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NFL trade wave ... explained! Plus, five big questions for Week 9

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Ever wish you had the access of a highly connected NFL reporter? Well, now you do! Sort of. Submit your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskedAndAnswered. @TomPelissero will select the best submissions and work to find an answer. This week's reader question is:

As I ask around about this NFL trade wave -- which really goes back to training camp and cut-down day -- fresh blood in decision-making seats is indeed one factor that comes up.

First-year Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott alone have executed six trades since camp opened. That includes sending defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville and acquiring receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina -- two of the six trades made league-wide within a week of Tuesday's trade deadline, matching the post-lockout 2011 season for the most in at least 16 years, according to NFL Media Research.

The later trade deadline, moved permanently back by two weeks in 2012, also helps facilitate more trades. (Some GMs wish it were even later.) And a salary cap that has risen 35.8 percent in four years means a team like the San Francisco 49ers can trade for a quarterback with an expiring contract, knowing they're sitting on roughly $57 million in cap space to roll over and get a deal done.

But the spate of deals around this year's deadline seems more like a confluence of unique circumstances as you go down the list. Look at it trade by trade:

1) The Los Angeles Chargers had been trying to deal receiver Dontrelle Inman since camp and finally found a suitor in the injury-depleted Chicago Bears.

2) The Bills' trade of Dareus was a salary dump with a player who'd worn out his welcome with a lot of people in Buffalo, including teammates, but his old coach, Doug Marrone, could vouch for him in Jacksonville.

3) The Seattle Seahawks needed offensive line help, GM John Schneider is always open to dealing and Houston needed to move on from left tackle Duane Brown, who held out the first six games and made clear his feelings about Texans owner Bob McNair.

4) The Miami Dolphins needed to do something to shake up an offense that coach Adam Gase called the "worst" in football, and Gase acknowledged a rocky relationship with running back Jay Ajayi before they jettisoned him to Philadelphia.

5) The Carolina Panthers wanted to get more speed on the field for their struggling offense and paying Benjamin on a long-term deal wasn't in the cards. Interim GM Marty Hurney only talked to one team: the Bills, who hired away Beane and McDermott from Carolina.

6) Then there's the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, which left plenty of people around the NFL scratching their heads about why some other team didn't offer the New England Patriots more than the 2018 second-round draft pick that brought the 49ers a potential franchise QB.

I had the same reaction. But the more I've talked to people who know how Patriots coach Bill Belichick operates, the more it made sense.

"I give credit to San Francisco," said one GM who has done business with Belichick, "because in the offseason, four or five teams called (the Patriots) and they said, 'Absolutely not. No way.' "

San Francisco GM John Lynch confirmed as much, saying his team approached New England about Garoppolo earlier in the offseason and was "quickly shut down." But those calls during the offseason surely gave Belichick a sense of the marketplace.

Great as Tom Brady is, there was little precedent for a QB to keep performing at an elite level at age 40. Hanging on to Garoppolo bought time to evaluate Brady's play and whether they could do some kind of an extension with Garoppolo -- the same agency, Yee & Dubin Sports, represents both QBs -- all the while knowing that franchise-tagging a backup for around $23.3 million come March wouldn't be a particularly palatable option. (My understanding is no deal with Garoppolo was ever close.)

"They kept the insurance policy," said another NFL executive who has done business with Belichick. "The risk was greater back in April. It's less now. And it's also the deadline. This was their last chance to get the best that they can. ... Now, they're halfway through the season. They know they're going to lose the player. If they lose the player, even if it's one of the most outrageous contracts in history, the best they can get is a compensatory third."

That'd be a pick at the end of the third round in 2019, which GMs really look at as a pick at the end of the fourth (devalued because it's a year away). The 49ers are 0-8, so their second-round pick should be just outside the first, making it, in essence, a three-round jump for the Patriots from the best-case scenario under the comp-pick formula. And there's no guarantee the Patriots would've gotten a comp pick at all, since the formula offsets free-agent gains and losses.

The Patriots have $158 million in cap commitments for 2018, per NFL Players Association records. They could've restructured some things and made the numbers work to franchise-tag Garoppolo and then try to deal him, as they did in 2009 with Matt Cassel before trading him to Kansas City. But as another NFL exec explained, that scenario could've yielded a tougher trade market. For one thing, the franchise tender would be guaranteed the moment Garoppolo signed it, giving him additional leverage in contract talks with a new club.

