Timely trades are part of baseball lore. A contender with one serious need frequently manages to fill it with a veteran acquisition roughly two thirds of the way through the season, catches fire, and runs into the playoffs.
That's because baseball's trade deadline is July 31st, four months into baseball's six-month marathon. Rules even allow for players to be obtained after that deadline in certain circumstances. Look at 2004. Houston used outfielder Carlos Beltran, a midseason acquisition, as the catalyst for its deep playoff run. It also obtained Dan Wheeler, the reliever who finished last night's NLCS against the Cardinals, on August 27th, almost a full month after the official deadline. He's been a mainstay of the Astros pen ever since. Chicago obtained Jose Contreras, its staff ace and starter for game one of the World Series, in a July 31st deal with the Yankees. He didn't get the White Sox to the postseason last year, but nobody in Chicago is complaining today.
The NFL lacks these late-season-comeback narratives because its deadline is the Tuesday of week seven. In other words, two days ago. With the season barely a third old, it seems cruel to close off a team's trade options, especially in a game that turns on injuries as much as football. What's more, it is harder to integrate a new player into your system, since team philosophies differ so much in the NFL and the game is so much more complex.
The headlines today are full of intriguing trades that will likely take place -- in the offseason. The Jets, desperate for a QB to replace Chad Pennington, are shopping DE John Abraham. The Chargers allegedly would consider trading Philip Rivers for him. Ditto the Redskins, who would send Patrick Ramsey north in a heartbeat to improve their d-line. And that trade would surely lead to the release or trading of Lavar Arrington.
There is no reason these trades should not happen now. Take the Cowboys' current predicament. It has lost LT Flozell Adams at an early stage of the season. The team had only one day to pursue a trade to replace him. Let's say, for argument's sake that Dallas wins its next two games. It's a definite contender, but one with a serious need. And that in that time, a team with a good tackle falls out of its race and decides to begin rebuilding. If this were baseball, the two teams could work something out. Since this is the NFL, the Cowboys have to hope that backup Torrin Tucker's heart suddenly grows two sizes, Grinch-style.
The league and the players' association have been quietly working on extending the collective bargaining agreeement. They should not sign off on the new one until the rules on trades are amended.