Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
With all the talk this offseason about the Patriots trading for Brandin Cooks, the Browns trading for Brock Osweiler, and now Richard Sherman being available I had to stop and ask myself; “Is the NFL finally catching up to the other pro sports leagues?” I know that historically the NFL hasn’t been known for dealing anything other than picks on draft day while baseball and basketball have a trade deadline that is closely watched. I must admit, I’m a little concerned about how this is all starting to play out. When it comes to players in the NFL and the limits on the salary cap I believe in a draft and develop philosophy. Football players have such short careers and superstar talent is so hard to find it seems suspicious to me that teams are willing to trade for other team’s players while giving up draft picks or their own proven players.
When you look at baseball, trading for players shouldn’t create any worry about a decline in play or even the ability to absorb the player’s contract. As much as it is a team sport, strategies used don’t vary much team to team. It’s hit the ball catch the ball no matter where you play. Basketball does involve a lot more strategy and learning; however, with such small rosters and even fewer true superstars available it’s not difficult to find a way for a traded player to acclimate to his new team. Changing teams in the NFL involves learning massive playbooks in such a short time and the strategy of different teams may completely change the role of a player so much so that his value no longer lives up to what was given away to acquire him. In the past these things have seriously hindered the willingness of teams to trade away future assets to get a new player.
Prior to free agency in 1993 teams could pretty much hold onto a player’s contract rights until the player was all washed up. Through the growing pains of the process teams have learned to covet young players and draft picks instead of taking on the contracts of players they were unsure would fit in the teams style of play. It was in the offseason during free agency that teams could bring in players for workouts and interviews and then set the contract number for the ones they chose as the best fits for their team. This gave teams a better grasp on where a player could fit and then set a value of their choosing for that player. If another team was willing to pay more than them they would lose out and deal with it. That led to the rise in hot commodity players being overpaid and most of the time not living up to the hype that surrounded them.
Now it seems we have come to a place where another way of acquiring players is making more headway in the league. Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of big name players being traded away for sometimes hefty sums with the acquiring team betting big on the established talent, or in some cases getting rid of a salary problem before they can get nothing for it. The first recent trade that sent shockwaves through the league was the Colts sending a first round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson. This seemed to address a need the Colts had at the time. They paid for it when Richardson was a complete bust and they lost the ability to get someone better the next year. I assumed at the time that I wouldn’t see something like that again for a long time. Then along came the Saints problem with Jimmy Graham’s contract in 2015. He was then traded to the Seahawks for center Max Unger and both teams walked away happy.
Over the past few years some pretty big names have seen themselves traded away rather than be lost for nothing in free agency. Darrelle Revis, LeSean McCoy, and Sam Bradford are just a few. Revis was off his new team after just a year and Sam Bradford was traded again a year later after failing to produce. Only LeSean McCoy has continued to have success but the man he was traded for was sent to another team a year later.
Now it’s 2017 and the offseason has had a lot of trades. Brock Osweiler, Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, Julius Thomas and Dwayne Allen were some of the biggest names traded away. Many of these trades were for late round picks so there isn’t much risk for the new teams. The fact that the old teams were willing to give up on these players when there is still obvious talent is a sign of things to come. Instead of trying to squeeze out one more year of their ability or try and find ways to use that ability; teams are more willing to simply take what they can get for them rather than get nothing. Meanwhile the teams that are acquiring the player are taking a chance that they are not getting a player with some problem that cannot be overcome, thus the reason behind the previous team’s willingness to part ways.
I know teams are constantly evaluating players, even ones on other teams; but a part of me wonders if they could have gotten these players cheaper on the open market while still retaining the assets they gave away. As a draft and develop guy I am always suspicious of players from other teams. For me it’s all about keeping the salary cap healthy and consistently adding young talent to develop through the draft. Renting a player for one or two years is tough if you’re not sure what you’re going to get. That player could bust and now the ability to find depth late in the draft is gone as well. It is yet to be determined how much more of an uptick in trades there will be in future years but for me, if I was a GM, I would try my best not to get too much into this trendy new way of getting players on my team. The best way to build a team that can win consistently is to draft well and not overpay for new acquisitions; that includes trading for talent that may only be there in the short term.