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Hot! In the New NFL, Everyone’s Ready to Trade

During every NFL offseason, you could always expect signings, releases and contract extensions, but rarely trades. The salary cap was too complicated, the risk-averse teams too hesitant to pull the trigger.

On Tuesday, everything changed.

Teams quickly changed the notion of how business is done in the sport and, in short, pulled off the craziest cluster of trades in modern NFL history.

Within about a 20-minute span the following happened: The Seattle Seahawks agreed to acquire star tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints for center Max Unger. Draft picks are expected to be involved. Then the Baltimore Ravens sent defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions in exchange for mid-round draft picks. Ngata will attempt to replace Ndamukong Suh, the tackle who departed for the Miami Dolphins. Shortly thereafter, the St. Louis Rams sent talented but oft-injured starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for their starter, Nick Foles.

Pro Bowl players are rarely traded. In fact, last week, when Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso, it was the first time a Pro Bowl player was traded straight-up for another player since 2005, when the Washington Redskins sent Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for Santana Moss.

There are a few reasons this is happening. For one, the rising salary cap, up 10% from a year ago to $143 million (with more growth to come due to rising television revenue), is making it so that teams don’t have to worry about taking on large contracts. Beyond that, there is the increasing mastery of the salary cap by NFL teams. While every team has employed a cap guru for about two decades, it is only a relatively recent phenomenon that teams became so advanced with their knowledge of the cap that they can basically structure any contract to fit it under the cap.

All of this has provided teams with maximum cap flexibility, allowing them to execute trades solely on the ability and fit of the involved players.

A lot of the league’s younger general managers and coaches, raised on the current system, have shown to be more aggressive. Seattle is led by John Schneider and St. Louis is led by Les Snead, two of the younger general managers in the league. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, coming off his second year in the NFL, has shown a propensity to take chances, too.

The result? Tuesday’s insane stretch of trades. It’s a new NFL and everyone is ready to deal.

Write to Kevin Clark at kevin.clark@wsj.com

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