Trades the new trend in free agency

With a less desirable list of unrestricted free agents and no salary cap to impede the options, trades are becoming the rage of this year's free-agent signing period. In the last week alone, the NFL has met the average number of trades for an entire offseason.

As we sit in the middle of the second week of free agency, a trend has been growing. Perhaps "exploding" is more the term. As the 32 NFL teams adjust to the new landscape of the NFL, where free agency has been squeezed tight by the non-inclusion of fourth- and fifth-year players, we have seen a series of cycles developing.

First was the release of high-priced veterans, as owners didn't have salary cap ramifications and got out from under contracts they didn't want to pay. The names made up Pro Bowls of not-the-too-distant past – LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Antrel Rolle. Joey, Porter, Thomas Jones, Maake Kemoeatu, Antonio Pierce, Lito Sheppard, Jake Delhomme, Orlando Pace, Laveranues Coles, Gibril Wilson, Derek Anderson, Phillip Buchanon, Raheem Brock, Ryan Lilja, Torry Holt, Tra Thomas, Charles Grant, Will Witherspoon, Greg Ellis and Jevon Kearse. It was a blood purge of veterans with fat contracts that owners weren't locked under anymore. It created a second tier of free-agent prospects that has rarely been seen – at least not until after June 1.

The second wave was the rash of early signings. What fruit was left on the tree quickly got gobbled up, as teams aggressively went after the reduced free-agent crop. Most of the biggest names in free agency that were unrestricted have already been locked down. But, in the process, a third wave of free agency took place, one that has been growing in popularity, but has burst on the scene in 2010 – the trade.

Over the past several years, trading players in the weeks leading up to the draft and even during the draft has become increasingly popular. Randy Moss went to the Patriots during the 2007 draft, for a mere fourth-round pick – the same day the 49ers gave up a higher fourth-round pick to secure Darrell Jackson. Ah, hindsight. Artis Hicks came over that way and we all remember the enthusiastic explosion when the Vikings traded for Jared Allen before the 2007 draft.

However before this year, the practice of trading veterans for draft picks wasn't all that common. For years, it was all but non-existent, but, over the last three or four years, the tide has turned, as teams have found ways to get rid of disgruntled players for relatively high draft picks. Even so, over the last three years, the kind of trades made from March to May involving veteran players for draft picks averaged between eight and nine a year. In the last week, we have seen nine such trades take place with more potentially coming as the draft draws closer.

The trades have come from varied players with different salary demands and skill sets, but they have one thing in common – they were used as currency to get more picks. Check out the list of players that have post-trade work addresses:

  • Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (to Baltimore from Arizona in exchange for a third- and fourth-round pick in 2010 draft).

  • Cornerback Antonio Cromartie (to New York Jets from San Diego in exchange for a 2011 draft pick – currently a third-rounder, but with expected playing time, will become a second-round pick).

  • Safety Kerry Rhodes (to Arizona from New York Jets for a fourth-round pick in 2010 and a seventh-round pick in 2011).

  • Quarterback Brady Quinn (to Denver from Cleveland for RB Peyton Hillis, a sixth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012).

  • QB Seneca Wallace (to Cleveland from Seattle for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2011 that becomes a sixth-rounder if Wallace starts four games).

  • Cornerback Chris Houston (to Detroit from Atlanta for a sixth-round pick and an exchange of fifth-round picks in 2010).

  • Defensive tackle Corey Williams (to Detroit from Cleveland for a fifth- and seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft).

  • Wide receiver Reggie Brown (to Tampa Bay from Philadelphia for a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft).

  • DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbley (to Oakland from Cleveland for a third-round pick in 2010).

    The trade winds have been blowing heavily and it looks like this third wave has a little more steam than initially thought. So the question now becomes, "where is the fourth wave coming from?"

    As we enter the 11th day of free agency, there has yet to be one restricted free agent that would have been unrestricted get signed to an offer sheet that would require draft picks to be surrendered. Not one! That's hard to imagine since there are plenty of players that have been given low enough tenders that it might be worth a second- or third-round draft pick. The wave hasn't started yet, but the rumblings are beginning. Expect to see the offer sheets to come flying as the current wave of trading dies down.

    MONDAY NOTES

  • With Tomlinson out of the picture, the natural assumption is that the Vikings will make a run at Brian Westbrook. But, when he was interviewed immediately after it was announced that he would be released, Westbrook said he wanted to continue playing, but play for a team that plays and practices on grass. The Vikings play indoors and practice inside from late October on, so it would seem if Westbrook is serious about those criteria, he and the Vikings may not be the best fit physically, although they are philosophically.

  • Some believe the Vikings will now use the draft to augment their backfield. The job Taylor had with the Vikings, especially last year with Brett Favre at the wheel, was to stay in and block when he wasn't going out for passes, so the Vikings might be reluctant to put those kind of assignments on a rookie – no matter how good he looked in college.

  • If it helps at all, reports are the Tomlinson seriously considered accepting the Vikings offer, but the lure of more potential playing time made the difference in signing with the Jets.

  • What a difference a year (or even a couple of days) can make with a franchise and its QB situation. A week ago, the questions surrounding the Browns centered on whether the team would use its first-round pick on a quarterback and, if so, which one of their existing QBs would go? A week later, both Quinn and Derek Anderson are gone and, guess what? The Browns are still talking about using their first-round pick on a quarterback. You can't make that up.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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