The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coronavirus protocols are impacting the NFL trade deadline — and making for earlier deals

Carlos Dunlap was traded Wednesday from the Bengals to the Seahawks. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Placeholder while article actions load

The NFL’s slightly ahead-of-schedule trade activity continued Wednesday, with teams probably taking into account the sport’s coronavirus protocols as players were reshuffled ahead of next week’s trade deadline.

The deadline is Tuesday, somewhat oddly timed considering the NFL will close all team facilities for Election Day. But teams are not waiting for the deadline. Under the protocols, a player who joins a new team faces a six-day intake process before being allowed to enter the team’s facility. The process begins on the day the player arrives in the new team’s city, and the player must have a series of negative results in daily testing for the novel coronavirus before entering the facility on Day 6.

“Teams are aware of the protocol timeline, and it is probably driving them to have earlier discussions,” an executive with one NFL team said Wednesday.

Houston Texans close facility after positive coronavirus test

A player obtained in a trade in the middle of this week could not play this weekend for his new team. But that player would get through the entry protocols in time to practice next week and play in a Week 9 game the following weekend.

Take the case of veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The Cincinnati Bengals agreed Wednesday to trade Dunlap to the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks, leading the tough NFC West and vying for the top seed in the NFC playoffs, thus added some pass-rush help for the league’s last-ranked defense. Dunlap, in his 11th NFL season, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and has 82.5 career sacks.

Dunlap won’t play for the Seahawks on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle. But if he arrives in Seattle by Friday, he can enter the team facility and participate in next Wednesday’s practice and then play in the Seahawks’ Nov. 8 game at Buffalo. If the trade had been completed next week, Dunlap would have missed that game as well.

The Bengals got offensive lineman B.J. Finney and a seventh-round draft choice in the deal.

It was the second NFL trade in two days. On Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys dealt defensive end Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions for a conditional sixth-round pick. According to NFL Network, the Cowboys told defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley they would be traded or released Wednesday. The team then released Poe on Wednesday. The disappointing Cowboys are disassembling their underachieving defense. They are ranked last in the NFL in scoring defense.

Last week, the Minnesota Vikings traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for two draft picks and the New York Giants dealt linebacker Markus Golden to the Arizona Cardinals for a draft choice.

With Yannick Ngakoue trade, Ravens get exactly what they need to keep pace with Chiefs

NFL trades once were rarities as teams focused on the draft and free agent signings to construct their rosters. Traditionalists frowned on in-season trades, citing the time needed for a player to learn a new team’s system and be blended into what his new team was doing. This wasn’t like baseball, they said, where a new pitcher could be plugged into the starting rotation or a new hitter could be written into the lineup and simply do his thing.

But that thinking has changed in recent years with a new wave of general managers more receptive to making trades. These days, a team that falls out of playoff contention might prefer to get something in return for a player no longer in the plans or eligible for free agency at season’s end. With a particularly wide divide this season between the league’s haves and have-nots — the New York Jets are winless and 12 other teams have one or two victories each — there are many candidates for trade-deadline fire sales.

There has been trade speculation about quarterbacks such as the Jets’ Sam Darnold, Washington’s demoted Dwayne Haskins and New Orleans Saints backup Jameis Winston; wide receivers such as Philadelphia’s Alshon Jeffery and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green; and even former NFL defensive players of the year such as Houston’s J.J. Watt and New England’s Stephon Gilmore. All of that raises trade-deadline expectations to a level that probably won’t be reached. But in this most unusual of NFL seasons, anyone who claims to know exactly what’s going to happen next probably isn’t being realistic.

The logistics of deadline day itself will be complicated, with GMs and coaches working from home Tuesday. The league and the NFL Players Association announced in early September that all NFL, NFLPA and team facilities will be closed Nov. 3 “to ensure that every member of the NFL family has an opportunity to exercise the precious right to vote.” The league already had launched an initiative to encourage voter participation.