Finally, this felt like a real trade deadline.
After decades of the NFL moratorium on trades feeling like the most hollow day on the league’s annual calendar, we got more action in the week leading up to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline than we had in about the 10 prior deadlines combined. I’m betting that it’s not an anomaly and that more of the same could hold in the future, even in this league of extreme parity where almost no one is out of the playoffs until Christmas.
Despite so many teams being bunched together yet again, and despite being able to make the case that, really, only the Browns, 49ers and Giants are totally out of the postseason, we had some real football trades involving real football players who have been to Pro Bowls and have the propensity to make a real impact for their new teams in the second half of the season. Go figure. My hope is that this continues to be the case thanks to an influx of more forward-thinking minds and fresh blood in many NFL front offices.
I wrote about this trend in the summer, in the fallout of John Dorsey and Dave Gettleman being let go by winning franchises despite successful runs leading the front offices in Kansas City and Carolina. The age of the grizzled, old-school super scout leading the charge in personnel seemed to be phasing out, and more and more we’re seeing ultimate decision-making power in the hands of younger executives, who, while they have experience grading film and evaluating players, are not longtime former college scouts who spent the abundance of their time on the road.
Instead, we’ve seen the rise of a different model, a little more open to reconsider how players and draft picks have been traditionally valued. There are more younger guys making decisions in the NFL these days who communicate a little differently and think a little differently and approach the means of player acquisition a little differently. I thought the trend might bleed into the season after seeing the verve with which first-time GMs like John Lynch and Brandon Beane were already navigating the preseason, and sure enough the flurry of activity around the deadline was spearheaded by them, and other executives who share similar attributes and outlooks.
“Look at the guys who were actually getting deals done,” said one NFL exec who would love to see the league facilitate more in-season trades. “What do they have in common? They’re young, young, young. It’s a lot of younger GMs, and then, of course, Belichick. They are more willing to put themselves out there and go for it. They aren’t caught up in ‘this is how it’s always been done.’ They are willing to make quick decisions and be decisive and facilitate trades. Guy like Howie and John (Schneider), that’s how they’ve always been.
“It’s a team sport and certain positions are more difficult to insert in the middle of the season, but you can get a running back, you can get a receiver, you can upgrade at left tackle, you can get a press-man corner and get them into your system pretty quickly. It’s different with a middle linebacker and making calls and all of that, but this isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.”
Beane was a central figure in two huge deals — shipping Marcell Dareus, and his bloated contract, to Jacksonville and landing Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina. Lynch was in the middle of the biggest deal of the season — prying prized backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from New England. And it’s no surprise that progressive, econ major Bill Belichick was active at the deadline, because he’s annually been ahead of the curve and the Patriots are traditionally the most active team at the normally-ignored deadline.
The Eagles pulled off one trade, for former Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi, and were trying to do even more. Not a surprise as GM Howie Roseman is very much in the mold of Beane and comes from a less-traditional background and has always been inclined to think boldly. Ditto for Seattle’s John Schneider, who along with head coach Pete Carroll typically think “outside the box” and who have embraced trades significantly since taking over there; their acquisition of left tackle Duane Brown has the potential to be the most impactful of all deadline maneuvers.
Of course, these go-getters also aren’t inclined to wait until the last second in most cases, risking late snags and missed deadlines that can scuttle trades (yeah, Browns and Bengals, I’m talking to you) and guys like Schneider and Roseman and Beane and Lynch have had their toes deep in trade waters for weeks leading up the deadline, taking the temperature of other teams and getting prepared to pounce. Kudos to all of them for having conviction in their beliefs and being willing to break from some norms to improve their rosters. Especially while teams like the Giants, who could have begun preparing for the future, once again sat out a deadline with a struggling team, because, well, that’s not the Mara way. Times, they are a changing, I believe.
Now let’s just get the Competition Committee to take this inertia and activity and push it forward by starting an initiative to move the deadline back two more weeks. Put it after Week 10, as so many GMs have suggested to me privately, and give teams a little more time to separate the haves and have-nots, and give owners who are taking on salary a break (having to pay those check for just seven more weeks rather than nine) and foster a culture even more conducive to the kind of action we take for granted at the MLB, NBA or NHL trade deadline.
