When the NFL Trade Deadline hits–Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. CDT—nobody will be able to say the league didn't try to make 2012 different. But they will be able to say that nothing's changed. Another year will be in the books, and if things hold as they appear to be holding right now almost nobody will have changed hands at the end of a season that's among the NBA and MLB's highest holidays. What is it about the NFL that makes Steven Jackson trade rumors peak late and peter out early?
Apparently it's not the timing. The NFL pushed this year's trade deadline back two weeks prior to this season with the goal of increasing action as teams got better ideas of whether they'd be contending. This year, though, the buyers and sellers have hardly separated; only four teams have fewer than three wins, and only three have fewer than two losses. The three-win St. Louis Rams probably understand that they won't be playoff contenders in 2012, but it's not quite a haves and have-nots situation, at least not yet.
That leaves some combination of salary considerations and offensive learning curves responsible for the inaction. The NFL's salary cap and payroll structure is even more byzantine than the NBA's, and teams are terrified of running afoul of it; it lacks baseball's flexibility, so taking on an overpriced veteran's salary for a half-season is a risk of much more than those guaranteed dollars.
And once you have him, you can't just tell him to line up at third base and continue hitting. Jackson would have to learn a new offense, and he'd only have eight games in which to do it.
All that combines to make in-season trades uncommonly risky; when the Rams acquired Brandon Lloyd last season they were making a bigger NFL Trade Deadline splash than you'd expect, given their team and his numbers. The NFL will likely keep trying to make things more interesting down the stretch, but right now, at least, it looks like a lost cause.