Commentary

Is trading up in draft worth risk?

History suggests teams might be better off staying where they are this year

Originally Published: May 4, 2014
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons would like to trade up to acquire Jadeveon Clowney. Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr said Friday four or five teams have told him they would like to trade into the 20s of the first round to draft him.

If the price isn't too expensive, the Detroit Lions would like to move up a few spots to draft wide receiver Mike Evans. Teams in need of quarterbacks might have to move spots to get the quarterback of their choice. The San Francisco 49ers might package some of their draft choices to move up to take a wide receiver.

Despite those possibilities, I don't expect a surge in trades Thursday, Friday and Saturday, because of the quality and depth of this draft. Trading up in a draft this rich costs too much if teams are giving up second-, third- and fourth-round choices, because players picked at those spots could be potential starters.

From 2004 through last year, there was an average of 26.8 draft day trades. The 2010 draft had the most during that time with 33. The 2005 draft had the fewest with 20. Because this year's draft is so rich, I think the trade number might be around the 22 that were brokered in 2011.

The 2011 draft is the perfect one to compare this year's to, because it was a good one (2004 and 2007 were also among some of the best recent ones). Twelve of the top 16 choices from 2011 have been to the Pro Bowl. While Johnny Manziel might not be Cam Newton, Manziel is under consideration for the first pick. Like in 2011, the next group of this year's quarterbacks have holes and aren't sure things.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsTrading up to select Blaine Gabbert in 2011 didn't work out too well for the Jaguars.

There were only four first-round trades in 2011. The Jacksonville Jaguars suffered the most. They gave up a second-rounder to move up six spots to acquire Blaine Gabbert, who washed out as a starter and was dumped in a trade to the 49ers this offseason. Missing out on two high draft choices in the rich 2011 draft set back a franchise that heading into last year had one of the thinnest rosters in terms of talent.

The Kansas City Chiefs moved up six spots in the first round to select wide receiver Jon Baldwin in 2011. That didn't work out for the Chiefs, and they ended up dumping him to San Francisco last year for equally disappointing wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

Toward the bottom of the first round in 2011, the New Orleans Saints gave away a 2012 first-rounder to move up for running back Mark Ingram. The Saints recently decided not to pick up Ingram's fifth-year option.

The most interesting trade that year was Atlanta's move to get Julio Jones, who is a stud receiver, one of the five or six best in the league. Still, the cost ate away at the team's depth. The Falcons gave Cleveland second- and fourth-round picks in 2011 along with a first-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2012 to move up 21 spots in the first round and take Jones.

As great as the acquisition of Jones was for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense, the loss of the other picks weakened the team's depth and could have assisted in the Falcons' crash landing last year. Other than Jones, Atlanta didn't get any consistent starters out of the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Offensive linemen Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes have started, but the team made a commitment to get a bigger, better line this offseason. Jonathan Massaquoi could end up being a starting linebacker this year, but the only big gain from those two drafts was Jones.

It will be interesting to see whether the Falcons make a similar deal in this rich draft to get Clowney.

From the inbox

Q: I was curious about the NFL perhaps instituting a "good team" award for behavior, like a bonus or something along this line. Maybe peer pressure within the team will promote better decisions (especially in the offseason). It would, in my humble opinion "protect the shield." What are your thoughts?

Craig in Wilmington, North Carolina

A: There are plenty of awards for good behavior. The Ed Block Award is given on each team by a vote of teammates for the player who is a role model or an inspiration. What isn't there is a monetary award. The problem is that such an award would need to be collectively bargained. It's part of the job description to protect the shield and try not to embarrass the team or the league. The pay is for what is done on the field.

Q: I know the Falcons still have a good bit of cap room left, even with the money allotted for draft picks. I know they also need to work on an extension for Julio Jones. Why wouldn't a team like Atlanta front-load the contract for Julio when they have all of the extra cap space instead of signing a second- or third-string player who will likely never hit the field? Why do NFL teams always insist on back-loading contracts?

