ATLANTA — For years, NFL fans and some coaches have been suggesting the league needs to move its longtime trade deadline later into the season, to enhance not only interest in potential deals, but also improve a club's ability to respond to disabling injuries.
Now the league is on the cusp of doing just that, although for reasons purported to be other than the obvious ones.
As part of the recommended rules changes that will be presented to owners next Monday at the annual league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., and voted upon on Wednesday, the influential competition committee will propose the trade deadline be pushed back to after the eighth week of the season. Historically, the deadline has been on the Tuesday following the sixth weekend of play.
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Competition committee chairman and Atlanta Falcons team president Rich McKay said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters that the impetus for the proposed move is change in the collective bargaining agreement dealing with so-called "acceleration" of prorated bonus money. But, obviously, one committee member not on the call acknowledged the more practical implications, as well.
Primary among them, he agreed, were increased fan interest similar to that which exists in the trade deadlines of other professional sports, and the pressure from coaches to push the date further into the season. Even McKay termed the usual lack of action at the deadline "a little disappointing."
If the deadline remains on a Tuesday, the date for 2012 would be Oct. 30. If the proposal is rejected — unlikely, given that it has the support of the committee and that owners often ratify issues about which the nine-man competition group feels strongly — it will be on Oct. 16.
"It's probably not the most ideal thing, but it's a start," said one NFC general manager who has been a longtime proponent of delaying the date. The general manager said, while noting his stance was merely speculation, that the move could be a first step toward eventually pushing the date later into the year.
Since 2000, there have been just 18 trades on deadline day, involving only 21 players. There were three such trades in 2011, and the names — Carson Palmer, Brandon Lloyd and tailback Ronnie Brown (subsequently negated) — had bigger name values than in the past. But the fact still remains that the NFL has just 30 deadline-day deals since 1990. For a league that places a priority on creating interest, that it not a lot, and the NFL lags far behind other sports in interest surrounding its deadline.
Said McKay: "There's (always) a lot of talk, but not much action. ... It's a way to give people a little bit of leeway."
There was probably even more interest than usual in the deadline last season because of injuries to starting quarterbacks Jason Campbell of Oakland and Houston's Matt Schaub. But following the Campbell injury, which occurred only two days prior to the deadline, the Raiders still dealt for Palmer. The injury to Schaub occurred in the 10th week of the season, and the Texans' ability to replace him from outside their roster would not have been affected by the new rule.
That did not, however, stop the groundswell of support for a change.
— In addition to the trade deadline change, perhaps the most notable by-law proposal would allow a franchise to designate one player it placed on injured reserve for return later in the season. If a player was with a team through the first regular-season game, then went on I.R. and was designated for return, he could begin practicing after the sixth week of play and return after the eight week.
Under the current rules, players placed on the injured reserve list are lost for the entire season.
"It could allow you to bring back a core player if he was healthy again," McKay said.
— In a nod toward the NFL's increasing initiative toward safety and concussions, there is a proposal that will allow a team to place a player on the inactive list with a concussion, and to replace him on the roster. The players must be deemed inactive by Friday before a game weekend, and can be activated by Friday as well.
— Among the other proposals: One that would place the decision-making for replays under the purview of replay officials in the booth, instead of with the game officials on the field; remove the rule that excludes quarterbacks in the pocket from the so-called "horse-collar" rule; adopts the postseason overtime rule for all regular-season games as well; and mandates automatic replay of turnovers.
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