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Grading trades of 2020 free agency: Cards, Bills snag WR help

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Today's pro football fans are accustomed to the advent of the new league year delivering a dish of sizzling swaps.

This wasn't the case in decades of old, but savvy teams have learned to mimic their NBA and MLB brethren in the art of aggressive roster construction.

Still, not every front office has cracked the code. For every forward-thinking general manager tractor-beaming ideal fits onto Team A, we're left to wonder who distributed a potent sheet of acid to cloudy-thinking Team B.

Is it fair to judge these transactions right away? Maybe not, but I plan to do just that in the space below. I highly doubt Bill O'Brien will lose sleep over my thoughts regarding his latest foray into human lunacy.

Let's grade these trades, people!

Texans trade wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals

Cardinals also receive: Houston's 2020 fourth-round pick
Texans receive: Running back David Johnson plus Arizona's 2020 second-round pick and 2021 fourth-rounder

Cardinals' grade: A
Texans' grade: F

How many more gallons of gasoline can be poured on the Texans after coach Bill O'Brien shipped one of his most talented players out of town for a Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse and a VHS collection of Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote?

Cross out the exchanged fourth-rounders, and Houston handed away one of the NFL's top three receivers for a second-round selection and an iffy running back.

Had O'Brien cooled his jets, he could have waited a minute and added Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon to the party without stripping quarterback Deshaun Watson of a future Hall of Famer. At the very least, O'Brien should have matched the terms of last year's head-turning blockbuster, which saw the Giants net Cleveland's first- and third-round picks -- plus first-round safety Jabrill Peppers -- as part of an exchange for receiver Odell Beckham. Instead, the Texans waved farewell to the beating heart of their offense after Hopkins accounted for 29.3 percent of the team's catches and 28.5 percent of the club's receiving yards one season ago.

Eyeing this ill-advised swap, it's fair to ask if O'Brien was best equipped to deal with Miami's front office before handing the Dolphins two first-round picks and a second-rounder last August as part of a deal that returned a bookend in Laremy Tunsil who is now under contract for just one more season.

The worst trades lead to concerning queries around the health of a football team -- how it operates -- and whose vision it follows. The engine behind this move boils down to O'Brien's apparent inability to get along with Hopkins, the latest in a long line of in-house spats. While O'Brien the on-field coach is a proven commodity, his doppelganger -- BOB the team-builder -- seems hungry to win power struggles that chip away at Houston's roster or the baseline integrity of future Texans drafts.

This latest move grows more ghastly considering Houston must now drop a guaranteed $10.2 million for Johnson, a player the Cardinals were finished with after placing the transition tag on runner Kenyan Drake. Fresh off a campaign that saw him plod for 3.7 yards per attempt while often riding the pine, Johnson was hardly a catch. It sets up a potential comeback narrative for the one-time star rumbler, but the biggest winner of all might be Kyler Murray. Arizona's second-year passer spent most of last season moving the ball in four-wideout sets and now has two of those four spots locked down by a pair of legends in Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald.

Even if Steve Keim simply caught BOB at the right time -- in the grip of some inner frenzy -- the Cardinals general manager deserves credit for pulling off one of the NFL's all-time fleece jobs. O'Brien, meanwhile, enters 2020 amid burning criticism, finger-pointing and understandable fury on the part of Houston's fan base. Anything less than a Super Bowl appearance will trigger continued complaints over this ill move.

Vikings trade wideout Stefon Diggs to the Bills

Bills also receive: Minnesota's 2020 seventh-rounder
Vikings receive: Buffalo's 2020 first- (No. 22 overall), fifth- and sixth-round picks and 2021 fourth-rounder

Bills' grade: B+
Vikings' grade: B+

While labeled a shocker, it's no great surprise that Minnesota moved on from Diggs. Vikings GM Rick Spielman was barely believable at the NFL Scouting Combine when telling us "there is no reason to anticipate that Stefon Diggs is not going to be a Minnesota Viking."

There were plenty of reasons. For starters, a player in Diggs who seemed openly ready to move on despite signing an extension before the 2018 campaign. Last year's journey was pockmarked by missed practices and meetings triggered by "palpable" frustration with Minnesota's passing game -- and quarterback Kirk Cousins -- with Diggs refusing to shoot down speculation he wanted out, saying in October: "I feel like there's truth to all rumors no matter how you dress it up."

