The Kadarius Toney trade: Reflecting on Giants-Chiefs deal one year later

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The Kadarius Toney trade: Reflecting on Giants-Chiefs deal one year later

One year ago today, the New York Giants traded wide receiver Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs for a pair of draft picks.

The Athletic’s Chiefs writer Nate Taylor and Giants writer Charlotte Carroll reacted in the moment to the trade. Three hundred and sixty-five days later, they decided to reflect on the move and its ripple effects.

The deal

The Chiefs received:
• WR Kadarius Toney

The Giants received:
• The Chiefs’ compensatory 2023 third-round pick (one acquired as a result of the Bears’ hiring former Kansas City executive Ryan Poles as general manager)
• A 2023 sixth-round pick

Why the Chiefs wanted Toney

Taylor: For the Chiefs, this trade was part of the aftermath of their blockbuster trade of star receiver Tyreek Hill, whom they sent to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks. The biggest reason the Chiefs traded Hill was because he, with one year left on his contract, wanted to be the league’s highest-paid receiver. The deal, executed by coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach, was done with the intent of trying to help improve the Chiefs defense and better balance the team’s roster during a period in the NFL landscape when the receiver market ballooned.

The Chiefs coveted Toney’s speed, elusiveness and skills as a punt returner during the evaluation period before the 2021 NFL Draft. But the Chiefs spent their first-round pick in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. At the time, Veach told his personnel staff they should consider trading up in the second round if Toney, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, was available. The Giants, however, took him 20th overall.

In March 2022, during the league’s free-agency period, Veach reached out to new Giants GM Joe Schoen about the possibility of a trade involving Toney. The teams had another discussion in August, then again in early October.

In acquiring Toney last year, the Chiefs were thrilled to add another dynamic receiver for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was already in the process of building chemistry with new receivers such as Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Watson and Skyy Moore. One of the best parts for the Chiefs was that they were acquiring Toney with at least two more years on his rookie contract — plus the fifth-year option.

The move pleased Mahomes, who at the time reacted to the trade by posting a GIF of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson smiling.

In early January, Veach shared a bold prediction with Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back. Veach told Riddick he believed Toney could be the Chiefs’ most talented receiver before the end of the season.

“It just makes me go harder,” Toney said of Veach’s confidence in him at the time. “If he can see it, it makes me want to prove it for him.”

Carroll: While Toney showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season in New York — his Week 5 game against Dallas (10 catches, 189 yards) was special — the year will largely be remembered for how little of it he spent on the field. He appeared in just 10 games because of ankle, hamstring, quad, oblique, thumb and shoulder injuries.

After former GM Dave Gettleman and coach Joe Judge were fired, Toney had an opportunity for a fresh start in 2022 with a new regime headed by Schoen and coach Brian Daboll.

Toney’s fresh start began with him choosing to skip the first three weeks of voluntary workouts. While trade rumors swirled, nothing materialized, and Toney eventually decided to attend the workouts. But he spent the rest of the spring on the sidelines after reportedly undergoing knee surgery.

He reported for camp and was off to a strong start but injured his hamstring during the second week and spent the rest of camp on the sidelines. He played in the season opener but didn’t record a catch. He aggravated his hamstring during Week 2, and while rehabbing ahead of a potential return in Week 5, he injured his other hamstring.

Week 2 would end up being his final game in a Giants uniform as he finished his career in New York having played in 12 of 24 possible games and recording 41 catches for 420 yards and no touchdowns.

Only in Year 2 of his rookie contract, Toney was still cheap, but it quickly became clear that despite his considerable skills, he didn’t fit Schoen and Daboll’s vision for the team. Even though the Giants got off to a surprising 6-1 start and needed weapons to help elevate their passing offense, the Giants traded Toney to Kansas City.

After the trade went public, Daboll told reporters, “(We) thought it was for the best of the team and wish Kadarius well.”

At the time, I graded the trade a “B+”, writing, “You may be thinking the return for sending away a 2021 first-round pick should be more than one Day 2 and one Day 3 pick. But Toney was chosen by a different regime, hasn’t really lived up to his draft status in New York and doesn’t seem to be a true fit with the current regime. Add his injury issues, and Schoen and the Giants should be lauded for this move.”

How the trade worked out for the Chiefs

Taylor: Toney’s tenure with the Chiefs has been a roller coaster. In just his second game, he produced what is still his most complete performance in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars — six touches, 90 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Toney’s best play came on a double move when he elevated over two defenders for a 22-yard reception.

The next week, though, Toney re-injured his hamstring, the same injury that forced him to miss most of Giants training camp. After he missed three games, the Chiefs used him in a limited role — recording 123 all-purpose yards on 10 touches, including two touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season — to ensure he would be healthy for the postseason.

The two biggest moments in Toney’s career occurred on the sport’s biggest stage: the Super Bowl.

