Wed. Oct 21st, 2020

Why have NFL trades increased? Four reasons the…

7 min read
Why have NFL trades increased? Four reasons the...

The NFL trade deadline is red-hot and it’s not even here yet. Last week, the Rams made three trades in one day. This week, the Patriots made a trade less than eight hours after beating the Jets 33-0, then made another one two days later. The 49ers, the league’s other undefeated team, followed New England’s deal on Tuesday with one of their own.

There have been 17 trades since the season began Sept. 5, and the consensus opinion in front offices across the league is that there are plenty more to come ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.

How did this happen? The NFL trade deadline used to be a perennial dud — nothing like its MLB, NBA or NHL counterparts for activity. General managers used to hoard draft picks and believe the juice of a midseason acquisition wouldn’t be worth the squeeze, so difficult is it to school players in new offensive and defensive schemes on the fly.

But now it’s more trades for higher prices and ideas that would have been laughed off half a decade ago. Two first-round picks from the Rams to the Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey? A second-round pick from the Patriots to the Falcons for Mohamed Sanu? A first-rounder this time last year from Dallas to Oakland for Amari Cooper?

This is the new way of the NFL trade-deadline world, and it’s actually pretty cool. Keeps things interesting. Gives fans a fresh way of staying engaged. We’re here for it.

As for why it’s happening, based on conversations with front-office executives around the league, there are a few reasons:

A fresh perspective on the concept of trading

As a new, younger generation of general managers has pervaded the league, front offices just look at trading from an entirely different point of view than their predecessors. They see how players move around in the NBA, they see how short NFL players’ careers are, they realize they’re not going to have these players forever and they’re more willing to think outside the box in terms of ways to improve their teams for the immediate future.

“Somewhere along the line, people started asking different questions,” one personnel director said. “It’s like, ‘We’d sign a free agent off the street because he could help us right now, what’s the difference between that and bringing in someone from another organization?’ So once you start turning over old ways of looking at things, a lot of new stuff comes into play.”



Trey Wingo says Mohamed Sanu being traded to the Patriots adds to the reasons New England will be playing in the Super Bowl.

Trading offers other advantages over free agency as a player-acquisition method. In some cases, it offers cost certainty. The Patriots have Sanu for this year and next, if they want him, and they know he’s scheduled to make $6.5 million. If he plays well and they want to keep him, that’s a better solution than going out on the market next March and having to outbid another team for a similar player who might get $8 million or $9 million a year. Still another advantage is that trading for a player doesn’t cost teams anything in the compensatory draft pick formula, whereas signing a free agent does.

“A lot of these deals,” Rams GM Les Snead said in a phone interview a few days after acquiring Ramsey, “are done with the long term in mind. That’s an important thing to remember.”

Improved salary-cap management

The fact that trades became more prevalent in the latter years of the current collective bargaining agreement should not be a surprise. As teams grew more and more familiar with the rules of the league’s economic system, some of them began to structure contracts in ways that allowed for more flexibility. In many cases, you’re seeing teams putting more of the contract money — even the guarantees — into base salary and roster bonuses as opposed to signing bonuses, which can make trading players more difficult.

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