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Trading mid-season is hard to do

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Indianapolis Colts Introduce Frank Reich Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With the NFL trade deadline coming up at 4:00 pm EST on October 30th, there will be a lot of rumors. Goodness, there already have been a lot of rumors. However, it may be a lot harder than you think to make a deal.

First thing one needs to understand is trades are not made in a vacuum. For example, there’s been a recent uproar from New York Giants fans for the team to trade for Indianapolis Colts back-up QB Jacoby Brissett. In a vacuum, Brissett is worth at most a second or third round pick. However, we don’t live in a vacuum. It would be highly unlikely the Colts would trade Brissett for only a second or third round pick.

You must consider other factors in determining a player’s trade value, things like positional scarcity, current contract and other available options at the position.

A quality QB is arguably the most difficult position to fill in the NFL, which increases Brissett’s value. If it were for a lesser valued position, like RB, the value would decrease.

A team also needs to consider the current contract of the player. If the player is looking for a huge contract extension, it may weaken the team’s bargaining position. If the player has multiple years left on a rookie deal, that may strengthen their position.

One of the other considerations is other available options at the position. Most teams will consider what the current and future free agent market will look like as well as the upcoming NFL draft.

Again looking at the QB position, the trade market for QBs last season wasn’t particularly great for teams looking to trade away a QB. The 2018 NFL draft had several high quality options and most guessed Kirk Cousins would become an unrestricted free agent. Teams had little to no incentive to trade high draft capital mid-season to get a QB when there were likely to be quite a few high quality options available after the season.

Now compare last year to this year and you get a completely different story. The top QBs in free agency are likely to be Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles. It’s unlikely Bridgewater leaves the Saints so the free agent class is underwhelming. The 2019 draft class at QB may be worse. There isn’t a sure-fire top QB prospect who has risen above the rest to this point to be a lock as a top 10 or even top 15 pick. The names we hear most often are Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Missouri’s Drew Lock and NC State’s Ryan Finley but each has significant limitations. Last year, at least Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were considered top 10 picks, with Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield picking up steam. The lack of obvious top quality options in the 2019 NFL draft increases the value of a player like Brissett.

These same reasons are likely why the New England Patriots only got a second round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo last year from the San Francisco 49ers. The market simply didn’t develop. The 49ers had a lot of options if they were willing to wait and Jimmy G was going to be an unrestricted free agent. That left New England without a lot of options. Either let Jimmy G walk and receive a 2019 third round compensatory pick or trade him for a little higher pick in 2018. The Patriots made the right call there.

Another aspect to consider when trying to make a trade mid-season is the difficulty in getting a player acclimated to your team in time to make a difference. The Colts know this first hand when the traded for Brissett last year. Unless the systems are similar, it takes time for the player to make an impact.

But remember this is not just about a player fitting in a new system but also fitting within the culture of the locker room. A general manager can’t bring in a player that is a perceived trouble maker into the locker room. It’s very important to keep a strong culture, especially with a young team like the Colts. Thankfully, Frank Reich could likely handle any personality that comes in but sometimes the risk is not worth the reward.

Arguably the most important thing to consider is the cost evaluation of trading away a player for a draft pick. Is it more valuable to your team to have this player in the locker room as an emergency or is it more valuable to have the extra draft pick? That’s a personal preference of the GM regarding franchise construction. If the team is clearly rebuilding, maybe the GM goes for the draft picks instead of hanging on to the player.

Yes, there are some great players that might be rumored to be available. However, there’s a reason they are available and their current team wants to trade them. It may be as simple as a new coaching regime came in and the player just doesn’t fit the new scheme, like what appears to be happening with the Arizona Cardinals. It may be the team has an abundance of talent at a given position so they can afford to make a move. It also may be the player has worn out their welcome and the team no longer wants them in their locker room, like it appears is happening in Pittsburgh. All of these are possibilities as to why a team may be looking to trade a player. All of these things must be considered.

Making a mid-season trade is not as simple as ‘I’ll give you this player for that draft pick.’ There’s a lot of variables to consider that go into determining a player’s value in the current market. You have to know the market and what’s available. You have to know how desperate a team may be for a particular player or how likely they are to make a deal. For example, some GMs value draft picks above most everything else, like it appears Chris Ballard does. Some teams value players above draft picks, like the Los Angeles Rams.

Needless to say, there are many things to consider when trying to work out a mid-season trade. It’s not as easy as it looks. In fact, mid-season trades are quite hard to do.