This year’s NBA Trade Deadline was the busiest we’ve ever seen with a record 46 players joining new teams. Those expecting a similar frenzy in the NFL were let down, twiddling their thumbs as the deadline came and went, spurring remarkably little activity with rumored trade candidates Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, Marlon Mack, Evan Engram and Fletcher Cox all inexplicably staying put.
A handful of familiar faces—Von Miller, Zach Ertz, Mark Ingram, Stephon Gilmore and Joe Flacco among them—were moved in the days and weeks leading up to Tuesday’s 4 PM ET cutoff. But considering all the chatter—particularly in regard to Watson—this year’s deadline felt uniquely anticlimactic, a missed opportunity for fringe playoff teams to put themselves over the hump. To answer the question posed by Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator, no, the Twitter masses were not entertained.
In an evolving league where “going for it” has become the new norm, most of the NFL’s 32 teams played scared, punting on a chance to improve heading into the season’s final stretch. One notable exception was the Rams, who went for the kill by acquiring former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. While critics chastised the Rams for burning what little draft capital they had left on a 32-year-old coming off major surgery, others admired their panache, seizing their title window by adding another difference-maker to what was already the league’s best defense.
It’s important to remember that the draft, particularly after the first round, is largely a crapshoot, with even the shrewdest scouting minds hitting on only about half their picks. So why do teams insist on hoarding picks, eschewing proven commodities for the equivalent of a $10 scratch-off?
With virtually every team acknowledging the benefit of analytics, the NFL is, in many ways, the smartest it’s ever been from a decision-making standpoint. But, like all manmade innovations, there will always be blind spots. How else could you explain the Texans squandering their lone trade asset—the perennially underappreciated Brandin Cooks—holding the 28-year-old hostage on a team headed nowhere?
A trade isn’t always what’s best. A quiet deadline can, in some cases, serve as a vote of confidence, a silent endorsement from ownership that the pieces to win are already in place. But for much of the league, Tuesday will be looked at as a day of great regret.
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