Bryan in Clayton, Georgia

A: As of Sunday, the Falcons have about $8.4 million of cap room, which doesn't leave them a lot of room to do a Jones deal this year. They have him under contract next year for $10.176 million. Don't forget that Roddy White is in the last year of his contract, which has paid him $8.544 million a year. They have about $41 million of cap room next year, so they could bring him back. The way things work in this league, though, when a team commits $10 million a year to a player such as Jones, a big salary at the same position usually comes off the books. The Falcons might be able to keep White for another year, but once they lock up Jones, it could mean they won't keep White.

Q: Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman are two of the best cornerbacks in the game, finishing up their rookie contracts and are about get monster deals that will probably be pretty similar. When teams are in this situation of determining how much money top players should get, will they ever communicate with each other to ensure that they set a favorable market? I can see there being an advantage to one team setting a higher price if the other needs to give big contracts to several of its players like Seattle does, but in the end that would hurt both organizations. Can it be as simple as taking previous top deals and adjusting for age/injury/inflation/etc.?

Chris in Mountain View, California

A: If they did work out such a communication, that would be collusion, which is illegal. Of course, you'll have agents who believe there is collusion. Under the current negotiating climate, the deals are really easy to figure out, and it goes to your last point. Let's go to the thoughts on Sherman. Darrelle Revis is making $12 million this year, but he came off a $16 million-a-year contract that the Bucs released him from. Taking some of the top deals into account, the Seahawks apparently are willing to go to $13 million or more on Sherman. He's young, so they can go five or six years. It wasn't hard to figure that safety Earl Thomas was going to get $10 million a year from Seattle. Top safeties were in the $9 million range. The top previous salary at the position sets the bar for new deals for the best players. The question is: How much higher can they go?

Q: We have had eight years with Roger Goodell at the helm. While I think overall he has improved the game, I only give him a grade of C overall. Spygate, bountygate, player and ref lockouts and the concussion issue have all tarnished his rep. If you were actually his professor, what grade would you give him at this point?

Adam in Nashville, Tennessee

A: I'd give him a B-plus. It's a competitive game, so individuals are always going to push the laws, so there will always be some type of cheating or scandal. He inherited the concussion issue and made it a priority to stress safety despite the criticism that he made the game softer. He's creating more revenue and has a 10-year collective bargaining agreement. I think that's pretty good work. Sure, I think the league office has a tendency to tinker with the game a little too much. I don't like the push to change the extra point or the increased number of games in London. But the league is in a great position, and he is a big part of that.

Q: I am not a Cowboys fan, and I will never pretend to be one. I am a loyal 49ers fan. However, the reports that Jerry Jones is going to do anything and everything to draft Johnny Manziel are egregious. How would a team that already has a top-10 QB and has other pressing needs -- for example, an entire new defense -- dare waste a pick on a QB? If he takes Manziel, I don't know how Cowboys fans can honestly continue to give him a pass or even remain fans.

Matthew in Richmond, Virginia

A: I agree with you 100 percent. I sure hope that's the marketing part of Jerry talking, not the personnel part. Such a move would be insane. Manziel is going to go in the top seven. Jones would have to give up too many draft choices at a time the Cowboys have been hamstrung in free agency because of cap problems. He is a smart businessman. I think the Manziel talk is just to throw off the Houston Texans. The Texans' brand in the state of Texas would grow substantially if Manziel were Houston's quarterback. It could challenge the Cowboys' brand in the state.

Q: Why doesn't the NFL schedule all byes during a two-week stretch in the middle of the season? I understand that certain bye weeks are assigned in an attempt to have as many good matchups as possible each week, but teams with an early bye (Weeks 4, 5 or even 6) seem to be getting a raw deal as the season winds on compared with teams with later byes. Pull the Band-Aid off quickly during those two weeks midseason and enjoy uniform game quality throughout the other fifteen.

Patrick in Phoenix

A: Could you imagine how bad that would be? Putting the byes in a two-week period would mean eight-game weekends. With three night games, that would leave only five games for two time slots and two networks for Sunday. Even worse, it could give the impression that the NFL is taking a midseason break. I don't think that one works.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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