and a quarterback, but it ultimately just addressed depth for both sides. Dorsett adds a vertical threat and potential punt-return ability to the Patriots, who lost receiver Julian Edelman to a torn ACL in Week 3 of the preseason, while Brissett can be a possible long-term backup for Colts QB Andrew Luck. It's hard to imagine Brissett, who looked very raw in his limited work with New England, stepping in as a starter early this season if Luck, who underwent shoulder surgery in January, isn't ready to play. (More on Luck later.) Belichick invested a 2016 third-round pick in Brissett, and it's telling that the team moved on from him so quickly.

All four of the Patriots' trade acquisitions over the last week -- they also acquired Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh and Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi on Saturday, plus Bengals linebacker Marquis Flowers on Tuesday -- upgraded New England's special teams.

2) Browns EVP Sashi Brown had to enjoy the poetry of sending a 2018 sixth-round draft pick back to the Steelers to acquire wide receiver Sammie Coates. The pick was originally obtained by Cleveland last year when the Browns shipped all-time draft bust Justin Gilbert to the Steelers in a move that didn't stick. Coates has a better chance to make an impact with the Browns, who desperately needed wide receiver help. Still, the Steelers are among the NFL's best teams at developing wideouts, and failed to do so with Coates. He's a long shot, which helps explain why the Steelers had to send a 2019 seventh-round pick to complete the deal.

3) The Jets should be commended for the Richardson blockbuster. They held on to him when the offers weren't right during the NFL draft, then sold high for a second-round pick and veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse after Richardson's strong preseason. Following a rocky stay in New York, Richardson clearly didn't have a future with the team. The Jets obtained great value for him, including two cheap contract years for a solid NFL contributor at wideout.

QB fallout

1) The Colts sent mixed messages about Andrew Luck on Saturday, which is becoming a trend. On one hand, the team activated Luck off the PUP list. That means he's eligible to return to practice and, presumably, regular-season action any time he's ready. But the acquisition of Brissett appears to be a recognition that the team needs more depth at the position with Luck out of the lineup. Luck has yet to practice since undergoing surgery in January on his throwing shoulder, and it would be a shock if Scott Tolzien is not the starter in Week 1 and possibly beyond.

2) Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco returned to practice Saturday for the first time since June, calling his situation -- he's had to miss the preseason with a disc issue in his back -- "weird." It has been weird, with reports saying Flacco would only miss a short amount of time and the Ravens insisting he would be back during the preseason. About six weeks after the disc issue was reported, Flacco's back was finally ready for a full practice. Still, coach John Harbaugh has to feel a lot better about his offense after seeing Flacco, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and Danny Woodhead all returning after lengthy absences.

3) Say this for Brock Osweiler: He doesn't stay unemployed for long. Broncos President of Football Operations John Elway announced Saturday evening that the team agreed to terms on a deal with the quarterback. Osweiler, who spent his rookie season in Denver with current Broncos coordinator Mike McCoy (who returned to the team after a four-year stint coaching the Chargers), will back up starter Trevor Siemian until Paxton Lynch recovers from a shoulder sprain. 18 months after Elway offered Osweiler $30 million in guarantees, the Broncos will pay him the veteran's minimum salary while the Browns pick up the rest of his guaranteed $16 million salary.

"I'm sure with everything he went through in Houston and then going to Cleveland, I'm sure he's going to need a little football rehab," Elway said. "We know that. We'll welcome him with open arms and give him some love."

4) The Giants chose to keep Geno Smith over veteran Josh Johnson as the backup to quarterback Eli Manning. Smith, coming off a torn ACL, appeared to secure his spot with a strong preseason finale.

5) The Seahawks chose to keep journeyman quarterback Austin Davis over second-year pro Trevone Boykin as Russell Wilson's backup, at least for now. Seattle met with Colin Kaepernick back in May, and it's worth wondering if they will revisit him as a potential pickup.

Released players who could make an impact elsewhere

1) Released Saturday by the Broncos, safety T.J. Ward did not wait long to find his new home. NFL Network's James Palmer reported that Ward is expected to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

It's no surprise that Ward found a job quickly. The three-time Pro Bowler battled hamstring injuries in camp, but his departure was primarily a reflection on his previous salary and the rise of Broncos safety Justin Simmons. Ward still played at a high level last season, and he will upgrade what was perhaps the Bucs' weakest position group.

2) Running back Matt Jones was persona non grata in Washington because of his fumbling issues. It likely didn't help that he was a favorite of former general manager Scot McCloughan whom the rest of the organization appeared to value differently.

"Going to be a stud," McCloughan wrote recently about Jones on his entertaining Twitter account. He also cited Jones when asked to name the "most criminally underrated player in the NFL."

Jones, who was waived Saturday, put up 4.6 yards per carry last season, and he's shown great power when he's not dropping the ball. He's worth a look as a candidate to be a quality backup elsewhere, possibly with former Redskins coordinator Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams.

3) Jeremy Kerley was the 49ers' leading receiver on a rough passing attack last year. That's presumably why new GM John Lynch gave him $2.8 million guaranteed on a three-year contract back in March, making Saturday's release stunning. It is extremely rare to see that much money flushed down the toilet without any return, especially when the player was already on the team before the new contract.

Toughest cuts

1) All the professionals who lost jobs over the weekend deserve our empathy, but it's especially difficult to see great careers potentially coming to an end. Chris Johnson didn't look like himself in the preseason and was edged out for the Cardinals' backup running back job by Kerwynn Williams.

Known best for his 2009 season, when he recorded over 2,500 yards from scrimmage, Johnson was quietly consistent in his first six NFL seasons, recording over 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of them. His return from a 2015 gunshot wound to become a valuable role player in Arizona showed great toughness.

2) The Bears' release of receiver Victor Cruz on Friday will likely spell the end of his seven-year career. He never quite got over a devastating knee injury suffered in 2014, but he'll be remembered fondly in the tri-state area for his star turn as the No. 1 receiver for the Giants' 2011 Super Bowl title team.

Chicago will also work out an injury settlement, per NFL.com's Tom Pelissero, with linebacker Lamarr Houston, who came to the city on a massive free-agent contract in 2014 before tearing his ACL twice.

3) Kicker Roberto Aguayo's stay in Chicago was a short one following his August release from the Buccaneers. Here's hoping the 2016 second-round pick can revive his confidence and kicking motion with some time away from the sport.

4) Spoiler alert for "Hard Knocks" fans: Rookie running back Jeremy McNichols and linebacker Riley Bullough were among the Buccaneers' cuts. Both are strong candidates for the practice squad, but Bullough's struggles at the end of the team's third preseason game outline how harsh this business can be for a player like him. A play or two might have made the difference in his status.

5) The Colts released linebacker Sean Spence, one of the army of defensive players new general manager Chris Ballard brought in to reform the team's defense. Ballard gave Spence a $750,000 signing bonus, so this was a costly mistake.

6) The Vikings released guard Alex Boone only one season into a four-year, $26.8 million contract. Minnesota continues to try new offensive line pieces without new results.

7) The Seahawks surprisingly released undrafted third-year receiver Kasen Williams, whose preseason exploits elevated him to local hero status somewhere between Steve Largent and Eddie Vedder. Williams was smartly claimed by the Browns on Sunday. Cornerback Richard Sherman was among the perplexed:

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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