by Scott Benson
In 2006, the Oakland Raiders selected Jim Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff of Texas with the 7th pick of the first round. Huff, who has since gone on to start 32 straight games at safety for Oakland, was rewarded with a six-year deal worth $43 million, including $15 million in guaranteed money.
Last spring, the Minnesota Vikings owned the 7th choice, which they used on Oklahoma runner and Heisman finalist Adrian Peterson, the soon-to-be NFL Rookie of the Year. Peterson signed a five-year deal worth $40.5 million, with $17 million of it guaranteed.
Given all that, it seems safe to say that this year’s 7th selection will ultimately sign a 5 or 6 year contract worth approximately $40 million and guarantees approaching $20 million. At an average of seven to eight million dollars per annum, the rookie would immediately become one of his new team’s highest paid players before he’s ever taken an NFL snap.
Hence, the almost foregone conclusion among Patriots fans that their team will find a way to avoid a contract of that magnitude in a draft that is seen as bereft of pure Top Ten players. Why pay the 7th pick more than $40 million when you can get a roughly comparable player at half, or even a quarter of the cost?
But can the Patriots trade back? That’s the question.
Over the last five drafts, there have been just five trades involving Top Ten picks. Only one has occured since 2004 (the 07 Atlanta-Houston swap that involved an exchange of Top Tens). That means only two of the last 30 Top Ten picks (or roughly 7%) have been acquired by trade.
Even worse for the Pats prospects, no middle-tier team has moved into the Top Ten since 2003.
Still, even with this grim data, history tells us that it’s not impossible for New England to deal out of that 7th slot next weekend. But if they do, what kind of return can Pats fans expect?
To find an answer to that question, let’s review the last five draft day deals involving Top Ten picks:
TRADE UP: ATLANTA, FROM #10 TO #8
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#10), 3RD YEAR QUARTERBACK MATT SCHAUB
TRADE DOWN: HOUSTON, FROM #8 TO #10
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#10), 2ND ROUND (#39), 2008 2ND ROUND (#48)
SUMMARY: These picks are in the right neighborhood for a comparison to the Pats present situation, but the presence of Schaub (an 04 3rd rounder) in the deal makes such a direct comparison difficult. While they got an experienced quarterback who was ready to play right away (let’s say he was the equivilent of one of those second-rounders), it sure looks like Houston gave up at least a second round pick for the right to trade back two slots. Not what Pats fans want to hear, but again, Schaub’s value makes it hard to draw any real conclusions here.
TRADE UP: NEW YORK GIANTS, FROM #4 TO #1
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#4), 3RD ROUND (#65), 2005 1ST ROUND (#12), 2005 5TH ROUND (#144).
TRADE DOWN: SAN DIEGO, FROM #1 TO #4
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#1)
SUMMARY: Again, a tough comparison for a few reasons. First, it involved two teams in the Top Five, but secondarily because this was the Eli Manning/Phillip Rivers trade. The Chargers and Giants actually drafted the two players and swapped them after the picks. This indicates that at least recently, it takes extraordinary circumstances for these top end deals to happen. But if Manning and Rivers cancel each other out here, it looks like the Giants gave up a 04 third-rounder, and a first-rounder and fifth-rounder in the 05 draft for the right to move up three spots. Once again, though, the Manning-Rivers spin to this trade makes it hard to draw any conclusions.
TRADE UP: CLEVELAND, FROM #7 TO #6
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#7), 2ND ROUND (#37)
TRADE DOWN: DETROIT, FROM #6 TO #7
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#6)
SUMMARY: Eureka! A trade involving the 7th pick! Now we’re getting somewhere. The Browns made the move up to target Kellen Winslow, who the Lions were probably threatening to draft themselves. Detroit gets an additional 2nd round pick in exchange for taking a pass on the Miami tight end. This four-year old deal is probably the most encouraging example for Pats fans who are hoping their team can trade back and grab another first day pick for their trouble. The fact that the trade was engineered by Matt Millen gives pause, though.