It hurts to shed the roster of an uber-talented pass-catcher, but this isn't the Texans ditching Hopkins. In moving Diggs, Spielman netted fair value and plenty of ammunition ahead of April's receiver-rich draft. Minnesota's exodus of key players is concerning, but Spielman boasts a front-office track record O'Brien can only pretend to equal. The split with Diggs came after plenty of consideration amid overt signs of a marriage breaking down.

As for the Bills, the expensive move reminds us that Buffalo is going for it in the AFC East. Spurned by star players in free agency dramas of old, the Bills added a plug-and-play No. 1 wideout in Diggs, which will allow them to slot productive targets John Brown and Cole Beasley into more natural roles.

Diggs could flip the switch on Josh Allen, giving the accuracy-challenged passer a pristine route-running talent who will fight for catches and get open downfield. Simultaneously, Diggs might encounter new waves of frustration in a cold-weather attack designed around a scampering signal-caller. If Buffalo's passing game suffers, the team's new star wideout will shoulder plenty of pressing questions, but none of this should preclude Buffalo from forming one of the AFC's juiciest cast of receivers. In a Tom Brady-free AFC East, the time is now.

49ers trade defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts

Niners receive: Indy's first-round pick (No. 13 overall)

Colts' grade: B
Niners' grade: B+

It's tough to see Buckner pulled away from a Niners defense he thrived in, but the club poured its resources into fellow lineman Arik Armstead with a five-year pact laced with $48.5 million in guarantees. Buckner was sensational in San Francisco and gives the Colts a ferocious, tall-as-a-tree pocket-exploder inside a frisky front seven boasting Justin Houston, Denico Autry and Darius Leonard.

Indianapolis added a premier talent, but it didn't come cheap, with the Colts handing Buckner an extension worth $21 million per season. They also parted with the No. 13 overall pick, which the Niners seem destined to use at the wideout position after losing Emmanuel Sanders to the Saints. Both sides can argue their case in a deal that can't really be judged until we see (a) Buckner's level of chaos-spinning in Horseshoe Land and (b) what San Francisco pulls off with that first-round selection.

Jaguars trade quarterback Nick Foles to the Bears

Jaguars receive: Chicago's 2020 fourth-round pick

Bears' grade: B-
Jaguars' grade: C-

Dense poems from the sea were authored when Nick Foles was signed last March by the Jaguars. These drunken stanzas failed to predict the journeyman would earn a ludicrous $30.5 million for just four milquetoast starts before Jacksonville punched the ejector seat.

Outshined and replaced by sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew, Foles operated as a stone-age pony in the pocket, sprinkling none of the postseason fairy dust he cast in Philly. Still, a healthy Foles -- good luck with that -- is a tangible upgrade over the broken-down concept of Mitchell Trubisky. Refusing to improve over 41 starts, Trubisky seems to have lost the faith of Chicago's coaching staff, no matter what they tell us publicly.

Digging into current events, Foles is a former pupil of head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. In a COVID-19-soiled offseason, that working relationship makes this a safer addition than plenty of mid-level passers on the market.

Competition for Mitchell was the war cry. Foles has to be seen as the favorite for Week 1 duties, barring injury or an August from hell. It stops the bleeding -- for now -- while the Jaguars, meanwhile, feel like a team starting over from the inside out.

Lions trade cornerback Darius Slay to the Eagles

Lions receive: Philadelphia's 2020 third- and fifth-round picks

Eagles' grade: B+
Lions' grade: C-

The Eagles immediately handed Slay a three-year, $50 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed. If Philly gets his best, the affordable trade terms look great on paper. Slay gives the Eagles a ball-hawking star cover man to pair with Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas and fill-in-the-blank, depending on what comes next.

Lions fans can defend the deal as a necessity after Slay's nagging demands to be moved. After Jalen Ramsey netted a pair of first-rounders from the Rams, though, Detroit's modest asking price should turn heads. The Lions can fill the void by nabbing celebrated cornerback Jeff Okudah from Ohio State at No. 3 overall, but that amounts to simply adding talent where talent was lost.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the move is yet another Lions player grumbling about their relationship with head coach Matt Patricia.

