Jimmy Garoppolo left the Patriots for the 49ers amid a flurry of activity at the NFL trade deadline (Charlie Riedel/AP)
The NFL’s trading deadline traditionally has been a snooze-fest, with plenty of speculation but precious little action. A front office executive could have put his feet up on his desk and taken a lengthy nap on trade-deadline day in most years without missing anything.
That boring tradition ended this week.
The mad scramble leaguewide included prominent players such as left tackle Duane Brown, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin being traded Monday night and Tuesday. Another significant deal that would have sent quarterback AJ McCarron from the Cincinnati Bengals to the Cleveland Browns wasn’t completed only because the Browns failed to properly notify the league by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. And all of that came after running back Adrian Peterson and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were traded earlier in October.
The NFL is a no-trade league no longer.
The flurry of trade-deadline activity took many within the league by surprise, and few had concrete answers as to why they think it happened.
Asked whether he had any theories as to why so many trades took place, a personnel executive with one NFL team said: “Not really. But it was great, wasn’t it? Except if you’re a Cleveland fan.”
[The Eagles were the NFC’s No. 1 team. And getting Jay Ajayi made them better]
After trading his backup quarterback, Garoppolo, to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night for a second-round draft pick, New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday: “I’m not trying to badyze league trends and figure out what everybody else is doing. I’m trying to do what’s best for our football team. There’s probably somebody else that could answer that question better than I could.”
Maybe so. There were a few possible explanations being offered by agents and front office executives leaguewide. Among them:
There’s a new wave of younger general managers . . . The next generation of GMs is running the sport. And they don’t cling to the traditional notion that trades are not a viable means of NFL roster construction, especially in-season deals.
First-year GMs Brandon Beane of the Buffalo Bills, who added Benjamin from the Carolina Panthers, and John Lynch of the Niners, who obtained Garoppolo to be his potential franchise quarterback, were part of the trade-deadline craziness.
Beane had dealt Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, and he’d traded away wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby in August. He and Sean McDermott, the Bills’ first-year coach, clearly are unafraid to make trades to shape the roster to their liking. Beane joked as a news conference Tuesday that making a trade that actually brought in a prominent player allowed him to be able to go into the Bills’ locker room without having to face the players’ wrath.
“Those guys are probably getting tired of me moving guys and not bringing anything in,” Beane said. “Again, you have to wait for the right time. . . . We’re always looking to add. But it has to be right. And the timing was right for this move for Kelvin.”
There is abundant salary cap space leaguewide . . . The salary cap has been climbing rapidly in recent seasons. The average NFL team has about $11.7 million in available salary cap space, according to NFL Players Association records. Cap space means roster-move flexibility.
The Niners are estimated to be more than $51 million below next season’s projected cap. So they could add Garoppolo without being particularly concerned that he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the offseason and will have to be signed to a new contract or franchise-tagged.
That was an issue for the Patriots. Belichick said Tuesday that the Patriots had, in his view, the best quarterback situation in the league with Garoppolo backing up Tom Brady. But it wasn’t sustainable, Belichick said. The Patriots kept that situation intact as long as they felt they could before getting something in return for Garoppolo.
“In most every situation like that, there are a lot of things to consider,” Belichick said. “In the end, you put it all together and try to do what you think is best for the team. There are a lot of different aspects to the composition of the team and we try to give a thoughtful approach to all of them. Sometimes one thing overrides another. Sometimes it’s a combination of things. Each situation is different.”
Coaches are not as rigid as they were in the past . . . The argument against making NFL trades used to be that this is a sport that is all about coaching and schemes and getting players badimilated into a team’s system, which takes time.
But coaches already have had their traditional patterns disrupted by
But safety-related cutbacks in the amount of practice time allowed year-round and in the amount of practice-field hitting permitted during training camp and the regular season already have disrupted traditional patterns. Coaches have had their longtime notions about how to do things tested and, in some cases, upended. They have had to adjust. They have had to become more flexible. Maybe that has carried over into them being more willing to make adjustments on the run during the season, perhaps by working in a new player obtained in a trade.
The trade deadline is later than it used to be . . . The league, on the recommendation of the rulemaking NFL competition committee and with the agreement of the NFLPA, pushed back the trade deadline in 2012 from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the Tuesday after Week 8 of the regular season.
The later deadline gives teams a better idea about where they stand and whether making a trade-deadline move in pursuit of a playoff spot makes sense. The Bills added Benjamin at a time when they have record of 5-2 and are a half-game behind the Patriots atop the AFC East.
“If you’re 0-7, I’m not sure you’re giving away a pick,” Beane said. “But each year is a different year …. I’ve been a part of teams that were predicted to go to the Super Bowl and we went 6-10. Those aren’t the years you try and make a move that’s out there necessarily at the trade deadline …. Years where you start like this, you’re always looking to help yourself win now and win in the future. I honestly think that’s what this does.”
Some have suggested moving the deadline even later. It remains to be seen if that will happen.
It might not be necessary, given the developments of this week.
Read more on the NFL:
Can Jimmy Garoppolo save the 49ers? Not this year.
Trading for Duane Brown is a great deal for the Seahawks that could pay off big
Svrluga: Kyle Shanahan wanted Jimmy Garoppolo. What does that say about Kirk Cousins?
NFL trade deadline: Bills acquire Benjamin, Dolphins trade Jay Ajayi to the Eagles
Dolphins’ Kiko Alonso will not be suspended for his big hit on Joe Flacco