TRADE UP: NEW YORK JETS, FROM #13 TO #4
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#13), 1ST ROUND (#22), 4TH ROUND (#116)
TRADE DOWN: CHICAGO, FROM #4 TO #13
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#4)
SUMMARY: The holy grail. A middle-tier team (the Jets) gives up multiple picks to move into the #4 spot. The Bears got two first-rounders and an additional fourth for moving back 9 slots in the draft. Once again, a move inspired by one team coveting a certain player (Dewayne Robertson). It’s only a bonus that the Jets are now killing themselves trying to dump him. Considering we’re talking about the fourth pick the draft, not an exact match where the Pats are concerned. In addition, it’s now been five years since this trade and the salary structure of these early picks have grown exponentially since. Would the Bears still pull down the same return on the fourth pick today?
TRADE UP: NEW ORLEANS, FROM #17 TO #6
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#17), 1ST ROUND (#18), 2ND ROUND (#54)
TRADE DOWN: ARIZONA, FROM #6 TO #17
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#6), 2ND ROUND (#37), 4TH ROUND (#102)
SUMMARY: Another mid-tier team (New Orleans) reaching up for a player (Johnathan Sullivan). The Cardinals netted an additional first-rounder, but they had to move back 17 spots in the second round, and give up an additional fourth round pick to jump back into the late teens. This is roughly the type of move back that most expect the Pats to attempt. Two affordable first-rounders in the late teens or early twenties (5 yr. deal, $2-$3 million in annual salary, about half of deal guaranteed) would be an affordable but potentially effective alternative to the $40 million for a top ten pick. The associated manuevering and loss of a fourth ended up working out okay for Arizona: they selected Florida State WR Anquan Boldin with that #54.
So a deal is certainly possible, but is it profitable? Detroit got a second rounder for moving one spot in 04, but how much would that sort of deal help the Patriots financially? It would add another second-round contract, but in truth, the relief they would get for moving two or three slots in the rookie pay scale could be significant. Last year, the difference between the seventh and tenth pick (Amobi Okoye) was about $23 million in total value and $4 million in guaranteed money. The lower they drop, the lower the return, but a move back to 9 or 10 and the addition of a third round pick is perhaps one scenario. #9 Cincinnati is said to covet USC DT Sedrick Ellis, and maybe a Pats threat to pick Ellis themselves would scare a third-rounder (#77) out of the Bengals, who have a compensatory third to replace the pick they lose under this scenario. This would save the Pats about half the salary commitment on their first round pick and give them the 62nd, the 69th, the 77th and 94th selections. They could even lose that 94th pick to buff up their second day plate, where they have only one choice per round.
Foremost in mind at the moment, however, is the first pick, and coincidentally, the fate of Boston College’s Matt Ryan. The Patriots have to be hoping that Ryan slides down to them, passed over by Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, and even the New York Jets at #6. Baltimore, choosing immediately after the Pats at #8, seem like a logical landing spot for the Eagle. That makes the #7 spot of interest to any teams (Carolina at 13? Chicago at 14?) that may also covet Ryan, the top quarterback in the draft. Of course, those same teams could also have interest in spots 3-6. That move from the mid-teens to the top six or seven has most recently come at the cost of at least an additional first round pick. Neither the Bears nor the Panthers have that to give, at least not this year (they do both have extra third round picks, though). I don’t have any idea whether either one thinks getting Matt Ryan is worth giving up their first round pick this year and next. Does he inspire that sort of passion?
Maybe he does. A recent rumor floated by the draft site the Great Blue North Draft Report speculated that if Ryan was still on the board when the Patriots go on the clock, the Falcons would ship their three second round picks to New England for the right to select Ryan at 7.
If not, maybe Chris Long, Darren McFadden or another top pick will find themselves tumbling next Saturday, driving up the value of the Pats selection. You never know. It’s been commonly assumed that Dallas, and specifically Jerry Jones, would do something with their two-first rounders situated squarely in the tenties (#’s 22 & 28), probably because Jones is thought to have impure thoughts about a McFadden-Marian Barber tandem. Again, who knows. The Cowboys don’t have much to deal with, comparatively, beyond that extra first. What else would they have to do to move all the way to #7? There’s no recent prescedent, so that means we have to consult the dreaded trade charts.