As for the idea Belichick chose not to send Garoppolo somewhere else -- e.g. Cleveland -- for more compensation, one of the execs said: "Belichick's a mercenary. What's best for the team is the most currency that you can get." Just last year, Belichick traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns at the deadline for a third-round compensatory pick in another surprise move with a player on an expiring deal. (Of course, how Belichick felt about Garoppolo and Collins is a different conversation.) NFL Netwok Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Browns offered a second-round pick and change for Garoppolo during the draft, but it stands to reason the offer would be less six months later, midway through a lost season. And you can bet any possible suitor made some educated calculations about whether Garoppolo would sign a long-term deal there if acquired.

Maybe it's a product of having more willing trade partners, but consider this: From 2002 to 2011, there were 31 trades within a week of the deadline, and Belichick was involved in only one (re-acquiring receiver Deion Branch from the Seattle Seahawks in 2010). From 2012 through this year, there have been 17 such trades -- and Belichick has been involved in eight of them.

People I asked about that stat cautioned me not to read too much into it or think Belichick has figured out a previously light market. Asked on a conference call Tuesday if he could explain what's creating opportunities for big trades around the league, Belichick said: "Probably not. ... I'm not trying to analyze league trends and figure out what everybody else is doing. I'm trying to do what's best for our football team."

In this case, that meant making the most surprising move in a week full of them.

The Five Ws for Week 9

Ever wish you had the access of a highly connected NFL reporter? Well, now you do! Sort of. Submit your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskedAndAnswered. @TomPelissero will select the best submissions and work to find an answer.

WHO ends up with AJ McCarron in 2018 after the bungled Browns-Bengals trade? That depends in part on the outcome of a pending grievance filed on behalf of McCarron over whether he should be eligible for unrestricted free agency in March, two people with knowledge of the grievance told me. McCarron, 27, entered the NFL in 2014, but he spent 14 weeks his rookie season on the non-football injury list as a rookie because of a shoulder injury suffered in college. The Bengals believe he should be a restricted free agent after the season; the collective bargaining agreement says a player earns an accrued season "for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games ..." The timeline for resolving the grievance is unclear, one of the people said, but it's assumed that'll happen before the league year begins in March.

WHAT can Denver do to turn things around? (submitted by @SosaDa3) It's hard to blame them for trying a QB change after three straight losses and Trevor Siemian's ugly play last week, even if (as one opposing coach said here last week) the Broncos' real issues begin up front. But I can't help but think back to scouts' reviews of Brock Osweiler's play for the Browns in the preseason as he prepares to start Sunday at Philadelphia. I had as much luck then finding someone with a positive word about Osweiler as the Browns did finding a trade partner, which they sought even while Osweiler was atop the depth chart during camp. Maybe Osweiler, 26, has benefited from getting out of Cleveland and working with Mike McCoy and Bill Musgrave. And if he does play well, it'll be the Browns -- still in search of their franchise QB -- picking up most of the check. Thanks to the guaranteed contract Cleveland took from the Texans in exchange for a second-round draft pick, Osweiler is making $895,588 per week from the Browns and just $45,588 per week from the Broncos.

WHEN does all the back and forth on Ezekiel Elliott's suspension catch up with the Cowboys? Shortly after a federal appeals court granted an administrative stay Friday, putting Elliott's six-game suspension on hold for a third time and making him eligible to play Sunday against the Chiefs, one team source texted: "Just another day at the Star." Dallas knows drama. My understanding is their game plan won't change much for Sunday -- they just have their big-play threat in the backfield now. Keep an eye on the calendar. The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has referred Elliott's motion for a preliminary injunction to the next available three-judge panel. Win, and Elliott probably plays the rest of this season before the broader case is resolved. Lose, and the Cowboys may wish Elliott never went to court, since he'd be off the field through Week 15 -- if not later, depending when the panel rules.

WHERE is the key for the Texans salvaging their season now that Deshaun Watson joined J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on injured reserve? Really, it starts with protecting new starting quarterback Tom Savage -- which won't be any easier after the Brown trade. One high-ranking scout who broke down Savage's abbreviated start in the season opener against Jacksonville blamed the struggles on the short-handed offensive line (Brown was holding out), but Savage is the one who got beaten up and then benched at halftime. His lack of mobility is well known. Coach Bill O'Brien has overcome seemingly perpetual QB changes to lead his team to three straight 9-7 finishes (and two playoff appearances). Get to 9-7 again, and this may stand as O'Brien's finest coaching job yet.

WHY has the Buccaneers' defense struggled so badly this season? They got by last year in part because they led the NFL in third-down D. This season, they're dead last on third down. And in passing yards allowed. And in sacks. And tied for last in QB hits. "At some point, the players just got to make plays," star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told me this week. "You can't put it on the scheme. You can't blame it on this, blame it on that. Players just got to make plays. We have to fix it. Coaches can give us the game plan, but we've got to fix it." It better happen this week against Drew Brees and the Saints, or the Bucs will already be four games back in the NFC South with eight to play.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.

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