Commentary

New reality regarding draft-day trades

Thanks to new CBA, teams no longer hesitant to wheel and deal for top picks

Originally Published: April 9, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Toward the end of last week, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he would be willing to trade the third pick in the first round, a crazy thought in the old collective bargaining agreement.

Not now.

The low financial price of paying a draft choice under the new CBA gives a team such as Minnesota the chance to get player value for a high pick. The Redskins had no trouble dealing three first-round choices and a second-rounder to move from No. 6 in the first round to No. 2 to be in position to presumably take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

It's not known if the Vikings can entice the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have the No. 5 pick, to move up two spots to draft running back Trent Richardson. If the Dolphins think the Browns are going to take quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 4, then the Vikings can get maximum value for the No. 3 pick.

There is less financial risk for the teams trading up, which is a far cry from recent times. Gerald McCoy, whom the Bucs selected with the third pick in the 2010 draft, received a six-year, $55 million contract that could escalate to $63.4 million depending on how well he plays.

That kind of salary made trades involving the top five picks difficult. Teams simply wouldn't consider it under the old system. Since 2000, there have been only four trades involving top-five picks, starting with the Michael Vick deal in 2001 and including the Eli Manning trade in 2004. The Jets made trades up in 2003 for defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson and in 2009 for quarterback Mark Sanchez.

With a flat cap expected until 2015, teams place extra value on draft choices, but if a team has a pressing need that requires a trade-up, it will be on the phones. It should make for an interesting draft day.

From the inbox

Q: I'm a bit surprised the Browns have had such a quiet offseason considering the amount of cap space they have to play with. I know they are trying to build through the draft, but signing a couple more quality free agents to speed along the process couldn't hurt. Why not go after Jacob Bell and London Fletcher? Two hometown boys who would not only improve the team but give them some positive PR?

Ray in Cleveland

A: You get the feeling the Browns want to build a young team, so going for older players doesn't seem to be in the big plan. But I thought they would be more aggressive. This team has so many holes and it's going to take a couple of drafts to fix the roster. The roster was depleted during the Eric Mangini era. A couple of key free-agent signings would have sped up the process. Now, all the pressure falls upon them in the draft.

Q: The Jets will be looking for Mark Sanchez to manage the game, the ground and pound and stout defense to shorten the game, and Tim Tebow to convert on third down and in the red zone. If the Jets can make this work, they will have created the blueprint -- average QB + an athlete who's a threat to throw -- into a scenario that allows teams without elite QBs to compete with teams that have elite QBs.

Mark in Decatur, Ga.

A: That's an optimistic view if things go right, but I don't see a Wildcat quarterback changing the league. Passing wins games in the fourth quarter, and Sanchez isn't losing his starting job. You are making eight to 10 plays at most for Tebow in a game. He will be difficult to figure out for defenses early in the season. Still, being a Wildcat quarterback doesn't give Tebow the chance to develop and improve his quarterback skills. The reason this won't be a leaguewide trend is there are very few 6-foot-5 quarterbacks who are tough enough to take the big hits that go with this unique style of quarterbacking.

Q: Why does ESPN and other media outlets say Ray Rice, Wes Welker, and Drew Brees are planning to hold out? These guys are not under contract (getting the franchise tag does not put them under contract). It unfairly makes them look bad when they aren't doing anything wrong. I can understand the negative press when a player really does hold out.

Paul in Tewksbury, Mass.

A: Call it what you want, but if a player doesn't show up, it's a holdout. Technically, you are 100 percent correct. An unsigned player isn't allowed to be in camp or with his team unless it's the offseason program, OTAs or minicamps. It is his legal right to be away from the team during those organized workouts. He's not fined. Still, you can't change reality. If you're out of camp, you're a holdout.

Q: What do you think of the Philadelphia Eagles selecting LaMichael James from Oregon with either their third or fourth pick of the draft? Also, what are the chances they draft a WR and/or QB with an early pick?

Keith in Warner Robins, Ga.

A: James would match what they have in LeSean McCoy. Plus, I think James will go in the second round. The Eagles could use a bigger back to replace Ronnie Brown. I don't see them drafting a quarterback very high, but they might do it in the later rounds. The receiver decision is interesting. They are solid with their top three receivers and still might sign Plaxico Burress. If they go for Burress, there is no need to do much more at receiver.

Q: The 40-second clock is my favorite rule change of the last 20 years. However, it needs to be tweaked. Every game you see this scenario: The offense has a huge play, gaining 40 or 50 yards, putting it in scoring position. In haste to get the next play off before the 40-second clock runs out, the next play is invariably a generic run up the middle, if they don't have to burn a timeout. Solution is simple: On any play over 30 yards, stop the clock like an out-of-bounds play, let the yard markers catch up and get set, and run the clock and 25-second play clock on the ready-for-play whistle. Exception: Under two minutes left in each half, revert to current rule.

Mike in Thornville, Ohio

A: We should put you on the competition committee. That makes a lot of sense. What I like about the suggestion is that it promotes more offense. You obviously study the game closely to notice the trend is to call a simple run. Wise move to keep the current rules in the final two minutes. I like the suggestion.

Q: Wouldn't it be best if the Bears were to actually help their D-line first in the draft with a pass-rusher such as Whitney Mercilus?

Joey in Chicago

A: Smart idea. They probably have bigger needs along the offensive line, but any time a good defense can add a pass-rusher, you can't go wrong. The Bears have done a lot on offense. They've added Brandon Marshall. They added Michael Bush in the backfield. They have Devin Thomas and Eric Weems as backup receivers and special-teams options. Other than offensive line, they can use the draft to help their defense.

Q: Why do coaches tolerate such poor tackling by their defensive backs? Most throw their bodies at the runner. Few use their arms. They get paid a lot to tackle and they fail routinely.

Tom in Tampa, Fla.

A: This probably goes back to college. College football is loaded with spread offenses and poor tackling. Then the players come into the NFL and they really don't have the time on the field to learn to tackle. Under the new CBA, coaches only have so many practices in which they can let players tackle. Full contact is minimized. Plus, the league's push toward safety has many players baffled as to how to use their bodies to make plays. It's an issue. I agree with you.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer