Draft day trades

As the NFL draft approaches, there is lots of chatter this year regarding the possibility of early first round trades. Whether that talk turns into action depends on the Texans and the Rams. With the first pick in the draft will the Texans jump on a quarterback, take Jadveon Clowney or trade the pick? At the second selection, are the Rams happy with Sam Bradford at quarterback? Do they think they are strong enough at defensive end to bypass Clowney? Will they trade out of the pick?

With all this talk, I thought it would be timely to look back at a few of the biggest trades in recent years. In my opinion, the three biggest draft day trades of the past several years are:

• The Falcons surrendering five draft choices, including two first round picks, to move up from the 26th slot to the 6th slot in the first round to take WR Julio Jones;
• The Redskins trading four choices, including three first round picks, to move from #6 to #2 and select QB Robert Griffin III; and
• The Browns giving up four draft choices to move up one spot in the draft and take RB Trent Richardson.

Each of the trades will be discussed in turn below. It is interesting to note that in the Falcons/Browns trade and the Redskins/Rams trade, the teams receiving extra choices seem more than willing to trade away the choices they received. Is this a case of General Managers being smart and attempting to stockpile picks, or do the GMs treat those picks as a bonus that they are more willing to risk than their “base” picks”? It is impossible to state with certainty, but it appears that there is at least a fair chance that the latter is the case.

Julio Jones Trade
I would think that the Falcons pretty much got what they expected with Julio Jones. Jones caught 133 passes for over 2000 yards and 18 TDs in his first two seasons and may have been headed to his best season in 2013 before being injured.

The Browns received choices 26, 59 and 124 in 2011 and 22 and 118 in 2012. Here is what happened subsequent to the initial trade:

• The Browns traded the #26 pick plus their #70 for the Chiefs' #21 pick and selected DT Phil Taylor. Taylor has been, in my opinion, an above average player but the best player in the deal was the #70 pick, DE/LB Justin Houston. The #26 pick was WR Jon Baldwin, who certainly belongs in the bust category right now.
• The Browns used the #59 selection on WR Greg Little, who has been largely disappointing.
• The Browns used the #124 pick on RB Owen Marecic, who was cut after two seasons.
• The #22 pick in 2012 was used to select Brandon Weeden, yet another disappointment.
• The 118th pick in 2012 was used as part of the trade to move up and take Trent Richardson in the 2012 draft.

The Falcons certainly made out better in this trade. The Browns moved down 20 slots and ended with not much to show for it. In my opinion, moving down that far in the first round is usually not a good idea.

Robert Griffin III Trade
The jury is still out on RG3, so that somewhat colors this conversation. He followed an excellent rookie season with a year that was marred by injury. Though he threw for about the same number of yards, all of his other numbers were down and he threw twice as many interceptions as a second year player. The Redskins viewed Griffin as a franchise QB and were willing to pay the price to get him. If he turns out not to be the franchise guy, this will turn out to be a terrible trade for them. The Rams, on the other hand, believed they had their future QB in Sam Bradford and saw the trade as a major opportunity to get better at multiple positions.

The Rams received selections 6 and 39 in 2012, 22 in 2013 and 2 in 2014. It remains to be seen what they will do with their 2014 pick, but here is what has happened so far:

• The Rams traded the #6 pick in 2012 to the Cowboys for the #14 pick (which they used to select DL Michael Brockers) and the #45 pick in 2012.
   -Morris Claiborne was selected by the Cowboys with the #6 pick.
• The Rams then traded the #45 pick to the Bears for the #50 pick (used to select RB Isaiah Pead) and the #150 pick (used to select OL Rokevious Watkins).
   -Hindsight being 20-20, the Rams pretty much wasted pick #45 and should have hung onto it as the Bears the pick to take WR Alshon Jeffery.
   -Pead hasn’t done much yet and Watkins was cut prior to the 2013 season.
• The #39 pick in 2012 was used to select CB Janoris Jenkins who is starting for the Rams.
• The Rams traded the #22 pick in 2013, along with a seventh round pick, to the Falcons for the #30 pick (used to select LB Alec Ogletree), the #92 pick (WR Stedman Bailey) and the #198 pick.
   -Ogletree started every game as a rookie and Bailey showed some promise.
   -The #198 pick was used in a package with the #184 pick for a fifth round pick in 2013 that they spent on Zac Stacy, who led the team in rushing as a rookie.

With a #2 pick still to come in the upcoming draft, the Rams have made out pretty well in this trade as they acquired three defensive starters and a starting running back. A case could be made that what the Rams have gained so far is really just gravy as their selection in the second slot in 2014 the same pick they surrendered in the initial trade.

If Griffin lives up to expectations, though, this could end up being a win-win for the two teams.

Trent Richardson Trade
The Browns moved up one spot in the 2012 draft to take Trent Richardson in a trade with the Vikings. They gave up four trade choices, but three were of the “lottery ticket” variety. Richardson had a promising start but later disappointed. The Browns were able to get some of their money back by getting the #26 pick in 2014 from the Colts in a 2013 trade. Here is a summary of what happened to the Vikings after the initial trade:

• The #4 pick used to take Matt Kalil, who has started all 32 games in his NFL career.
• The #118 pick was used to take WR Jarius Wright who been a backup.
• The #139 pick was used to select DB Robert Blanton, who has been a backup.
• #211 was traded to the Titans for a 6th round selection in 2013 that was then re-traded to the Cardinals for DB AJ Jefferson and pick used to take LB Michael Mauti.

While not much of a premium was paid, the Browns ended up making a risky selection (a RB) rather a more conservative selection (an offensive lineman). The Vikings got the player they would have selected with their selection anyway and also picked up a few marginal players. On paper this should have been a fairly even trade, but with Richardson’s career at a tenuous point this could end with the Browns having wasted a series of picks.

Some Observations

While there is nothing in my review of the three trades that provides any concrete trade rules, I do have a couple of observations from the review of this and other trades:

• Different rules apply to trades to acquire franchise QBs than other positions.
   -The trick is to be sure you are actually getting a franchise QBs.
   -Teams do tend to overpay and overdraft QBs.

• Don’t trade too far down in the first round.
   -While many say it’s really the late round picks that separate teams, most of the value in the draft is in the early picks - - quantity is not a substitute for quality.
• Don’t be so quick to trade picks received in a trade.
   -This is a variation of the second observation but accumulating late round draft cho ices is not what wins the draft.
• Don’t be too quick to trade up in the first round to take a player at a skill positions (WR, RB).

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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