WR musical chairs likely not finished
Trades involving veteran wide receivers have increased dramatically in recent years, and there is no reason to believe that trend won't continue in the coming months.
Over the past six years, there have been a whopping 34 offseason trades involving veteran wide receivers.
And with so many high-profile veteran wide receivers loudly posturing for a change of address, there's no reason to believe the trend won't continue when the NFL moratorium on trades expires next week.
Not all that long ago, trades involving anything but draft picks were taboo in the league, for any number of reasons, as general managers became increasingly trade-shy when it came to veterans. But as more franchises have better managed their salary caps, and have accepted the trade route as a viable alternative to acquiring a veteran castoff through free agency or a rookie wideout by exercising a high-round draft pick (a position that historically does not often offer immediate returns), wheeling and dealing has spiraled upward.
Nowhere has the renewed art of the offseason deal been more obvious than at wide receiver. There was a rare run on several defensive tackles last spring, and other positions have experienced some swap streaks, but the trade action involving wide receivers of late has been pretty consistent throughout.
"It used to be that [wide] receivers considered themselves almost untouchable," said Eric Moulds, who spent the first 10 seasons of his 12-year pro career in Buffalo before being traded to the Houston Texans in 2006. "That's not the case anymore. Wide receivers are going all over the place [in trades]."
It is as if the wide receiver position, as one AFC personnel man noted, has become "the coin of the realm." The result is a wild game of musical chairs as veteran wideouts switch teams.
Over the past six springs, high-profile wide receivers such as Randy Moss (Oakland to New England, 2007), Terrell Owens (San Francisco to Philadelphia, 2004), Keyshawn Johnson (the New York Jets to Dallas, 2004), Santana Moss (the Jets to Washington, 2005), Terry Glenn (New England to Dallas, 2003), Laveranues Coles (the Redskins to the Jets, 2005), Javon Walker (Green Bay to Denver, 2006), and Moulds have changed franchises via trades.
Other veterans, of course, have switched teams because of free agency. The 34 veteran trades represent offseason moves only. In-season deals increase the number of trades by nearly 50 percent. Arguably the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice, was traded by Oakland to Seattle during the '04 campaign.
It is almost certain that more high-profile wide receivers will be added to the impressive list of offseason trades in coming months. When the trade moratorium ends next Friday morning, some big-name wide receivers will almost certainly be on the market.
Some members of the Dallas Cowboys have hinted at their unhappiness with Owens. Chad Johnson of Cincinnati lobbied for a trade last spring, and he might actually get his preference this year. Arizona's Anquan Boldin spent much of the offseason purporting he would never again play for the Cardinals, but said this week he would consider a long-term offer from the team. The New York Giants might attempt to locate a trade partner for Plaxico Burress before releasing the troubled wide receiver. Ronald Curry of Oakland, St. Louis' Torry Holt, and Walker (now with Oakland), are all potential trade-bait candidates before they are expected to be eventually released.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Johnson, Owens, Boldin and Burress, recently sent a fax to several team officials, apprising them that his clients might be available in an offseason trade. The move, for which Rosenhaus did not receive tacit permission from any of the respective clubs, reportedly drew the ire of Giants officials.
But Rosenhaus is a mover and shaker, and will likely be involved in an offseason trade of a veteran wide receiver.
The perception certainly is that wide receivers have become the prima donnas of the NFL, a trait that has made them appreciably more disposable to their current teams, and clearly a giant gamble for the franchises that acquire them.
But just as some franchises would prefer to be rid of a mouthy veteran wide receiver, other teams are willing to take them. In a buyer's market, it's a reality that talent often trumps temperament. By nature, coaches are frequently convinced they can handle a troubled player better than did their predecessors.
Reflective of the lack of productivity that teams expect from high-round wide receivers in their rookie NFL seasons, there were no wide receivers chosen in the first round of the 2008 draft. That's the first time the opening round was without a wide-receiver choice since 1990. Over the past 10 seasons, first-round wide receivers have averaged fewer than 30 catches in their rookie year.
Such a dismal performance from first-round wide receivers has heightened the attractiveness of veterans at the position. Teams seem more open now to acquiring a veteran wide receiver through a trade.
There are few certainties in the NFL. But book this one: When the trade market opens for business next week, if recent history is an indication, wide receivers will be at or near the front of the line.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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