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The Most Significant Trade Deadline in NFL History

This wasn’t just the year with the biggest moves—first-round picks, Pro Bowlers and Brady’s heir. The NFL may have also created yet another point on the calendar for fans to obsess over

The most significant trade deadline of the salary cap era is in the rear-view. In case you missed it, here’s what transpired over the past week:

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the 2011 No. 3 overall pick, was traded from Buffalo to Jacksonville on Friday. Left tackle Duane Brown, a 2008 first-round pick and three-time Pro Bowler, was traded to Seattle on Monday. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the heir apparent to Tom Brady, was dealt to the 49ers late Monday night. Running back Jay Ajayi, a 2016 Pro Bowler, was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round pick. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, a 2014 first-round pick, was sent from Carolina to Buffalo on Tuesday, just before the deadline, for a third and seventh-round pick.

For the first time, the NFL managed to bottle some of the behind-the-curtains energy typically owned by Major League Baseball and the NBA during their far more active trade deadline periods. Young general managers are bucking convention. Teams are becoming less patient with slow-to-produce talent. Even those with a slender lead in their divisions are looking to stomp on anyone coming close. Here, we’ll examine why this is happening, and take a look back at how significant this deadline period was.

Consider the deals at the previous five trade deadlines:

2016 (trades within a week of 11/1):

Jonathan Banks from TB to Detroit for 2018 seventh-round pick (11/1)
Jamie Collins from NE to CLE for 2017 third-round pick (10/31)
A.J. Derby from NE to DEN for 2017 fifth-round pick (10/25)
Kyle Van Noy and seventh-round pick from DET to NE for 2017 sixth-round pick (10/25)

2015 (trades within a week of 11/3):

Vernon Davis and a seventh-round pick to Denver for 2016 sixth-round pick and 2017 sixth-round pick (11/2)

2014 (trades within a week of 10/28):

Mark Barron from Tampa Bay to St. Louis (10/28)
Jonathan Casillas from Tampa Bay to New England (10/28)
Akeem Ayers from Titans to New England (10/22)
*Percy Harvin from Seattle to the Jets (10/18)
*Significant, but 10 days out

2013 (trades within a week of 10/29):

Isaac Sopoaga from Eagles to Patriots (10/29)
Bryant McKinnie from Ravens to Dolphins (10/21)

2012 (trades within a week of  11/1)

Aqib Talib from Patriots to Buccaneers (11/1)
Mike Thomas from Jaguars to Lions (10/31)

A look all the way back to the beginning of the salary-cap era showed a slow buildup of October trades over the years, from one deal in 1996 (Steelton, Pa., native Troy Drayton from the Rams to the Dolphins) to eight in 2010, a trade class that featured an end-of-career Randy Moss going back to Minnesota and Marshawn Lynch heading to Seattle. But nothing that came close to what we saw on Tuesday—and to think, as ESPN reported, there was nearly an A.J. McCarron to Browns deal, too.

The obvious question is: Why?

The great Andrew Brandt has some theories in his latest column, which notes the relationship between Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum and Eagles GM Howie Roseman and how there really aren’t any secrets in the NFL anymore.

A few more reasons:

• This younger class of general managers is fearless and somewhat disconnected from the old power brokers. Bill Belichick stunned the football world with his propensity for trades early in his Patriots career, and those coming up behind him are aware of how significant small-time investments can pay off.

• General managers are in the spotlight now. This is no longer a job that someone can hold onto for five years before the sword comes down. If you’re in trouble, you need to make something happen fast. The idea of a five-year rebuild is only entertaining to fans who can see tangible growth.

NFL Trade Deadline 2017: Grading the Big Moves

• Given the cutbacks in practice time, coaches are less likely to deal with someone they can’t teach or connect with. Look at Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who shipped away a Pro Bowl running back after calling out his pass blocking the week before.

• Coaching turnover is so prevalent in the NFL that it’s easy to find instructors on other teams who have previous experience with a certain player. Dareus is rejoining former head coach Doug Marrone. Benjamin is rejoining former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and front office executive Brandon Beane.

The NFL has taken pride in hogging certain parts of the calendar. Fall Sundays and the Super Bowl grew to include weeks of draft obsession. That grew to include free agency. That grew to include cut-down day, schedule release day, pre-draft visit announcements and training camp schedules. Now, in the middle of a phenomenal World Series and its own internal issues, the league has again hit upon something engaging. Who’s ready for the 96-hour deadline-day countdown specials in 2018?

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