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The NFL needs more player-for-player trades

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The Giants and the Browns pulled off a win-win by swapping Olivier Vernon and Kevin Zeitler. Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz would like it to happen more often.

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

A player-for-player trade in the NFL? Hell yes. The New York Giants traded defensive end Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns for right guard Kevin Zeitler. It’s a rare win for both teams.

The Browns are loaded up on talent at pass rusher. They can pair Vernon with Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah to form a formidable pass rush. The Giants have a hole at right guard and right tackle, which they started to fill with Zeitler. Now, with Jon Halapio at center, Will Hernandez at left guard, and Nate Solder at left tackle, the Giants have an offensive line that can protect Eli Manning! Win and win!

And, just as important, we win as fans of player movement. As Michael Scott would say, “The important difference here is with win-win-win, we all win.”

Why don’t player-for-player trades happen often in the NFL? Most often, it’s value. NFL trades used to be rare. They were saved for the occasion when a team could get back hefty trade capital for trading a talented player. Ricky Williams for, approximately, 5,000 picks. Herschel Walker for another 500 picks.

NFL trades would only happen to move one player who could change a franchise, for an exchange of future wealth. That seemed to be it. Lately, though, NFL trades of all variety have picked up.

There are a few simple reasons we’ve seen more trades in the NFL

1. Younger general managers who think outside the box and who seem to understand value more than older general managers. In the past, it felt like teams would rather keep a guy who’s struggling, either on a rookie deal or second contract, to save face with the fans and owners over the pick or signing. They’d keep that player on the roster and then release him. That’s how they justified the value of the player.

Now, general managers have realized a few things. One, it’s better to jettison a poor player sooner than later, no matter the ridicule. AND, if you can get value for that player, go ahead.

The Pittsburgh Steelers traded Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals Friday for a late sixth-round pick. The Philadelphia Eagles sent Michael Bennett to the New England Patriots for draft picks. In the past, he would have just been cut without being shopped around. Now, the Steelers at least get some value back with a draft pick.

2. With the rookie wage scale set in stone, draft picks have more “value” for teams. You can draft a player who can help your team for a cheaper rate for four years than an aging veteran. Of course, hitting on that player in the draft is a biggie, but all front offices believe they can draft excellent players.

So, this is why teams love trading for draft picks. They can trade a veteran they view as overpriced to another team who values that player for a future return of draft picks. Or, in the case of a team with a surplus of players at a position, you unload a player you don’t need for future assets. Take Sam Bradford for example. The Eagles didn’t need him in 2016, so they traded him to the Vikings for some future value.

As we’ve seen throughout the years, trades are mostly about future value and not for players who can play now — the opposite of what the Giants and Browns just did.

3. That again, in my opinion, is because teams value players at certain positions more highly than others. So if you’re trading a defensive end, which position are you getting in return with value more than a future draft pick? A starting cornerback? Probably not. There’s not enough depth around the NFL for players to just be trading starting players for starting players.

That is why the Giants and Browns worked out perfectly: starter for starter, at positions where they needed an upgrade. Both teams wanted to offload starting Pro Bowl-caliber players, and they found a match.

Clearly salary plays a role in trade value. Duh. If you’re trading for a high-priced player, you need the cap space for it. That player, like an Antonio Brown, might want a new deal. We saw last season Alex Smith head from Kansas City to Washington in a player-for-player trade (yay!) and get a new contract.

Contracts are often the holdup in trading a player. Player X makes too much money and won’t agree to a pay cut on the new team. That trade is dead on arrival.


As you can see, there are loads of moving parts with possible trades in the NFL. With that being said, I wish the NFL would have more player-for-player trades. These trades can help contenders who are one position away from being competitive, or they can remove a logjam at a position.

Again, it’s tough because of the depth issue. Not many teams have an excess of talent at a position to trade one player, but those that do can get much immediate value in return. Hopefully we see more of these trades going forward.