In 2012, the NFL moved its trade deadline back two weeks, slotting it on the Tuesday following Week 8. This has led to increased in-season trading. While the league has not caught up to Major League Baseball or the NBA on this front, the increased activity has brought more interest in the country’s most popular sports league.
The NFL has since extended its season, pushing the schedule to 18 weeks in 2021. It had stood at 17 for 31 years, with bye weeks debuting in 1990, and had been at 16 from 1978-89. Setting the trade deadline shortly after Week 8 represents a different timeline from the MLB, NBA and NHL calendars. Baseball’s deadline checks in two thirds of the way through the season. The NBA trade endpoint arrives in early February, which is beyond the halfway point in that season. Hockey’s is even closer to the playoffs, with 2024’s deadline placed on March 8.
It appears the NFL will preserve its status quo. After discussions last year about pushing the deadline back, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini notes the league is unlikely to change its current trade setup. A league official informed Russini competitive balance resides behind the resistance to change the deadline date (subscription required).
From the NFL’s side, more time for teams to trade players could indeed affect competitive balance. More sellers would emerge under this format, with struggling teams having a clearer path to high draft picks the following year. Less money in base salary would remain on trade chips’ contracts.
Pushing the deadline back one or two weeks would open the door to higher-profile players being moved and teams that miss out on these pieces being at a disadvantage. Teams that fail to make upgrades could find themselves outgunned in a way they have not been under the present format. With fewer games in NFL regular seasons compared to the other top American sports, trades have the potential to provide bigger swings.
Then again, this is what has made the other sports’ deadlines more interesting. The fear of being outgunned annually drives MLB and NBA contenders to make moves, seeing those deadlines become important roster-building windows. The NFL has seen trading increase since the 2012 switch, but a number of contenders annually sit out the deadline.
Last year brought more in-season moves, with a record-setting 18 coming between Week 1 and the deadline. The first year of the post-Week 8 deadline brought only two. Teams have gradually become more flexible to in-season additions. From 2012-16, no more than five in-season trades occurred. Eight and nine transpired in 2017 and ’18, respectively, per The Athletic. Over the past five years, no fewer than 12 in-season trades have commenced. This year brought 15, and 22 teams were involved in trades in each of the past two seasons.
A half-measure of a one-week bump, to correspond with the increase to a 17-game/18-week campaign, would make sense for the NFL. After last year featured a record 10 trades on deadline day, multiple teams reached out to the league office about the prospect of moving the deadline back. Nothing came of it, and as of now, it looks like 2024 will bring the same format. Buyers and sellers will again need to assess their rosters and contention viability by Week 8.