(LeSean McCoy photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Graham photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
There has been more going on this offseason than the headline-hogging Deflategate.
This offseason has become the trade season.
In the four decades I’ve covered the NFL, I can’t remember an offseason quite like this one with so many prominent names switching teams in trades. There have been 15 players involved in major deals, including a recent NFL rushing champion, a recent passing champion and a recent punting champion. Ten of the players have been Pro Bowlers and another was a recent NFL rookie of the year.
The arrival of the salary-cap in the 1990s reduced the number of trades over the years because teams often needed to swap players of equal cap value to make the deals work. But this offseason underscores the notion that the NFL is a win-now league. Once upon a time franchises had five-year plans. Now those plans boil down to one year.
There is no job security for losers.
Since the end of the 2012 season, 19 of the 32 NFL teams have changed coaches. Three franchises — Buffalo, Chicago and Cleveland — have changed twice. There have been seven head coaching changes each of the last two years and eight changes each of the two years previous.
The message is clear — win now because there may not be a tomorrow. Gather the best players you can for a one-year run, then worry about your salary cap the next season or else leave it for the next guy.
Detroit lost its perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Sug in free agency to the Miami Dolphins, so the Lions acquired five-time Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata in trade from the Baltimore Ravens. Buffalo had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL last season, so the Bills acquired 2013 NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy in trade from the Philadelphia Eagles.
St. Louis hasn’t been able to trust the health of 2010 NFL Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford so the Rams traded the former first overall pick of an NFL draft to the Eagles in a straight quarterback swap for the 2013 NFL passing champion Nick Foles.
NFC champion Seattle had the best rushing attack in the NFL least season but a passing game that left plenty to be desired. Quarterback Russell Wilson was throwing to a cast of undrafted free agents. So the Seahawks traded for the best tight end in the game, acquiring Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints. In exchange, Seattle gave up their Pro Bowl center Max Unger.
You can bet the Seahawks wish they had Graham for their final offensive snap of the Super Bowl.
The New York Jets spent a lot of money last offseason luring wide receiver Eric Decker away from the Denver Broncos in free agency, giving him $26 million over five years. But Decker is a No. 2 receiver and his stats fell off dramatically in his move East, failing to catch 1,000 yards worth of passes or scoring double-digits in touchdowns as he did for the Broncos.
If Geno Smith is to go anywhere as a quarterback in the NFL, he’d need a lead receiver. So the Jets went out and got him one this offseason, acquiring five-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall from the Chicago Bears in trade. It was a move that also should make Decker more productive because no longer will he be the defensive focus.
With a net punting average under 40 yards, Cleveland was in desperate need of an upgrade at punter. With an unsettled quarterback situation, the Browns figure to be a team that punts plenty this season. So Cleveland acquired three-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee from the San Francisco 49ers in a trade.
Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace (Minnesota), Ben Grubbs (Kansas City) and Matt Cassel (Buffalo) also changed teams this offseason in trades.
Deflategate may be the story this spring. But next fall it very well could be Graham, McCoy or Marshall.