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The history of trading for a wide receiver at the NFL trade deadline

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Looking back at previous big WR trades at the NFL trade deadline.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Howie Roseman did the thing.

No, he didn’t get Le’Veon Bell. He didn’t get Shady McCoy. He didn’t get DeSean Jackson, or Patrick Peterson or any of the other rumored targets that either were or weren’t actually available at the trade deadline.

But he did get some help, and the acquisition of wide receiver Golden Tate from the Detroit Lions is indeed a quality addition, an addition that gives the Eagles one of the best receiver corps on the NFL — on paper.

While Tate is not a field stretcher, he is a big YAC guy who catches nearly everything thrown his way. He’s a dynamic talent that should help Carson Wentz and the offense put more points on the board, and with the Eagles in the middle of their bye week, the trade deadline came at the perfect time for the Birds to get Golden up to speed in time for him to be in the starting lineup against the Dallas Cowboys in a little over a week.

Overall, the NFL trade deadline was busier than normal this year (at least by the NFL’s standards), especially with regard to wide receivers. The Texans got Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos for a 4th round pick, and the Cowboys traded a 1st round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper last week. That’s three big-name wide receivers on the move ahead of the deadline, and all three teams are hoping these new wideouts will improve their respective offenses.

But looking back at trade deadlines past, how many in-season wide receiver moves actually work out? Here’s a look at the four big, in-season WR moves made by teams over the last 10 years. There haven’t been many.

2017: Bills acquire WR Kelvin Benjamin from Panthers for a 2018 3rd & 7th Round Pick

When the Bills traded for Benjamin last year, he was seen as more than just a one-year acquisition, signed through the 2018 and ‘19 seasons, his age-27 and 28 years. In his first 8 games of 2017 with the Panthers, he had 32 catches for 475 yards and 2 TDs, averaging 9.31 yards per target.

After arriving in Buffalo, Benjamin played two games, caught a combined four balls for 62 yards, then missed two games with an injury. He played in the final three games of the season and finished with 16 catches for 217 yards and 1 TD with the Bills, with an 8.04 yards/target average. Buffalo went 3-3 in the 6 games in which he played.

As for this season, Benjamin has played in every game, but his best game of the season so far was a 4-catch, 71 yard effort in Week 7 against the Colts, a game the Bills lost 37-5. He has 16 catches for 262 yards and 1 TD, with an average of 5.95 yards/target.

So while this deal hasn’t worked out all that well for the Bills as of yet, it’s a combination of Benjamin and the less-than-stellar pack of QBs he’s had slinging him the rock. There’s quite a drop-off going from Cam Newton in Carolina to Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson.

2014: Jets acquire WR Percy Harvin from the Seahawks for a 6th round pick

There was a time when Harvin was a dynamic weapon, both as a receiver and a special teams threat. However, migraine headaches and other injuries soon became a major hurdle for Harvin and, eventually, the Vikings decided to move the talented, yet oft-injured receiver to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2014 season.

Harvin would play just five games with the Hawks, hauling in 22 balls for 133 yards before being dealt to the Jets at the 2014 trade deadline, where he caught just 29 of 52 targets for 350 yards and 1 TD.

He would play just 6 more games combined in 2015 and ‘16 with the Bills before officially retiring. Luckily, Harvin only cost New York a 6th-round pick, so it was a low-risk, high-reward situation that ultimately didn’t work out.

2010: Vikings acquire WR Randy Moss from the Patriots for a 3rd and 7th round pick

Minnesota picked up their old friend towards the end of his career, reuniting the player with the team that originally drafted him. This trade was done about a month before the trade deadline, but the Vikings were desperate to replace an injured Sidney Rice as Brett Favre’s deep threat.

Cue the sad trombone.

Moss would play just four games for the Vikings, where he caught 13 balls for 174 yards and 2 TDs, with a yards per target average of 6.96. He was ultimately released by the team and, three weeks later, Brad Childress was fired as Minnesota’s head coach.

2008: Cowboys acquire WR Roy Williams from the Lions for 1st, 3rd, 6th and 10th round pick

This still may be the worst in-season trade in NFL history. Back in 2008, the Detroit Lions traded another wide receiver to an NFC East team, unloading talented, yet underachieving wide receiver Roy Williams to the Cowboys for a haul of picks.

In 2006, Williams made the Pro Bowl after catching 82 balls for 1310 yards and 7 TDs, and in 12 games the following year brought in another 64 catches for 838 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad, right? But in the middle of ‘08, with the Lions yet again in full-on rebuild mode, Detroit dealt the talented Williams for a multitude of picks. After arriving in Dallas, Williams was a disaster.

He played three seasons for the Cowboys but caught a combined 94 balls for 1324 yards and 13 TDs. He never had more than 38 catches in any of his three seasons with Dallas, and never eclipsed more than 596 receiving yards in any season. He was eventually released by the Cowboys and played the 2011 season with the Chicago Bears, where he didn’t do much.

To make matters worse, Dallas signed Williams to a five-year extension with $20 million in guaranteed money as part of the trade, making this one of the worst deals in NFL history.

Certainly, the Benjamin trade could still benefit Buffalo, but it’s clear these four previous deals did not work out so well for the teams that acquired the wide receivers. But it’s also fair to note Moss was at the end of his career and Harvin was dealing with health and injury issues at the times of their deals, issues that do not apply to Tate.

And in dealing for Tate, the Eagles did not sign him to a long contract extension or give up the kind of draft pick capital that the Bills or Cowboys did in acquiring Benjamin or Williams. So even if Tate flames out, the Eagles have lost a third-round pick with the full knowledge they will get compensatory picks for the 2020 Draft when they lose a couple free agents after the season.

So yes, the Eagles took a risk in giving up a third-rounder for Tate. As we’ve seen, past in-season deals for wide receivers have not worked out very well over the last decade, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work out well for the Birds this time.