I flipped on ESPN on Monday, 24 hours before the NFL trade deadline, and a quartet of Bristolites used a half-dozen “”trade rumors’’ to fuel a game of “Trade of Treat’’ or “Trick or Trade’’ or some other dopey Halloween-themed game show and I gotta tell you, if a guy is just half-paying attention to the way deadline deals work in the NFL, it would’ve been tremendously exciting!
I mean, there was the respected Adam Schefter and crew telling me about how “this team needs to trade for a QB’’ and how “that star needs a change of scenery’’ and …
It was all bullshit. And what offends my sensibilities is that Schefty and his co-conspirators know it’s all bullshit.
What tempers my excitement over such Headline Porn is my now 10-year study of the NFL trade deadline and what it really means. It’s not Major League Baseball with its “Hot Stove League.’’ It’s not the NBA trade deadline in February, where owners, GM’s and coaches all gather together for All-Star Weekend.
The selling to the public the excitement of the NFL Trade Deadline is, in short, a fraud.
The Nov. 1 NFL trade deadline is here and so are the questions, Dallas Cowboys-related and beyond. “Trade McFadden!’’ “Acquire a pass-rusher!’’ “C’mon, why doesn’t Jerry Jones get off his ass and DO SOMETHING?!’’
For 10 years, my answer is generally the same. And so my notes on the subject that you read below is an updated version of what I've said annually ...
There is no better way to sell papers, to peddle subscriptions, to gain clicks, to fill radio-talk show time and to give Adam Schefter some televised busy work (as he texts theatrically while the camera focuses on him) than to stretch the “speculation’’ of an NFL trade into something resembling a “story’’ about a trade.
Framed properly, deadline trade ideas are fun. Unfortunately, they are too often framed sloppily, or worse, framed with the intention to fool you, the consumer. (Believe me, as a person who makes a living off my work in print, on TV and on radio, I appreciate the commerce of eyeballs. But my conscience reminds me I also need to be able to sleep at night.)
SI.com, NFL.com, Bleacher Report, ESPN .. they all do fine work in many areas but they also all write about 'em, in a mostly speculative way. And once puffed into the atmosphere, these stories have an existence. Words like "fire sale'' and “heating up’’ and "desperation’’’ are handed out like cheap Halloween candy every season.
But the reality? I go to my annual quote from inside Cowboys headquarters.
“You are always open, always listening,’’ Stephen Jones tells me. “But the sort of trades (the public) talks about generally just don’t happen.’’
You mean like last year’s “Tom Brady-to-Texans’’ idea (perpetrated by ESPN)? Or NFL.com’s “love-to-see’’ idea of Johnny Manziel to the Jets? Or this year’s Browns-centered dumping of Joe Thomas and Joe Haden, maybe their two best players?
You’ll notice these trades almost never have responsible names attached, or even “sources’’ attached.
This year’s version of that, from a Cowboys perspective? “Darren McFadden is being traded to the Lions … er, Packers … er Broncos!’’
Such a thing is still possible. But McFadden is presently not on Dallas’ active roster as he works through an elbow injury. To trade him, the Cowboys would have to activate him. To do that, they’d have to cut somebody from their 53-man roster. And then they’d need something in return that’s better than the rainy-day insurance that he provides to this contending team.
Sometimes, a simple understanding of the rules and the realities keep you from getting suckered. Two years ago, NFL.com actually suggested that there was smoke behind the fire of some of their “reports’’ … so that Jacksonville was going to give Dallas running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and that Dallas was talking about stealing Ben Tate, and that Dallas was going to rob Minnesota of defensive end Jared Allen AND Adrian Peterson, and that Dallas was going to trick some sucker into accepting oft-injured and pricy receiver Miles Austin.
That’s a lot of moving parts. And it was all baloney.
This year’s Baloney Award goes to ESPN and FOX Sports, both outlets having allowed their gossip-mongerers to suggest Dallas trades featuring Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, deals that a) are by rule impractical or even illegal and b) have never been discussed by Cowboys officials.
Here’s the reality check: From 2006 to 2012, NFL teams combined to orchestrate a total of 10 deadline trades. That’s 1.42 trades per season – hardly worth the pre-deadline hubbub. In 2013 there were three more trades. In 2014, I counted four deadline deals. Last year there was one.
Furthermore, the deals are rarely impactful in terms of superstar value. Here’s the year-by-year total:
2015: Vernon Davis Traded was traded from the 49ers to the Broncos for 2016 and 2017 late-round draft picks
2014: Percy Harvin represented a high-profile October deal (Seattle to Jets). There was another swap, New England getting linebacker Akeem Ayers from Tennessee in an exchange of late-round picks. New England also got Jonathan Casillas from Tampa and Tampa traded safety Mark Barron to the Rams.
2013: Cardinals trade offensive lineman Levi Brown to Pittsburgh; Jaguars trade tackle Eugene Moore to Baltimore; Eagles trade defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga to New England.
2012 – Buccaneers trade Aqib Talib to New England.
2011 — Bengals trade Carson Palmer to the Raiders; Broncos trade Brandon Lloyd to the Rams; Eagles trade Ronnie Brown to the Lions.
2010 — Chiefs trade Alex Magee to the Buccaneers; Browns trade Jerome Harrison to Philadelphia for Mike Bell.
2009 — Rams trade Will Witherspoon to the Eagles; Bucs trade Gaines Adams to Chicago.
2008 – Zero deadline trades.
2007 – Chiefs trade Michael Bennett to the Buccaneers.
2006 – Bucs trade Anthony McFarland to the Colts.
What to take from all that? That's 18 trades in 10 years. That’s 1.8 deadline deals per year … hardly meriting Schefter turning this into “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.’’
Tampa Bay and New England (which did yet another deal this week, sending linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland) are the outliers here. So their fans can be excited if they wish.
Now, maybe the 2016 deadline will be a matching record-setter and there will actually be three or four minor trades! But for days I’ve been sarcastically answering Cowboys trade inquiries by saying, “Bet the under.’’ Unfortunately, we are conditioned by Schefty and his cronies to believe fairy tales … and maybe the action in other sports lures us in, too.
While one deadline deal was consummated in 2012’s NFL, the NBA featured 11 such deals. Baseball, too, has made a “second sport’’ of its various transaction deadlines.
So why doesn’t it work that way in the NFL? There are six major reasons … which I detail in Part 2 of "Your Cowboys Guide To Not Getting Conned At The NFL Trade Deadline.''