I say ‘charts’ because there’s rumors that the old Jimmy Johnson chart from the 90’s has been updated to reflect the rookie salary impact on the early picks.
The old chart places a value of 1,500 on the 7th pick, and the two Dallas picks are valued at a combined 1,440. That makes for an easy swap: an extra first for dropping 15 slots in the first round. Maybe the Pats squeeze out a fourth rounder (#126) to even the scales.
The new version, however, tempers that considerably. Because it is intended to more accurately reflect the financial burden of the earliest picks, the Cowboys two picks are now worth a combined 1,690 points, or some 120 points more than the #7th selection (1,570). It’s not clear if teams are actually using the updated version, but if they are, now it’s the Patriots giving up the extra choice, possibly one of their two third rounders (#94, still worth about 120 points).
Granted, there’s probably a dozen variations on this theme, but does it seem to you like there’s a major trade in the Patriots future? The small ones, like sliding back a small handful of spaces in the heat of the draft day moment, seem more advantageous at this point.
Still, once you start in with these trade value charts, it’s hard to stop. You keep coming up with these elaborate scenarios. Here’s one. If the Pats were somehow able to swing the trade back to the middle teens, it could provide a domino effect that would give New England their best chance at a major draft haul. Let’s look at a couple of recent trades for examples.
TRADE UP: NEW YORK JETS, FROM #25 TO #14
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#25) 2ND ROUND (#59), 6TH ROUND (#164)
TRADE DOWN: CAROLINA, FROM #14 TO #25
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#14), 6TH ROUND (#191)
TRADE UP: DENVER, FROM #21 TO #17
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#21), 3RD ROUND (#86), 7TH ROUND (#198)
TRADE DOWN: JACKSONVILLE, FROM #17 TO #21
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#17), 6TH ROUND (#191)
TRADE UP: PHILADELPHIA, FROM #28 TO #16
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#28), 2ND ROUND (#58)
TRADE DOWN: SAN FRANSISCO, FROM #16 TO #28
GAVE UP: 1ST ROUND (#16)
So from this was can estimate that the return on trading back from a mid-teens pick to one in the twenties is probably a second or third round pick, depending on how far you move.
Stick with me, here. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Carolina really wants Matt Ryan, things break the right way and the Pats trade back from 7th to 13th next Saturday, picking up a fourth rounder in 08 and a first round pick next year in the process (the rough equivilent of the 03 trades involving the Bears and Jets, Saints and Cardinals). They get out from under the financial obligations of the 7th pick, grab an additional second day pick, and perhaps most importantly, set themselves up with two firsts in 09.
But instead of choosing a player with the 13th pick, the Patriots trade back again, this time with Green Bay, picking at #30. Green Bay’s got their eye on someone (pick one – maybe one of the corners?), so they surrender one of their two second rounders (#56) and their third (#91) to jump way up.
At that point, the Patriots would have traded twice, and been left with six picks in the alleged sweet spot of this draft: #30, 56, 62, 69, 91 and 94. Plus an additional fourth rounder, and, last but not least, a first round pick in 2009. I suppose it says something about Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli that we think them capable of something that audacious.
To close, here’s a list of teams that may be active on this weekend’s trade front by virtue of their multiple picks:
KANSAS CITY: With the trade of NFL sack leader Jared Allen to Minnesota on Tuesday, the Chiefs become the belle of the Playa Haters Ball this weekend. The Chiefs now have two first rounders (5 & 17), one second (35), and three third rounders (66, 73 & 82). Herm-iffic!
Others with multiples:
ATLANTA: Three second round picks (34, 37 & 48) and two thirds (68 & 98, which is compensatory and can’t be traded).
GREEN BAY: Two seconds (56 & 60).
MIAMI: Two seconds (33 & 57).
CAROLINA: Two thirds (67 & 74).
CHICAGO: Two thirds (70 & 90).
JACKSONVILLE: Two thirds (71 & 89) and three fifths (143, 158 & 159).