The trade deadline has come and gone. And that has meaning beyond the fact that players no longer can be traded from one team to another.
After the trade deadline, all players who are released by their current teams must pass through waivers.
Before the trade deadline, any player with four or more years of service becomes a free agent the moment he’s released, giving him the privilege of picking his next team. After the trade deadline, every team has a crack at claiming his contract.
Two years ago, for example, when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was injured after the trade deadline and the Broncos decided to embrace Tebowmania, Kyle Orton asked to be released, so that he could return to the Bears.
The Broncos complied. But the Chiefs claimed Orton on waivers.
Eleven years ago, cornerback Deion Sanders wanted to unretire and join the Raiders for the playoffs. Washington released Deion from the reserve/retired list — and former Redskins coach (then Chargers coach) Marty Schottenheimer blocked the man who had quit on Schottenheimer from waltzing in to a potential championship run with the Raiders.
So if the Falcons decide once they’re mathematically eliminated from postseason contention to give tight end Tony Gonzalez his freedom, Gonzalez won’t automatically get to pick the playoff team that puts him in best position to exit with a Lombardi Trophy under his arm. If any of the non-playoff teams decide for any reason to block the move, all they have to do is claim Gonzalez on waivers.
In other words, Gonzalez should be careful what he wishes for. If the Falcons give Gonzalez his freedom, he could end up playing for Greg Schiano. Or playing with the Jaguars.