The NFL Draft has become a spectacle with months of hype leading to a fairly anti-climactic event. For me, the intrigue is not in which players each team selects, but in the strategic moves made by each team throughout the draft. I’m primarily alluding to the trades that teams make to position themselves to snatch a highly coveted player or move down to acquire more draft picks.
Throughout this offseason, we have already witnessed some of these moves. Most notably, the Jets moved up from #6 overall to #3 to inevitably acquire one of their three favorite quarterbacks. The Bills stealthy movement from #21 to #12 (in addition to having pick #22) has been under the radar, but could result in more movement if the right quarterback at or after the Browns use their second first round pick (#4).
Thankfully for the multiple networks televising the draft this year, we’re almost guaranteed that at least one trade will take place during the first round. The table below shows the number of trades involving first round picks leading up to each draft. The number of trades that occurred on draft day are also shown as a subset.
Most drafts are fairly active with multiple trades occurring throughout the first round. Only in 2000 and 2005 has only one trade involving a first round pick taken place. In recent history, the 2004 draft eclipsed any other draft with 10 first round draft day trades, including Eli Manning’s pouting that kept him in New York (since the draft was at Radio Hall) in exchange for Philip Rivers and other assets (such as the Giants’ 2005 first round pick).
There are many types of draft day trades that teams make. Some trade up to the front of the draft to take a marquee quarterback or edge rusher. Others trade up in the middle of the first round when they see a player falling (this typically results in the best quotes from GMs later – “we just couldn’t pass up a guy of his caliber….”), or trading up into/out of the first round for a myriad of reasons (if we’ve learned anything from the Bills or Browns, don’t do this and take a quarterback (J.P. Losman, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, etc.)). Some are more successful than others (As a Viking fan, I’ve seen both sides of this in 2013 and 2014). It adds drama to a fairly dull event if you’re still watching the coverage after the first 10 picks.
Most Lopsided Trade of the Last 20 Years
As I discussed earlier, some trades involving first round picks are more successful than others. The most lopsided trade (as measured by approximate value, which I have discussed here) of the last 20 years resulted in the Seahawks walking away with millions after looting the Packers.
In 2001, the Seahawks moved back 7 spots from #10 overall (Jamal Reynolds) to #17 (Steve Hutchinson) overall and received Matt Hasselbeck in exchange for its third-round pick, the 72nd pick. Seattle also received the Packers’ first-round choice, which is No. 17 overall.
The Seahawks moved back seven spots to acquire a future Hall of Fame guard and acquired a quarterback who would lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance four years later. The Packers’ two selections, meanwhile, combined to play parts of seven seasons (three for Jamal Reynolds and four for Torrance Marshall) and collect four sacks. What makes this trade hilarious in hindsight is the comments by Ron Wolf, the general manager of the Packers.
“I think the opportunity to get to 10 is what made the difference in the deal,” general manager Ron Wolf said. “To get up to the top 10 is enormous…. I think in most drafts that the quality level of player is higher in your top 10 than it is in your top 17. I think history will bear that out.”
I hindsight, this trade looks terrible. At the time, it probably seemed like a reasonable trade for both sides. Nevertheless, oops. History is not on your side.