Wasn’t that fun?
Unfortunately, the NFL trade deadline is usually more “dead” than “trade.” Indeed, there was only one other deal of note this week: Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd going from Denver to St. Louis (where beleaguered quarterback Sam Bradford probably met him at the airport — in a limousine stocked with Dom Perignon).
In other sports, playoff berths are won and lost at the trade deadline (e.g. when the Washington Capitals brought in goalie Cristobal Huet in 2008 and whisked off to the Southeast Division title). Players are swapped. Draft choices are exchanged. Three-team deals are arranged. It’s a huge adrenaline rush, one of the most anticipated weeks of the season.
In the NFL, alas, it’s nothing like that. For one thing, the trading deadline falls too early — after just the sixth game. The league’s rationale, which goes back to its beginnings, is that the also-rans might “tank” their seasons and start auctioning off players if the deadline was later (around Thanksgiving, say). But heck, that’s the way it is in baseball, basketball and hockey, and you don’t hear their fans complaining.
After all, a club that’s out of the race can try to build for the future by dealing a veteran for a prospect or draft pick. And in football, such an arrangement would make particular sense because of the high casualty rate. One of the contenders almost always loses a key performer down the stretch, and yet it can’t, according to the rules, seek a quality replacement — only the waiver-wire variety. Crazy.
When Charley Casserly was general manager of the Redskins in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he lobbied to get the deadline moved, he says, “but there were never enough votes to do it. You have to remember, though, trades can be complicated in the NFL. There are salary-cap considerations, of course, and then there’s compensation. You don’t have players to be named or minor leaguers you can include in a deal. And draft choices are more valuable in the NFL than in any other sport, because the players can play sooner and because more players are needed . So teams aren’t eager to trade them.”
Also, in other sports, you can make a deal for a player and put him in the lineup right away. (In baseball, all a new acquisition has to know is whether the third-base coach is signaling for a bunt or merely scratching his nose.) In football, there are elaborate offensive and defensive systems to learn. You can throw a guy out on the field, sure, but it might be a while before he’s playing at his usual level.
That goes double for a quarterback like Palmer, who, on top of everything else, has to get his timing down with his receivers. This might be why a QB hasn’t been traded during the season since — can it be? — 1988. Anybody want to guess who it was?
None other than the Redskins’ Jay Schroeder. That was the year, you may recall, after they won their second Super Bowl under Joe Gibbs. Schroeder had lost his starting job to Doug Williams and was none too happy about it; so GM Bobby Beathard, confident enough in young Mark Rypien as the backup, traded Schroeder to the then-Los Angeles Raiders after the first Sunday of games. In return, he received a Pro Bowl left tackle, Jim Lachey, and a pair of draft picks. Not bad.
But wait, it gets better. The Raiders‘ coach at the time was Mike Shanahan, who’s now prowling the Washington sideline. It was Shanahan’s first season as an NFL head coach, and his boss, Al Davis, dumped a new quarterback on him in Week 2. After a brief indoctrination period, Schroeder started the fourth game and — nobody remembers this — rallied the Raiders from a 24-0 halftime deficit to a 30-27 overtime win over Denver.
Davis thought the strong-armed Schroeder would fit perfectly with the team’s fleet set of wideouts — Tim Brown, Willie Gault and James Lofton. But Schroeder didn’t play very well that year (completion percentage: 44.1) — or the next — and Shanahan was fired four weeks into the ‘89 season.
That’s why, when I mentioned the Schroeder trade to Shanny on Wednesday, he made a face and said, quickly, “I didn’t make that trade. That was an Al Davis trade.”
More than two decades later, it still stings.