'Tis the Beason: Both Teams Merry After Linebacker Trade
By Blake Baxter
It is kind of ironic that America’s biggest sport has the most low-key trade deadline. When the NBA, MLB and NHL trade deadlines come around, it creates a frenzy. Big players on struggling teams get shipped off for assets, contenders pick up veterans that they hope can put them over the edge and the media vigorously speculates and spreads rumors. But in the NFL, trade deadlines routinely come and go with comparatively little fanfare. There are trades, but they rarely include notable players and do not usually feature marquee names. However, it is important to remember how many pieces it takes to construct a complete NFL team. And it is easy to forget that teams are making moves throughout the season - they just do not get as much press as we are accustomed to seeing in other sports.
At the beginning of the month, the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants made a fairly low-risk trade that garnered little attention at the time. The Panthers traded the once highly-regarded linebacker Jon Beason in exchange for a late round draft pick. Some speculated that the Panthers were making a mistake giving up the 28-year-old Beason at this point in his career. But as October comes to a close, it is quite clear that the transaction has worked out pretty well for both sides.
The trade went down on October 4. The Giants were winless and playing as bad as any team in the league. On the offensive side of the ball, QB Eli Manning was horrifically inconsistent, RB David Wilson could not hang on to the football and New York was turning the ball over at a historic rate. But they were even worse defensively, allowing an average of 36.5 points through their first four games while plummeting to a 0-4 record. In Week 3, the Panthers pounded the Giants defense, scoring an impressive 38 points. It was an equally impressive performance by the Carolina defense, which completely shut down New York. However, it was not a particularly good day for their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker. Beason, who was drafted 25th overall by Carolina in 2007, was benched.
In his inaugural NFL season, Beason was a phenom for the Panthers, recording 140 total tackles and finishing second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. The following season, he was an anchor for a strong Panthers defense that led the team to a first place finish in the NFC South, recording 138 total tackles and three interceptions. For his performance, Beason made the Pro Bowl for the first time and was an All-Pro first team selection. He had a career-high 142 total tackles in 2009, along with three interceptions and three sacks, and made the Pro Bowl for the second time. In 2010, the Panthers were forced to switch Beason back and forth between inside and outside linebacker due to injuries, which resulted in his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, albeit at outside linebacker. Before the 2011 season, Carolina signed Beason to a lucrative five-year, $50 million deal that made him the highest paid middle linebacker in NFL history. However, Beason suffered a torn Achilles that forced him to miss the entire season that year.
The Panthers selected Luke Kuechly, a talented middle linebacker out of Boston College, in the 2012 draft with the intention of having him take over for Beason in the long run. However, Carolina decided to start Kuechly in the middle and move a still-recovering Beason to the outside again. It was not as smooth of a transition as it was in 2010 and Beason was much less effective playing out of position. This season, Kuechly has become a force in the middle while Beason continued to struggle to return to form.
Since Beason's departure, the Panthers have won three of their last four contests and the Carolina defense has looked better than ever, allowing an average of 12.6 points per game in their three wins. Ironically, former Giants LB Chase Blackburn has taken Beason’s place and has filled in nicely. For the Giants, Beason’s presence has been a very welcome one. Beason has started in the middle for the Giants and they have won their last two games, allowing just seven points in each. He is being credited for helping turn around a defense that gave up an average of 36.5 points per game prior to his arrival.
Even though it appeared to be a small deal at the time, the Beason trade seems to have played a hand in the turnaround of both teams involved. If Kuechly or Blackburn were to get hurt, the Panthers end of the deal would look less appealing but for now, it seems to have been a smart and effective move for both teams.