ATLANTA – The NFL took a step toward expanding the window for in-season trades while trying to make sure it doesn't become like some other sports.
"You don't want anybody to be the [Pittsburgh] Pirates in July," one owner said.
NFL owners approved a proposal to push the annual trade deadline from the sixth week of the season to the eighth. The rule is subject to agreement from the NFL Players Association.
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For the most part, owners and executives like the idea.
"You have all those trades that [the media] is talking about during the season that when it finally comes to the deadline [nothing happens]," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the league's competition committee. "Now, maybe some of that happens."
Said Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith: "I like it a lot. In the eighth week … most of the league still with a chance to make a run to the playoffs."
The implication is that teams in contention could still have the ability to swing a significant trade in the middle of the season. The downside of the new rule is that it could open the chance for struggling teams to dump players in an effort to rebuild.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose team went 2-14 in 2011, said he understands the fear and what could happen if a team or two dumped veteran players late in the season.
"You could have a very significant problem with the fan base and with your branding," Irsay said. "What are you trying to do, lose games intentionally? That doesn't sit well with your fans, your coaches, your general manager.
"You would have to really give your coach and GM some strong assurances that if they did that their jobs would be safe the following year. … With coaches and executives, the pressure to win each week is so strong that they don't want to even consider the idea of trading away players to rebuild."
While that may be true, the league has worried for years that opening the door to a later trade deadline would create a potential problem. Former Colts president Bill Polian consistently pointed out to other executives the pratfalls of late-season trades.
Baseball history is replete with such deals and the trend is growing. Low-revenue teams such as Pittsburgh, Oakland, Kansas City, Houston and Cleveland have dumped star players as the July trade deadline approached. Be it Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira or Randy Johnson, star players near the end of their contracts are constantly on the move in baseball. The same is often true in the NBA.
The NFL has avoided a similar pattern for years by keeping the trade deadline relatively early in the season. Even if a team is struggling with just one or two wins, it's less inclined to give up on the season with 10 contests left. Additionally, it's often hard to integrate a player into the lineup quickly, depending upon his position, which may become a bigger issue with the deadline being moved back.
An even greater deterrent could be that NFL teams haven't netted lofty results after acquiring big names before recent trade deadlines.
Last season, the Oakland Raiders dealt for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer just before the trade deadline. However, the bold move (the Raiders may end up losing two first-round picks in the process) didn't lead to the playoffs last season. Oakland went 4-6 the rest of the campaign and Palmer, out of football after refusing to play for the Bengals in 2011, was inconsistent upon his return, finishing with 13 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
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Likewise, the Dallas Cowboys traded for wide receiver Roy Williams in 2008, essentially giving up a first- and a third-round pick in 2009. The deal was hailed as a coup for the Cowboys, who were planning to pair Williams with star wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Instead, the deal was a bust. Williams finished with only 19 catches for 198 yards and one touchdown over the final 10 games of the season. The Cowboys failed to make the playoffs and Williams was a disappointment over the next two years, catching a total of 75 passes for 1,226 yards and 12 touchdowns in those two seasons before being let go.
Still, Dallas owner Jerry Jones was happy to entertain the idea of more liberal trading rules.
"I think it will add some excitement for our teams and our fans," Jones said.
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