Professional athletes get traded all the time. Often it’s because a player’s contract is expiring and his team wants to get something in return for him rather than losing him in free agency. Other times, a rebuilding team wants to trade its stars to get more draft picks to speed up the rebuilding process. What you don’t hear happening that much, though, is trading an NFL coach. You may not even think it’s possible for teams to trade coaches, but it is. Here is what it takes to trade a head coach in the NFL.
It’s possible to trade NFL head coaches
The league’s anti-tampering policy states that “clubs are not permitted to exchange draft choices or cash for the release of individuals who are under contract to another organization,” but it includes a provision that excludes head coaches and other “high-level club employees” from that prohibition.
High-level employees are defined as club presidents, general managers, and other personnel with equivalent authority or responsibility. That means that yes, coaches, GMs, and other high-ranking team officials can indeed be traded.
Trading coaches is different than trading players
When teams agree to a trade involving players, the players’ contracts are swapped between the clubs, with one team sometimes agreeing to take on part of the salary of the player being traded.
That’s not how trading coaches works. If teams agree to a trade involving a head coach, the contract doesn’t transfer to his new team. What happens is the two teams agree to compensation — in the form of draft picks and/or cash — that would be exchanged if the new team successfully reaches a new contract with the coach.
Once that happens, the coach’s current team releases him, in exchange for the previously agreed-upon compensation from the new team. So coaches have a say in whether they are traded and, if so, to what team.
Why trading coaches is rare
It’s difficult to trade an NFL coach because he has to want to leave his current team and go to the team that is interested in acquiring him. That is, of course, in addition to the two teams agreeing to what compensation should be exchanged for the trade to go down.
The head coach is one of the most important people on a team, so the squad trading him is likely going to ask for a lot for him — potentially even a first-round draft pick for a top-tier coach. There are a lot of moving parts involved with trading a coach, so it is not easy to get a deal done, which is why you don’t see it happening often.
Which NFL head coaches have been traded?
Over the years, there have been some high-profile trades involving coaches in the NFL. The biggest deal is probably Bill Belichick. Back in 2000, Belichick agreed to become the Jets’ head coach, but a day later he changed his mind and signed with the Patriots.
The Jets were upset with that, since Belichick was still on under contract with them, so they negotiated with their divisional rivals in New England. The Jets ultimately acquired three of the Patriots’ draft picks — in the first, fourth, and seventh rounds — while sending New England their fifth- and seventh-round picks.
That wasn’t the only time those teams traded coaches; Bill Parcells went in the other direction in 1997, with more draft picks changing hands. Another high-profile coach trade happened in the early 2000s, when the Raiders traded Jon Gruden to the Buccaneers in exchange for four draft picks and $8 million. Gruden would end up leading the Bucs to a victory over the Raiders in the Super Bowl in his first season leading the team.