Anyone who keeps up with pro sports on social media has seen the buzz surrounding the NBA trade deadline this week. Players and teams and well-positioned reporters have been trending online for days, with a flurry of moves finalized in the hours leading up to the official cutoff. It’s an exciting time for fans and those covering the league to see how different teams are approaching the deadline, with some going all-in and others waving white flags in surrender.
And it stands in stark contrast to the, well, boring NFL trade deadline. Pro football’s counterpart falls well short of the NBA, with most teams standing pat and trusting that the rosters they’ve built are good enough to see them through the season. It’s really rare to see anything that’ll raise your eyebrows or turn your head at that point, which is a shame. It’s a big missed opportunity for the NFL to carve out an even greater share of our collective attention.
So why not reschedule the NFL trade deadline? We’ve seen the league address negative space in its yearly calendar before, moving the annual schedule release from mid-April — slotted in between free agency and the draft, during a time full of college pro day workouts — to mid-May, once the draft buzz has worn down and teams let off the gas in free agency to wait until more money frees up in June. That’s good for television networks looking to fill their morning shows and humble digital platforms like ours here at Saints Wire aiming to keep up the pace as spring turns to summer. And it’s been good for the NFL, too, in keeping all eyes on it.
Let’s examine the differences here. The NBA trade deadline falls after teams have played roughly 54 games, or almost two-thirds of the way through their season. Compare that to the NFL’s trade deadline, slotted in after just eight weeks, and there’s a clear difference. A similarly-timed NFL trade deadline would fall between Weeks 11 and 12, and that illustrates quite a different status for much of the league. Let’s explore how.
Right now, 16 of the NBA’s 30 teams (53%) have records at or over .500. 11 franchises (37%) are under .400. A couple (10%) are even under .300. A number of teams are already shuttering for this season and looking to sell off assets so they can prepare for the future. And then you’ve got frisky squads like the New Orleans Saints, just a couple of games out of the playoff picture, pushing in their chips to try and go the distance by acquiring C.J. McCollum. Star talents like James Harden and Ben Simmons are on the move, too. It’s great fun.
So when you compare that to what the NFL has going on around the trade deadline, well, it looks a bit lackluster. The Saints are one of the few teams who have been active buyers at the trade deadline — they’ve acquired Mark Ingram II, Kwon Alexander, and Eli Apple there in recent years, and their interest in picking up Odell Beckham Jr. kickstarted his departure with the Cleveland Browns. But that’s just one team out of 32 embracing the opportunity to get better.
The biggest problem for the NFL is scheduling. Their trade deadline falls before Week 9, with some teams having only played seven games if they had an early bye week. Here’s what that meant for the league as a whole:
17 of 32 teams had a record at or over .500 (53%)
15 of 32 teams had a record below .500 (47%)
7 of 32 teams had a record below .300 (22%)
12 of 32 teams were 1 or 2 games back from a winning record (38%)
But a dozen teams were within a game or two — striking distance — of getting back to a winning record. They told themselves they were still in the hunt and held onto their assets. Of those dozen teams only four reached the playoffs — the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles. Seven of the teams finished the year with losing records, and three of them introduced regime changes in the offseason (the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears).
How different would things have looked had the NFL pushed its trade deadline back, say, three weeks? Let’s look at the standings going into Week 12:
20 of 32 teams had a record at or over .500 (63%)
12 of 32 teams had a record below .500 (38%)
7 of 32 teams had a record below .300 (22%)
9 of 32 teams were 1 or 2 games back from a winning record (28%)
And let’s compare those shifts over just three weeks:
10% increase in teams with records at or over .500
9% decrease in teams with records below .500
No change in teams with records below .300
10% decrease in teams 1 or 2 games back from a winning record
So this shows a greater disparity between the haves and have-nots of the NFL. As it becomes increasingly clear which teams won’t be competitive this season, their front offices can start planning for the future and try to move players when they have the highest value. Pushing the trade deadline back three weeks, from the first Tuesday of November to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, might spur teams whose seasons are circling the drain into cutting deals at the deadline. The jump in teams who are suddenly back in the playoff picture would be incentivized to pursue trades and add upgrades just in time to get over the hump. There’s such a logjam for the wild-card spots that some enterprising coaches would be pounding the table to bring in game-changing additions.
But this is all hypothetical. The NFL has enjoyed another highly lucrative season, and even the social media-dominating NBA trade news can’t dethrone Super Bowl week coverage for long. If they’re feeling any pressure at the league offices in New York to tweak the calendar, we wouldn’t know it. At the same time, though, wouldn’t it be fun to have more trades and more news going on, right down to the wire?
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