Logic: Why Draft Trades Happen, Understanding the Art


I have seen a lot of posts and comments lately about trading out of the 4th overall pick. That is definitely an option whether it is for better or for worse. The issue that I think fans have universally is they can have very jaded opinions and logic toward making trades in the NFL. I have never been a Head Coach, General Manager or even a professional scout, but I have covered the NFL Draft for several media outlets for close to a decade and follow every team in the league closely during the season as you can tell from my two latest posts (Undervalued 1 and 2). That being said, I have always been intrigued by Draft-day trades.

In my opinion, in order to make a trade down or trade up in the annual selection process, you have to be comfortable and knowledgeable of a few things:

  • · Your roster
  • · The roster of teams picking around you
  • · The needs of all NFL teams
  • · A number of players you like in the distance from your trade down or up
  • · Your overall board

Once you have an understanding of those variables you are set to ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Who would want my pick?
  2. Who’s pick would I want?
  3. Will my player stay on the board if I trade up or down?

Understanding Your Roster

For the sake of this practice, let’s look at the Philadelphia Eagles. At pick number 4, we are not obviously the picture of awesomeness we would want to be. This team has talent, but it also has glaring needs on the offensive line (question marks at all positions but left guard thanks to injuries and Danny Watkins), the secondary, and quarterback. We also have to keep in mind the aging of other major players such as Trent Cole, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Nnamdi Asomaugha (if we keep him), and Cullen Jenkins. Those players need successors and the holes need to be filled.

With a new Head Coach, Chip Kelly, roster turnaround should be at least 25 players (perhaps more with the possible switch to 3-4), so you may want to gather more picks. The gaining of picks is appealing but do not forget the reason the team is in this mess (lack of good players and depth at key spots). Adding prime talent is essential.

Understanding the Rosters Around You

The Eagles pick 4th in the 2013 NFL Draft (I know you know that), and are bookended by the Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders and the Lions, Browns and Cardinals. The Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, and Cardinals could all use OTs and QBs. The Jaguars, Raiders, Lions and Browns could all use CBs and DEs. With knowing the needs around you, you can dictate who is going to be on the board whether you shuffle up or down the board. How you understand this can be critical to your success as a GM or HC (just ask Tom Heckert who balked on a possible RG3 trade and then dished out a bunch of picks to move up one spot for no reason and selected running back which is not a highly valued position in the Draft anymore).

Understanding the Needs of All NFL Teams

Every team has needs, even those who win in the playoffs or Super Bowl. You have to prepare yourself for a major surprise jump up (think ATL-CLE trade for Julio Jones pick). If your guy is Luke Joeckel, you need to have a back-up plan if the Giants ambush the Raiders with a great offer for the 3rd overall pick to fill a need and hurt a division rival.

When diagnosing league-wide needs, you should designate the teams’ immediate and most apparent spots where they have to upgrade. There is still a chance someone surprises you, but this way you know when you have to move up or move down on a the board to get value or the guy you want.

Having A Firm Selection of Players in the Event of a Trade

Simply put, if you are trading down three spots, make sure there are three guys you like in case one or two guys are taken in that span. If Luke Joeckel is on the board at 4, but you think you can deal with picking up a 4th round pick and taking Lane Johnson at 8, and could also go for Dee Milliner or Eric Fisher, then you are covered.

When trading up, make sure there is enough separation on your board or a much more pressing need for the player you are trading up for and figure out if there are teams in front of you that may want the guy you are targeting. Also take into account who would trade up in front of you and their picks, so if you can outbid them, you will be prepared.

Knowing and Trusting Your Board

Let’s say your top five guys are as follows: Joeckel, Fisher, Milliner, Geno Smith, and Star Lotulelei.

If you are OT hungry, and let’s say Joeckel and Fisher are taken by the Chiefs and Jaguars respectively, you have to decide if you want to reach for Lane Johnson, trade down to acquire him or draft the BPA (Milliner, according to our hypothetical board). The decision needs to come down to how far you can trade down to get Johnson and if trading down is worth it. Sometimes, it’s not (example: The Browns traded back with the Jets in 2008, so New York could acquire Mark Sanchez. The Browns got Alex Mack who is a great player but not worth the value of a QB, despite Sanchez’s faults. Cleveland missed out on Josh Freeman and traded back a 2nd time).

The Questions

Who Would Want My Pick?

This question is pretty simple to answer by who is remaining after the first three picks and who the fifth pick would look to acquire. Let’s say the Chiefs take Geno Smith, the Jags take Jarvis Jones, and the Raiders take Star Lotulelei. You still have a shot at the top two OTs, the top CB and some other quality talent. Detroit is lingering at 5, they could really use a cornerback (like really bad) but so could the Titans at 10. That’s a six pick drop, so the compensation could be a 2nd or at the very least a 3rd round pick. Again remember, the Cardinals could use an OT at 7, so that removes one of the big guys. Then you have the Jets and even the Lions, who could upgrade at OT. That means Lane Johnson could still be available. So you get your OT and a decent pick, with the Titans jumping the Lions to get their CB (everyone wins).

What if you want to move up to get Geno Smith if the Chiefs pass on him and are afraid the Jags will draft him or someone will trade up to get him (ARI)? Well, then you have to understand the value they put on the pick and how much you believe in the QB. That being said, you also have to weigh your options if he gets past the Jags. Oakland still owes Carson Palmer a bunch of money and Terrell Pryor has shown flashes. The Cardinals can still trade up, so do you Heckert the situation and get your Trent Richardson after a quick deal with the Raiders?

Who’s Pick Do I Want?

We have abused the hell out of the 4th overall pick scenarios, so let move to the late-1st round. We stayed at 4 and got Eric Fisher, the OT out of Central Michigan. Keep in mind, we filled one of our safety spots and one of our CB spots in Free Agency (let’s say for exercise sake: DaShon Goldson and resigned DRC). We still need to fill the other secondary positions. Kenny Vaccaro, safety from Texas is still on the board at 26. The Packers own the pick and could want a safety and the Texans at 27 lost Glover Quinn to free agency (for argument purposes), so he could be a marked man at either spot. You want Vaccaro and are willing to offer your 3rd to trade up and snag him but the Packers are not sure they want to pass on Kenny. That is where you have to decide if Matt Elam or Eric Reid is that much of a drop off and if they will be around at 35. Do you add a 6th to the deal? Or rescind the 3rd and offer a future 2nd? Or drop the trade in general?

Will The Guy That I Want Still Be There If I Trade Up or Down?

This may be the most important of the questions you ask yourself, your scouts and your coaches. There is no right answer as you are not Shawn Spencer from Psych and cannot deduce who the other teams will pick. Your team has done tons of months of research and this is what it all has led up to. Trust your board and make a decision. Want Luke Joeckel? Go get him. Want to wait on a safety? Trade back. Want to get your QB? Trade up.

What will you do?