Just six weeks ago we editorialized in the space right above this column in the print edition of Pro Football Weekly about how insignificant the NFL trade deadline is and what a missed opportunity to improve the league, its teams and its games it represents. But I'm not sure we did justice to what a huge mistake it is for pro football's trade deadline to fall so early every year. The NFL, which never seems to miss a marketing opportunity, has made the trade deadline so insignificant that, in many seasons, even the most rabid fans aren't aware it's come and gone.
Major League Baseball's trade deadline falls on July 31 of every season, with two-thirds of the season complete and just a third left to play, and there is actually a second deadline of Aug. 31, before which time waiver trades can be made and teams can still improve themselves or build for next year with as little as 17 percent of the season remaining. In the NHL the trade deadline usually falls near the end of February, with about 21 percent of the regular season remaining. And in the NBA it also comes near the end of February, with just 28 percent of the season left.
We've all witnessed and enjoyed the activity and conversation these deadlines spur in the other three of the four major pro sports in America, and it seems that every year at least one team in MLB, the NHL and the NBA, if not more, is lifted into the playoffs at least in part by a deal made at the deadline. Unfortunately, in the NFL the deadline comes so early every year that many teams' seasons are over before they've even begun.
What makes this point so relevant right now is that if the NFL were to match other pro sports by having its deadline with just 30 percent of the regular season remaining, it would have fallen this past week with 11 games in the record books and five left to play. I believe the potential for all kinds of trade talk, rebuilding plans, strategy and drama is self-evident.
Let's consider some of the challenges that have faced just a few teams between Week Six and Week 12 of this NFL season, to make my point. The NFC East-leading Giants lost Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Boley. The Saints' defense has continued to regress while its offense has emerged as one of the best in the NFL. The Bears lost QB Jay Cutler just 10 days before what our proposed new trade deadline would have been. The Lions saw their two best defensive backs, Louis Delmas and Chris Houston, go down on Thanksgiving Day while in control of the NFC's final playoff spot. The Bills lost Kyle Williams, Eric Wood, Demetrius Bell and Fred Jackson to injuries while still in wild-card contention. The Chiefs lost Matt Cassel on the same day the Bears lost Cutler. And the Texans, while owning the No. 1 seed in the AFC, lost QBs Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart for the season two and one weeks, respectively, before the date we have proposed for a new trade deadline.
These are just a few of the teams that have seen once-bright and promising seasons potentially turn to slow death marches to the end, due to late-season injuries and an inability to fill the gaps they create. In every other major pro sport in America, those setbacks, or possibly even just an admission that a club has been lacking in certain spots all year, can set in motion a litany of strategic decisions and negotiations that can save the season for a contender and perhaps even strengthen an also-ran, as well as generating new hopes for these teams for next year as the season winds down. Not to mention the interest, chatter and excitement it generates on TV, on radio, in the blogosphere, at sports bars and around office water coolers.
Imagine what would have happened if the Broncos and Vikings had had the options of trading Kyle Orton and Donovan McNabb in the past couple of weeks as opposed to simply waiving them? And who is to say the Titans might not have dangled Matt Hasselbeck, or that the Chargers wouldn't have considered dealing Philip Rivers? Or, for that matter, that Josh Freeman, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Carolina's Steve Smith, Matt Flynn, Kevin Kolb and Beanie Wells, just to name a few, might not all have been available to strengthen some teams' playoff runs and allow the also-rans to stockpile draft picks or other young players to dramatically accelerate the pace of their improvement in coming years?
Rarely have we seen the NFL miss a chance to enhance its stranglehold on the title of "America's favorite sport," but it sure seems to be swinging and missing here. Maybe it's something the NFL will wake up to soon, and then change just as quickly.