In a league at least partly governed by the various critical calendar dates established by NFL officials, one of the least meaningful of the cutoffs comes Tuesday, with the arrival of the NFL’s trade deadline.
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If history is any indication, 4 p.m. ET will come and go Tuesday with very little, maybe even zero, trade action. Certainly, the recent past hasn’t featured too many deadline swaps of consequence.
Barring the unexpected, the league’s trading deadline will pass, as it does virtually every season, without what most observers would regard as a blockbuster. The Denver Post reported Thursday that the Broncos are dangling late-blooming wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who apparently doesn’t fit into the club’s future, in trade talks. But even dealing Lloyd, a ninth-year veteran who is 30 and who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2010, might not be considered earth shattering. Before a breakout campaign last season, Lloyd had never registered more than 48 catches in a season, had never posted a 1,000-yard year or scored more than six touchdowns, averaged only 14.8 receptions the previous four years, and hadn’t made a Pro Bowl.
Lloyd would clearly represent an upgrade over the guys who typically were traded away at the deadline recently, but his relocation probably wouldn’t be seismic.
Arguably, the biggest name dealt on deadline day in recent years was wide receiver Roy Williams, from Detroit to Dallas, in ’08. But Williams, the seventh overall player selected in the 2004 draft, registered just 94 receptions in 40 games with the Cowboys, and was released in July. Even the most loyal Cowboys’ fan — heck, Jerry Jones for that matter — would concede that the trade, in which Dallas shipped first-, third- and sixth-round picks to the Lions (Detroit tossed in a seventh-rounder in addition to Williams) was a monumental flop.
Williams had more "name" than "game," as it turned out, and many of the players who have been dealt at the trade deadline possessed neither.
"For a lot of people, that (Williams trade) is probably a cautionary tale," one AFC personnel director told The Sports Xchange this week, when asked about the trade possibilities around the league. "That old saying about how one man’s trash might be another man’s treasure? It doesn’t hold up at (trade deadline) time. You don’t see much meaningful action at all in most years."
This season doesn’t figure to be an exception.
There might be dialogue, general managers and personnel directors tossing around some names and stirring the pot a bit, but it definitely will be an upset if there is much volume wheeling and dealing, particularly of significance. There has been a notable increase in the number of spring and summer trades over the past four or five years, but that uptick hasn’t at all carried over into the season. The baseball trade deadline usually features a real flurry of action, and sports networks devote considerable programming to it.
Rest assured, next Tuesday won’t include a TV special, with a breathless host detailing all of the comings and goings, a countdown to the deadline, and the ramifications of 11th-hour trades. The excitement of the baseball deadline will pretty much be countered with NFL apathy. "Frantic" isn’t a word typically associated with the NFL trade deadline.
Said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now an ESPN analyst: "There’s talk and there’s action. Sometimes, one leads to the other, but not often on (deadline day). You might see a few (trades), but probably none that will make a big difference for a team."
In-season trades in general are a rarity in the NFL. Deadline deals, historically, are even sparser.
Last season, there was just one trade on deadline day, with little-used defensive end Alex Magee and a sixth-round pick going from Kansas City to Tampa Bay for a fifth-round selection. The swap was typical of trades consummated at the deadline. Even with the lockout of the spring and summer, which has perhaps rendered rosters less stabile than in the past, there doesn’t figure to be a wild trading spree.
The deals earlier this week, which send disappointing onetime first-round linebacker Aaron Curry from Seattle to Oakland and wide receiver Derrick Mason to the Texans from the Jets , probably won’t jump-start the deadline trade market.
"I just doesn’t happen in our league," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
From 2000-2010, a period of 11 seasons, there were only 15 trades that included 18 veteran players at the deadline. One of the trades was actually nullified because the player involved, defensive tackle John McCargo, was deemed as damaged goods. In three of those years, there were no "deadline deals," and on three other occasions, there were just one.
Since 1990, the deadline has brought only 27 trades.
Perhaps the most notable player traded on the deadline in the past 20 years was Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who went from Oakland to Seattle in 2004. But Rice, who many consider the greatest player of all-time, was 42 years old at the time. Rice had already departed San Francisco, the franchise with which he is most associated, and was past his prime. He managed just 25 receptions in his 11 games with the Seahawks, and retired before the start of the following season.
There have been a few solid deadline trades, but even those exceptions usually didn’t pay off long-term for the franchises that acquired players. "There have been some mixed results," acknowledged former coach Tony Dungy.
Example: In 2006, Indianapolis acquired defensive tackle Anthony McFarland from Tampa Bay for a second-round draft choice. McFarland appeared in 11 games for the Colts and bolstered a defensive front that helped the team win Super Bowl XLI. But the following season, McFarland suffered a serious knee injury and he never played in a game after the Super Bowl victory.
San Diego dealt for wide receiver Chris Chambers (from Miami) in 2007, and he notched 35 catches in just 10 games with the Chargers, as the club advanced to the AFC championship game. But in the subsequent 21 games, Chambers had just 42 catches, and he was released in 2009.
The Chargers did make an excellent deadline trade in 2004, getting Keenan McCardell from Jacksonville. He had 31 receptions in seven games as the Chargers won the AFC West, then followed that up with 70 catches in 2005. In the big picture, the McCardell deal might rank as one of the better deadline trades in recent years.
But the bar, admittedly, isn’t a particularly high one.
Trades completed at the deadline usually feature eminently forgettable names such as Stalin Colinet, A.J. Feeley, Cleo Lemon, Tank Tyler, or Toniu Fonoti.
Only a few years ago, the most cited excuse for the lack of action on deadline day was the salary cap and the restraints it presented. But teams are flush with cap room this season and there probably still won’t be much bartering. Around the NFL, it seems, general managers have talked themselves into a state of inertia. Even many of the more enlightened general managers cling to the old adage that assimilating a player into a club’s system in-season is a difficult chore.
That’s why, even though it comes up in conversation from time to time, there has been no great groundswell to move the deadline, which comes on the Tuesday after the sixth weekend of play, back to a later juncture. In baseball, a team can add a pitcher for the final month or two of the season, and it might make a difference. In the NFL, it might take even the most veteran player a week or two to gain even a cursory knowledge of the playbook.
The fact is, there just haven’t been many teams that have won division titles, or even more, because of acquisitions they made at the trade deadline.
"Even if you moved the deadline back," said Atlanta president and CEO Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee "I don’t think it would greatly increase the likelihood of a lot more trades. People suggest it every so often, but I don’t think there is a real strong sentiment to do it."
And so things figure to remain status quo. Which probably means "status no" on any blockbuster deals before next Tuesday’s deadline.