Let's Not Make a Deal

Why are in-season trades so rare in the NFL?
November 04, 2013

While this NFL season has actually provided a few memorable deals, including the movement of running back Trent Richardson from the Browns to the Colts after Week 2 and offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie from the Ravens to the Dolphins—Baltimore's first in-season trade in its 18-year history—the passing of the trade deadline this week serves as another reminder that football will never have anything on the swap meets that baseball and basketball can turn into. Why?

GAME OF SCHEMES

Football is schematic: West Coast offense, 4--3 and 3--4 defenses, Cover 2, press coverage, two-gap, wide-nine and on and on. Fitting players into these specialized, complicated setups—no matter their talents—is not as simple as in other sports. Pitching in Tampa isn't different from pitching in Minneapolis. But Josh Freeman's horrible performance in his first game with the Vikings (20 of 53 in a loss to the Giants) after moving from the Bucs showed the peril that comes with sticking a QB into a new system. Although Freeman was a free-agent signing rather than a trade—Tampa had desperately tried to move him before releasing him—the point is the same: The transfer of a player's skills from one system to another is rarely smooth.

WHY IS HE AVAILABLE?

Teams don't trade players they see as part of their future. When asked why they're looking to move a player, general managers talk about position surpluses or new schemes of incoming coaches, but it all translates to the same thing: We don't like him anymore. Take him off our hands!

CONTRACT CONCERNS

For obvious reasons, teams are often most interested in shopping players with onerous contracts. Not only do teams not like assuming such deals, but the trading team will take a cap hit the following season based on the unamortized portion of the contract. Complications also arise when trying to move a player who is nearing the end of his contract, which leads to sticky parallel negotiations: with the team about trade compensation and with the agent about a new contract.

With so many hurdles, it's a wonder any deal ever gets done. So if you were looking for a flurry of action, sit tight: The NBA's deadline is only four months away.

PHOTODENIS POROY/AP (RICHARDSON)ON THE MOVE In what passes for a blockbuster, the Colts acquired Richardson—who has now been ineffective in two uniforms this season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)