The Browns go full Browns
The Browns are often looked at quizzically by their peers and they’ve earned their laughingstock status over time. But the inability to execute a simple trade for a backup quarterback in what other front offices see as a desperate, panic move, may be a new low for them. People are flabbergasted, equally, not only about the inability to turn in signed trade papers in time to consummate an AJ McCarron swap, but also the bizarre willingness to now give up likely the top pick in the second and third round for this particular quarterback.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said one established AFC executive. “Total panic move to try to save some jobs by winning a game or two, I guess, but they couldn’t even get that right.”
There are no shortage of conspiracy theories making the rounds as well as to whether GM Sashi Brown really wanted to get coach Hue Jackson’s former protégé to Cleveland. What a mess. If anyone on that front office or coaching staff survives this debacle it will come as the biggest shocker ever with the Browns. It’s hard to be this bad this long in this league. And I wouldn’t completely absolve the Bengals, either.
“If someone is giving me a two-and-a-three for McCarron, I’m calling (NFL transaction guru) Ken Fiore and keeping him on the line until I know everything is signed and filed with the league,” said one executive who has been quite active with trades in the past. “I’m making sure we have a deal.”
Patriots blew it with Garoppolo
The fact the Patriots could not flip the second-round pick they got for Garoppolo into anything that could help them try to win another Super Bowl this year with a 40-year old Tom Brady is stunning to me. They need help at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball rightnow, and had they dealt Garoppolo before the draft — as it only made sense to — they could’ve added several potential impact players to that front seven. After parting with top defenders like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in trades the past few years, and losing Dont’a Hightower for the season, I can’t help but wonder if that defense wilts, big time, in a playoff game against an offense like the Chiefs, Texans or Steelers, though it has been improved the past two weeks.
Dolphins better without Ajayi?
It says here that the Dolphins run game is going to improve with Jay Ajayi gone. First of all, there is no place to go but up. And coach Adam Gase has been through this before. He blew up his offensive line early last season and reworked the offense and saved the season. I don’t think they can duplicate that and get back to the playoffs, but he’ll find the guys who want to be there and are ready to sacrifice fully for the team and forge ahead with them.
The Dolphins’ three defeats have been by an average of 25 points — and they’re quite lucky to only have three defeats — and Gase isn’t the kind of dude to pretend that’s not happening and convince everyone that everything is alright. They’ve had only 19 drives reach the other team’s 30-yard line in nearly half a season. Message sent.
Red-zone woes for Steelers, Lions start at TE
The Steelers and Lions have both had serious issues in the red zone, as their Sunday night game attested to. And they share some of the same reasons why, most notably a lack of production from the tight end spot. Through eight games the Steelers tight ends have combined for just 24 catches for 268 yards (that’s a good two weeks for Gronk) and two touchdowns. They tried to address this with a preseason trade for Vance McDonald, but to no avail.
The Lions, with Eric Ebron looking like a draft bust, have a combined 27 catches for 288 yards and four TDs from their tight ends. Pittsburgh is 30th in red-zone touchdown efficiency and Detroit is 25th (tied with the Browns and Bengals). With their quarterbacks and ability to move the ball downfield, it’s pretty obvious that establishing another red-zone target could take these teams over the top.
More news and notes from around the NFL:
Which quarterback has the fewest turnovers in the NFL? Tyrod Taylor. He’s turned it over only twice all year. Going to keep raving about him because he gets the job done with little praise or fanfare. His ability to control the football, couple with Buffalo’s revamped, attacking defense, has the Bills primed for the playoffs. The Bills are first in the NFL with a plus-14 turnover rate, almost twice as much as any other team in the NFL. Buffalo is first with 17 takeaways and second with three giveaways.
How good was Deshaun Watson in Seattle on Sunday? The Legion of Boom had allowed 12 pbading plays of 20 yards or more through six weeks; Watson had 10 of them alone on Sunday, and that doesn’t include gains of 18 and 19 yards through the air as well. Those 10 completions accounted for 337 yards alone (34 yards per attempt!) and three touchdowns. Watson had gains of: 20, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 34, 36, 59 and 72.
Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is getting himself positioned for another head coaching opportunity. His work with Sam Bradford last year and Case Keenum this year has been special, he has former head coaching experience with the hapless Browns (the first of many coaching sacrifices Jimmy Haslam made to the football gods) and they were certainly more functional during his tenure than they have been since. Keenum has been among the better quarterbacks in the NFC and he has just three giveaways all season, allowing that defense to do its job