ESPN’s Bill Barnwell graded the 30 most impactful trades of the 2019 NFL year and recognized both of the Bengals’ trades during the 2019 draft as moves that shifted more than just the depth chart for Cincinnati. Just inside the top 20 was the trade that saw Ryan Finley become Andy Dalton’s backup and temporary replacement.
49ers trade: 4-104
Bengals trade: 4-110, 6-183, 6-198
The Bengals moved up six spots in the fourth round to grab NC State quarterback Ryan Finley, who delivered three crucial starts for the Bengals in November. While the Bengals were blown out by the Ravens, he was at the helm for a 16-10 loss to the Steelers and a 17-10 loss to the Raiders. If the Bengals had stuck with Andy Dalton at quarterback, they might have won those two close games, finished outside of the first overall pick and used 2020 to give Finley a shot — as opposed to starting Heisman Trophy winner and presumed first overall pick Joe Burrow.
I’m being a little facetious about Finley, but this actually worked out well for the 49ers; they used the fourth-rounder acquired from the Bengals for punter Mitch Wishnowsky, while sixth-round pick Justin Skule filled in ably for Joe Staley at left tackle in midseason.
Impact grade: C
And four spots higher on the list was the trade that allowed the Denver Broncos to acquire their potential quarterback of the future in Drew Lock.
Broncos trade: 2-52, 4-125, 6-182
Bengals trade: 2-42
After trading down with the Steelers in a deal we’ll get to later, the Broncos moved up to draft a quarterback for the fourth time in five seasons. While Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly have all come and gone, Denver is excited about Drew Lock, who won four of his first five starts after taking over at the end of the season.
Lock is tentatively penciled in as the starter for 2020, and while it’s still way too early to say anything with confidence about his future, even the possibility that the Broncos have solved their quarterback situation would represent a victory for Elway, the Broncos’ general manager.
The Bengals might not be in position to draft Burrow if they had taken Lock, although the only player from these picks who really drew attention in 2019 was Cincinnati tight end Drew Sample, who missed the second half of the season with an ankle injury.
Impact grade: C+
From the Bengals’ perspective, the act of drafting Finley on its own wasn’t significant. The fact that they turned to him in the middle of the season and potentially cost the team a win or two, like Barnwell mentions, is what has helped propel them to the top of the draft order this year. The butterfly effect appears in many ways.
Had the Bengals taken another quarterback and not traded up, they probably would’ve done the same thing during the season. With how bad Dalton was playing by the middle of the season, looking in another direction became the priority, regardless which quarterback that meant giving the ball to.
This makes ranking the Lock trade higher more sensical. The Denver Broncos gave up more valuable draft picks for a quarterback that had a better chance of succeeding as a starter, and the initial on-field returns have shown that. The Broncos are heading in a tangible new direction and we’ve seen the product for ourselves.
Still, the Bengals may’ve secured their quarterback and backup quarterback of the future all thanks to one phone call, and that can leave a lasting impact on the league.