Jaguars trade defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the Ravens

Jaguars receive: Baltimore's 2020 fifth-round pick

Ravens' grade: A
Jaguars' grade: C-

We get it, Jaguars: The roster is being demolished. Campbell is a 33-year-old disruptive force who earned the highest run-defense grade at his position in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. He joins a now-mesmerizing Ravens front featuring fellow new addition Michael Brockers alongside the returning Brandon Williams. Consider that Baltimore stole Campbell with a fifth-round pick earned through last season's trade of prospect-kicker Kaare Vedvik to Minnesota. Now consider what's left of Jacksonville's once-proud defense. We're looking at two organizations that approach the team-building process from entirely different points of reality. Which operation has your vote?

OTHER DEALS

Titans trade defensive tackle Jurrell Casey to the Broncos

Titans receive: Denver's 2020 seventh-round pick

Broncos' grade: A+
Titans' grade: C-

In what amounts to a cap-easing cash dump for the Titans, Denver paid next to nothing for a five-time Pro Bowler who can still generate havoc. Casey finished as a top-10 performer against the run last season, per PFF, and leaves Tennessee as one of the AFC's more consistent inside maulers over the past decade. He'll fit right into a Denver defense loaded with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the edge. The Titans believe it's time for 2019 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons to take over inside while dumping Casey's $11.8 million cap hit for 2020. Under contract through 2022, big-boy Casey should remain a factor until the deal expires.

Redskins trade cornerback Quinton Dunbar to the Seahawks

Redskins receive: Seattle's 2020 fifth-round pick

Seahawks' grade: A-
Redskins' grade: D

Not a shocking departure after Dunbar asked to be moved. The 27-year-old Dunbar is coming off his finest campaign -- grading out as the game's third best corner, per PFF -- and offers the Seahawks a versatile cover man who can play inside and out. Coach Pete Carroll finds a way to get the most out of young cornerbacks and has another promising project on his hands. Good luck spinning this in Washington's favor.

Ravens trade tight end Hayden Hurst to the Falcons

Falcons also receive: Baltimore's 2020 fourth-round pick
Ravens receive: Atlanta's 2020 second- and fifth-round picks.

Falcons' grade: C+
Ravens' grade: B+

The Falcons wasted no time filling the void left by Austin Hooper's departure to Cleveland. Hurst's 30 grabs a year ago trailed fellow tight ends Mark Andrews (64) and Nick Boyle (31) on the Ravens' roster, which is notable considering Hurst, a first-rounder, was drafted two rounds ahead of Andrews in 2018. Baltimore netted solid value for its third tight end, while Atlanta is hoping for a Hurst breakout in his age-27 campaign. There's no guarantee he's an upgrade over the evolving Hooper.

Jaguars trade cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Broncos

Jaguars receive: Denver's 2020 fourth-round pick

Broncos' grade: B
Jaguars' grade: C

Jacksonville moving Bouye has everything to do with the team's previously mentioned roster-gutting salary dump. With Chris Harris Jr. heading out the door, Denver adds a 28-year-old corner coming off a down year. It's up to Broncos coach and defensive guru Vic Fangio to return Bouye to his Pro Bowl heights of 2017.

Panthers trade guard Trai Turner to the Chargers

Panthers receive: Offensive tackle Russell Okung

Chargers' grade: B+
Panthers' grade: C

Another team signaling a massive rebuild, the Panthers dumped Turner's $12.8 million cap hit in 2020, which was set to climb to $15.39 million in 2021. In turn, Carolina landed Okung, a 32-year-old two-time Pro Bowl bookend coming off an injury-plagued season that limited the tackle to just six starts. Okung likely thought he'd spend the final year of his contract protecting Cam Newton, but more churn in Carolina has Teddy Bridgewater in place to start Week 1. With plenty of quarterback questions of their own, the Bolts nabbed the better long-term prize. Turner is six years younger, a five-time Pro Bowler and the immediate new anchor of L.A.'s front five.

Patriots trade cornerback Duron Harmon to the Lions

Lions also receive: 2020 seventh-round pick
Patriots receive: 2020 fifth-round pick

Lions' grade: B
Patriots' grade: B

Patricia and the Lions have built a cottage industry on padding Detroit's defense with former Patriots, signing Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins and swapping for Duron Harmon. The cover man knows the scheme and Patricia knows Harmon, who should see plenty of time in nickel sets if not as a starter. This does little to mask the loss of Slay.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.

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