Martin Mayhew did the Thing on Friday that all sportswriters and radio hosts crave. The Lions GM spoke with the media and declared that the Lions would be buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline. It's the sort of thing that frustrates many fans who are ever looking towards the horizon of hope for what can be brought in by a blockbuster deal, the foundation for a better tomorrow.
What Mayhew said is, however, the right thing to say in regards to the players. In a sport as brutal and brutish as football, few want to believe that their corporeal sacrifices are being made so that they will merely be meat, more meat than they are, on a chopping block ready for the next customer holding a slip reading 47. What Mayhew said is also the wrong thing in regards to the fans. But ultimately, it is irrelevant. The NFL trade deadline has been irrelevant.
The Lions could be buyers or sellers or whatever Martin Mayhew declares, but expect no moves. How can there be? No one makes moves at the trade deadline in the NFL. The league does not treat its deadline as the NBA or MLB might. In a sport like football, coherency and continuity is appreciated far more than blockbuster for the hidebound in command.
In a way, it is the right course. In a sport where any Sunday can leave a key player sidelined for a season there's no sense in trying to barter pieces while fording the river. There's no reason to trade uncertainty for more uncertainty - the timing of the deadline is engineered to come at a time before most winning teams know how their futures will play out. There's nothing that can be gained that will appreciably change a team's future. There's no rationale to bring in a player who has to learn a new system that has been honed since the summertime, to learn it in the span of days. There's no goodwill to be gained with the fans by either by selling (giving up on the season) or by buying (mortgaging the future).
Little is traded in October. Returns that involve players to make a run this year will come not at the cost of players for players, but in draft picks; to give up those lottery tickets for a team needing to reload would be even more insane. On the other hand, the prospects of selling are even lower, regardless of what Mayhew says. There's no appreciable return that can be found for Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford that would be fair for the Lions. There's no urgency to the matter either; even a decision to move a piece like Ezekiel Ansah can be sidelined until the offseason.
It's easy to focus on a couple years where the NFL trade deadline saw big action, but since this time the supernova has left nothing but dust and silence. Even when it was in action, the October trades never reached more than a few notes of action. It is easy to dream that a blockbuster made at the deadline will be there to turn a Roy Williams into Brandon Pettigrew, Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown. But since 2010, when the Bills sent an injured Marshawn Lynch out to the coast for draft picks, the trade deadline has left fans shrugging their shoulders and writers without much to chew on. Tony Gonzalez went to Atlanta because he asked to be traded out of Kansas City. The only way Calvin Johnson moves midseason is by such action.
The truth has been that teams have no reason to sell or buy and this makes the furor around Mayhew's comments irrelevant. The fans want to sell because the hope of the future is always bright. The volatility of the draft is such that this is never a guarantee, just a lottery ticket. In the other hand, the decision to proclaim the team buyers is useless because it proves itself little more than a soundbite when there's no one willing to sell at an appreciable price.
Expect the Lions to stand pat in these dying days towards the deadline. Everyone else is.