The NFL swapped one deadline for another on Tuesday, anticipating that it would be the falling domino that leads to many more trades.
To be precise, the league set in motion the possible move of its in-season trade deadline from Week Six to Week Eight. Team owners approved the change during league meetings in Atlanta, which means the management council will now discuss the proposal with the NFLPA in hopes of making it part of the collective bargaining agreement. The idea is to have this change in place for the upcoming season.
The proposal is a response to discussion in recent years that the league's trade deadline is too early, making it difficult for teams that experience unexpected shortcomings at midseason to make a move. The NFL's in-season trade market is relatively stagnant, compared to other major sports, but league officials believe a later deadline will lead to more action.
This is an interesting potential development for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have never been hesitant to use the trade option to improve their roster or draft holdings. In fact, the Buccaneers are just a few days removed from their most recent swap, as they sent tight end Kellen Winslow to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night for a conditional pick in the 2013 draft.
General Manager Mark Dominik, who has been with the Buccaneers since 1995 and in his current post since 2009, is clearly not afraid to strike a deal. Since he took over the G.M. chair, the Buccaneers have been involved in eight different trades of players for draft picks, some coming, some going. If one includes draft-weekend trades, which are admittedly more common and widespread among the teams, the total rises to 16 trades in that span.
Two of those trades have been "deadline" deals. On October 17, 2009, the Buccaneers, who were 0-5 at the time, sent defensive end Gaines Adams to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. That pick, after a little maneuvering on Day Two of the draft, was turned into wide receiver Arrelious Benn.
Later that fall, on October 19, 2010, the Buccaneers acquired defensive end Alex Magee from the Kansas City Chiefs for a swap of third-day picks (a fifth for a sixth). That deal was the only one made in the entire NFL at the trade deadline in 2010.
There were no October deals in the works for the Buccaneers last year, but the team has previously been involved in such moves before Dominik's rise to general manager. In 2007, the Bucs and Chiefs were involved in another deadline swap, with Tampa Bay sending a conditional pick to Kansas City for running back Michael Bennett. The compensation ended up being a sixth-rounder in the 2008 draft.
In October of 2006, Tampa Bay traded defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to Indianapolis at the deadline for a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, which eventually became safety Sabby Piscitelli. A year earlier, the Buccaneers shipped a sixth-round pick to San Francisco at the deadline in order to get quarterback Tim Rattay. In 2004, it was another move out in October, with wide receiver Keenan McCardell going to San Diego for third and sixth-round picks in the 2005 draft. The third-rounder became tackle Chris Colmer; the sixth-rounder was later involved in another trade.
That's six trades for the Buccaneers at or near the deadline in the last eight seasons. In other words, Tampa Bay management has already been very active in that particular segment of the trade market, even with the deadline so early in the season. It's hard to imagine that moving the deadline back by two weeks could make Tampa Bay even more likely to get involved.
There is the question, too, of how effective these deals are. A major part of the reason that in-season NFL trades are less common than those in baseball, basketball or hockey is that it is far more difficult to integrate a new player into a football team in the middle of the action. The baseball team that trades for a new starter can simply put him on the mound and let him do exactly what he had been doing for his previous team. Team-assimilation issues are somewhat more important in basketball or hockey, but a new point guard is still more plug-and-play than a new linebacker.
Consider those six deadline deals pulled off by the Buccaneers from 2004-10. They are split evenly between trades that brought players to Tampa and deals that sent them away.
The three deals that shipped players out are easy to view as successes because, in each case, the Buccaneers got draft picks for players they did not expect to get much more from in Tampa. In Adams' case in 2009, that was tragically the case when he died of cardiac arrest in January following his trade to the Bears.
Adams' death obviously falls outside of the bounds of trade evaluation, and the Buccaneers would have happily wished him a long NFL career and post-career life. The other two deals on the list are more straightforward in their situations and results. McCardell was locked in a contract holdout that did not appear as if it would be resolved with him in a Bucs uniform. McFarland started for the Colts after his trade and made it to the Super Bowl that year but never played in the NFL again after 2006.
The draft-pick compensation the Bucs got from those three trades was significant – in total, two seconds, a third and a sixth. As it turned out, the best player chosen with those extra picks was Arrelious Benn, but acquiring picks and using them successfully are two different matters.
As for the players brought to Tampa in the other three deadline deals between 2004-10, they combined to make only a minimal impact. Bennett, the former Chief, Saint and Viking running back acquired by the Bucs at midseason in 2007, is the most memorable example. Bennett was blazingly fast, a former first-round pick and a player who had once put up a 1,300-yard season with the Vikings. In other words, while he had bounced around a bit in the middle of his career, he did hold some promise for the Bucs' backfield.
The narrative that developed over the second half of the 2007 season in Tampa, however, was not so optimistic. The coaching staff pointed out on several occasions the difficulty of teaching an entire offense to a ballcarrier in the middle of a hectic season. In eight games, Bennett ended up getting just 41 carries for 189 yards and one touchdown as he remained firmly as a backup to Earnest Graham.
In all three cases of bringing in players at the trade deadline, the moves were made in response to a run of injuries, or one key injury, at a certain position.
In 2005, the Bucs opened the season with Brian Griese starting at quarterback, backed up by Chris Simms, who had made two career NFL starts, and Luke McCown, who had played in five NFL games and had just arrived in a trade that spring. When Griese went down with a season-ending knee injury, Simms took over as the starter but the Buccaneers, wanting some veteran presence in the group, brought in Rattay. Rattay would be inactive for the rest of the season, though he did eventually start the final two games of 2006, another season plagued by quarterback injuries.
The running backs were hit hard in 2007, with both Cadillac Williams and Mike Alstott landing on injured reserve and Michael Pittman missing a significant amount of time. Graham, who had spent most of his career as a special teams standout and a versatile backup, was thrust into the starting role but the Bucs also went out to get Bennett. Bennett's difficulty assimilating himself into the lineup was rendered moot by the fact that Graham proved more than capable of handling a feature back role.
In 2010, the Bucs were looking for depth on the defensive line and some kind of pass-rushing spark after injuries to Kyle Moore and Brian Price. The cost to bring in Magee, a former third-round pick by the Chiefs, was minimal, but the returns were eventually the same. Magee played in eight games with no starts and contributed 11 tackles and two sacks.
Moving the trade deadline back two weeks would allow for more of an opportunity for teams to address similar situations. However, it would also bring those potential "solutions" in even farther along in the season, with even less time to learn.
On the other hand, one could take a less stats-intensive look at the three trades in question and conclude that the Buccaneers did, in each case, succeed in fixing a depth issue at a position that had been thinned out by injury. And, in each case, the newly-acquired player did have an opportunity to stay on with the Buccaneers the following season, after a full offseason to learn the offense or defense. As mentioned, Rattay came back in 2006 and, with injuries again hitting the quarterback position, he started the team's last two games and played relatively well. Bennett re-signed with the Bucs in January of 2008 but appeared in just two games that season and was released in November. Magee went to training camp with the Buccaneers in 2011 but was waived in the final roster cutdown.
In each of those cases, the player's original team also had to be pleased to receive an asset for a player that they could afford to lose, just as the Bucs did in the McCardell and McFarland deals.
The trade deadline may very well move back by two weeks, starting this season. If so, it's hard to imagine how it could make the Buccaneers more active in the midseason market than they've been over the past decade. It's also unlikely that any truly blockbuster deals will come out of the new deadline, but there are certainly minor gains to be had by the teams that make the effort.