Trades are up, free-agent signings are down. In the new, no-cap system the NFL is following, it has suddenly become easier to upgrade your team through trading than it is through free-agent pickups.
The Redskins made a pretty shrewd move on Easter Sunday to get quarterback Donovan McNabb, sacrificing a second-round pick (No. 37 overall) and a conditional fourth-rounder in next year's draft. That alleviates their need to draft a quarterback in the first round and would seem to indicate they will take an offensive tackle at No. 4.
Assuming the Redskins can find a way to protect McNabb -- and its generous to call their offensive line a sieve -- they have upgraded the position at a bargain. It was new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan who helped an aging John Elway collect two Super Bowl rings in his final two seasons. McNabb, at 33, isn't Elway, but he's still a productive, competent quarterback.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are tearing apart the team that went to five NFC championship games -- and only one Super Bowl -- in McNabb's 11 seasons. They released Brian Westbrook, their concussed running back, at the end of the season and last week traded cornerback Sheldon Brown to the Browns. A year ago, they parted with safety Brian Dawkins, and he still had a Pro Bowl season left in him at Denver.Regardless of the wisdom of trading McNabb to a division rival, the Eagles will try to make another run at the Super Bowl with Kevin Kolb, the same quarterback who was shellshocked when he replaced McNabb at halftime of a game here two years ago.
So who wins in this deal? If the 'Skins can keep McNabb healthy, they win the trade. If not, and if Kolb actually deserves to be the starter, then it's the Eagles. Their fallback position is Michael Vick.
So far, the flurry of trades in the NFL have focused on three positions: quarterbacks, defensive backs and wide receivers. The Jets improved their secondary when they traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the Browns upgraded with Brown and the Cardinals balanced out a free-agent loss (Antrel Rolle) by trading for safety Kerry Rhodes.
The Ravens obviously got the best return on a trade with wide-out Anquan Boldin, and the Redskins may score with McNabb. Then there were the middling moves that sent quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Brady Quinn to Cleveland and Denver, respectively.
All of which is to say, in lieu of viable, attractive free agents, NFL teams have still found a way to improve themselves before the draft. Expect more trades after the draft, too, when team's shortcomings are more pressing.