In the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Toney scored on a wide-open 5-yard touchdown. Later, he delivered a pivotal 65-yard punt return, the longest such return in Super Bowl history, to set up another Kansas City score. After the game, Toney called Reid the smartest coach in the league.

“I’m just grateful for the organization for really accepting me and letting me be the player I can be,” Toney said then. “The environment is just life-changing, just the energy you feel in the building day in and day out. It’s different.”

This past offseason, the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Smith-Schuster or acquire Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins or Adam Thielen. Instead, the Chiefs expected Toney to emerge as their No. 1 receiver.

“You saw the upside last year with how special of a talent he can be,” Mahomes said in April. “To have him working with Coach Reid and how we practice in training camp, I think he’ll have his body in the best shape he can possibly be in to be healthy all season long.”

However, Toney sustained a knee injury after catching a simple punt just seconds into the Chiefs’ first camp practice. Toney missed the rest of camp and the preseason while recovering from knee surgery.

He returned to the lineup in time for the Chiefs’ opening night game against the Detroit Lions. His first game as the Chiefs’ No. 1 receiver — without Kelce, who was out after suffering a hyperextended right knee injury in practice — was disastrous. Toney played 16 snaps (25 percent) and was targeted five times, tied for the team high. But he dropped four catchable passes in the Chiefs’ 21-20 loss.

Before entering the Chiefs’ facility the following Monday, Toney took to Instagram to tease fans of the Giants, who were blown out 40-0 by the Dallas Cowboys. Toney wrote, “Na Don’t get quiet now…” on his Instagram story. The former Giants receiver was clapping back after many fans made jokes at his expense following his poor performance against Detroit.

Since then, Toney hasn’t become what the Chiefs envisioned: a consistent playmaker. Playing just 25 percent of the offensive snaps entering Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, Toney has posted just 103 all-purpose yards and one touchdown on 23 touches.

Perhaps the biggest positive for the Chiefs is that Toney has played in every game this season, a first in his three-year career.

“He’s a great kid,” Reid said Monday. “He’s doing a nice job for us, and he had a couple of plays where he popped, and we didn’t see him. … I love the fact that he’s stacking games. It’s great for him, and it’s great for the team.”

Considering my grade for the Chiefs’ trade a year ago was a “C+,” my updated grade is a “B” because Toney has shown he can fit within the offense and his highlights in the Super Bowl victory are undeniable, even if he never becomes the team’s top receiver.

How the trade worked out for the Giants

Carroll: The trade has worked out pretty well for the Giants. I stand by my “B+” grade. Toney was never going to be part of the Giants’ long-term future, and they got a decent return for him anyway. Additionally, the Giants still reached the playoffs without him and ended up winning their first playoff game since 2012.

But the other big factor in this trade being a winner for the Giants comes from what they did with the picks they received in the deal. The Giants dealt that compensatory 2023 third-round pick to Las Vegas for tight end Darren Waller and they spent the 2023 sixth-round pick on Old Dominion cornerback Tre Hawkins.

Start with Waller, who was a needed addition for a Giants pass-catching group sorely lacking top-level talent. The 2023 wide receiver free-agent market was thin, so Schoen got creative by dealing for Waller, who has the frame and playmaking abilities of an upper-echelon receiver.

There was risk in the trade, though. Waller is 31 years old and has dealt with significant injuries the past two years, missing 14 games. But he’s been relatively healthy so far in New York and has a more-than-palatable contract for a player of his caliber.

Waller has relished the fresh start in New York, connecting early with quarterback Daniel Jones and the younger players in the Giants locker room. He was a star in training camp and the preseason, and his teammates elected him one of their captains this season.

However, Waller and the Giants didn’t find immediate success once the season started. The tight end was supposed to help unlock the Giants’ downfield passing game, but the Giants offense got off to a horrendous start. Most recently, the team went more than a month — nearly 220 actual game minutes — without scoring an offensive touchdown. Waller doesn’t deserve much blame for that, of course, as the offensive line struggled mightily while dealing with injuries and derailed much of the offense. In fact, at times this season, Waller has been tasked with staying at the line and helping block rather than run routes.

However, Waller is beginning to look like the player who dominated during training camp. Over the past three games, he’s hauled in 20 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown, including his 7-98-1 line in a much-needed win over Washington on Sunday. For the season, he has 35 receptions for 380 yards, putting him on a 17-game pace of 85 catches and 923 yards, which would be his best season since a Pro Bowl 2020 campaign.

Waller has also helped hold the locker room accountable during the 2-5 start.

Hawkins, meanwhile, started the opener for the Giants and played extensively in the first three games of the season before being benched. He did play well Sunday, however, in Adoree’ Jackson’s (neck) absence, nearly snagging an interception.

Overall, the deal helped the Giants look to the future not only with some young talent in the draft but with a veteran tight end whose leadership has made an impact in the locker room. Perhaps there is a little recency bias here, but both Waller and Hawkins have looked good enough for New York to maintain that “B+” grade.

(Top photos of Darren Waller and Kadarius Toney: Mitchell Leff and Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

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