Analyzing Draft Trades & Current GM Trends

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It is officially peak mock draft season. Everyone is hypothesizing where certain players will go and to which teams. And now that we’re less than one week away from the big day on April 23rd, it has become mock draft trade season.

Everyone wants to know if their favorite team will move up for their favorite target, or trade down to get a few more dart throws. Will they tap into their future draft capital in an effort to bolster their roster ASAP? There are endless possibilities, and while every Draft is always different, we can gain insights into the strategies of certain GMs based on their historical moves.

So, what type of GM does your team have? Who makes a lot of moves and who tends to stand pat? The numbers below cover the 2011-2019 Drafts, since the introduction of the Rookie Wage Scale:

GMs that maneuver Up & Down:

  • Les Snead, Los Angeles Rams (9 Up, 15 Down). Les Snead is always looking to bounce around the NFL Draft in search of value. Sometimes it seems like the Rams and Patriots make trades with each other just to spice things up and keep other teams on their toes. All jokes aside, the Rams have been involved in many of the major trades of the decade. They traded out of pick No. 2 for a huge haul in 2012 when the Redskins moved up for Robert Griffin III. Then their turn to strike on a franchise QB came in 2016, when they moved up to No. 1 for Jared Goff.
  • Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles (10 Up, 12 Down). Howie Roseman wheels and deals around the Draft like nobodies business, accumulating more picks when smart to drop back and making moves up when called for. The Eagles are always a team to keep an eye on in the Draft, and this year is no different. At pick No. 21 in the first round, they’re in a pivotal spot that could call for a move in either direction depending how the board falls.
  • John Elway, Denver Broncos (7 Up, 10 Down). The Broncos had a bit of a funny draw in their Draft last year, trading down from No. 10 for a team looking for an inside linebacker, and then trading up to No. 42 for their potential franchise QB. Usually you’d expect the opposite. Nevertheless, the Broncos have done well to add value via Trade-Downs (they still have Pittsburgh’s 3rd this year as a result of the Devin Bush trade) and have picked their spots to make a move as well.
  • Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7 Up, 4 Down). The Buccaneers have had a smart approach to the NFL Draft: Trade Down from higher up in the Draft when the value (positional value or player value) isn’t there, and Trade Up later on when the price isn’t as steep.
  • Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals (4 Up, 5 Down). The Cardinals made the gutsy (and smart) call in 2019 to draft Kyler Murray No. 1 overall, even after they had just traded up for and drafted Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall in 2018. In general, the Cardinals are not afraid to move up or down early in the Draft. They find themselves in the Top 10 again this year at No. 8, and while the available talent will likely be too good to pass up, I could see them fielding calls hoping a team makes an offer they can’t refuse.
  • Dave Caldwell, Jacksonville Jaguars (4 Up, 4 Down). In this year’s draft the Jaguars hold pick’s No. 9 & 20 in the first round. Furthermore, they are in the process of shopping DE Yannick Ngakoue, who many believe could land them another 1st round pick. In what appears to be a major rebuild, I could see them making a move up for a guy they believe could be a franchise player, or trying to land a handful of solid contributors with a trade back.
  • John Lynch, San Francisco 49ers (4 Up, 3 Down). It’s still pretty early in John Lynch’s tenure in San Francisco, but he has not been a stranger to Draft trades. The 49ers just acquired the No. 13 pick in the 2020 Draft from the Indianapolis Colts, giving them two first round picks (their own is No. 31). However, their next pick isn’t until the fifth round. We see teams trade up into the late first round quite often, don’t be surprised if someone else is choosing at No. 31 on Thursday.
  • Brian Gutekunst, Green Bay Packers (3 Up, 1 Down). It is very early in his tenure, but Gutekunst has certainly broken off from the traditional Packers mold, being aggressive in free agency and making big first-round Trade-Ups in his first two seasons. Gutekunst had a slam dunk Trade-Down with the Saints in 2018 that netted an extra 1st in 2019 along with pick No. 24. He promptly moved back up and nabbed Jaire Alexander at No. 18 overall. He followed that up with a move up to No. 21 in 2019 to take Darnell Savage. Long story short, Gutekunst isn’t going to just wait around for his picks.
  • Mike Mayock & Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders (2 Up, 2 Down). While the duo has only been in Oakland for one Draft thus far, they demonstrated a clear willingness to maneuver in 2019 with four Draft trades over the course of the weekend.

There is value in moving around the Draft and becoming a friendly trade partner with various teams. You can avoid reaching on a player if you are fielding multiple trade offers from teams looking to move up. It can be beneficial if teams know you’re open for business, and perhaps the price can be driven up if teams suspect another club is on Line 2.

GMs that move Up for their favorite guys:

  • Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints (10 Up, 0 Down). The Saints don’t mess around in the Draft. If they like a player, they go get him. Since Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the fewest wins they’ve had in a season is 7. They clearly don’t like waiting around until their pick arrives, and Brees is too good for them to ever end up with a Top 10 pick. If you’re a team looking to move up to their spot, maybe save yourself the phone call and reach out to the team with the pick after theirs.
  • Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons (12 Up, 3 Down). Thomas Dimitroff & Co. have followed in the footsteps of their bitter NFC South rival Saints. There are big time rumors swirling that the Falcons are looking to move up in the Draft next week for Florida CB C.J. Henderson… who would be a replacement for CB Desmond Trufant… who they traded up to No. 22 for in 2013.
  • Jon Robinson, Tennessee Titans (8 Up, 3 Down). Robinson has held his position since 2016, and in that time has been pretty aggressive in the Draft. In 2016, the Titans landed a huge haul for the No. 1 pick and the rights to Jared Goff (acquiring picks No. 15, 43, 45, 76, a future 1st, and a future 3rd). Since adding all of that capital, they’ve been going after their targets.
  • Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears (6 Up, 3 Down). Ryan Pace has been running the show in Chicago since 2015 and has made some bold moves in the Draft already during his five year tenure, including two Trade-Ups in the Top 10. The Bears don’t have any first round picks this year, so a trade-up there would be tough. Then again, they’ve also traded future Draft capital in consecutive years (a future 2nd for Anthony Miller in 2018 & a future 4th in 2019 for David Montgomery), so don’t rule it out. On the other hand, they’ve also traded down in the second round three times (landing Cody Whitehair and Tarik Cohen in the process), and have picks No. 43 and 50 in 2020. Don’t be surprised by a move in either direction.
  • Dave Gettleman, New York Giants (5 Up, 0 Down). Gettleman has served as an NFL GM for seven years with two franchises (five in Carolina, two so far in New York), and has never traded Down in either tenure. He doesn’t move much period, though, preferring to stand pat with the picks he was originally given. There are rumblings of a Giants Trade-Down from No. 4, but I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Brandon Beane, Buffalo Bills (4 Up). Beane has only held his role since 2018, so it may be too soon to reach a true conclusion. However, in the two Draft’s he has overseen in Buffalo, he has traded up four times with zero moves back. More importantly, three of these trades were in the Top 40 picks (Josh Allen at No. 7, Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16, and Cody Ford at No. 38). Beane is not afraid to pursue potential impact players.
  • Brett Veach, Kansas City Chiefs (4 Up). Veach has only been GM since 2018, so it may be more fair to put him in the “too soon to tell” category. Although he has been somewhat aggressive thus far, I think any GM with Patrick Mahomes on a rookie contract would do the same.

Trading up is risky business, as you have to “overpay” (according to the Draft Value charts) by larger amounts the higher you move. Nevertheless, clearly some of the teams on this list have had some success. No team has ever been able to consistently “beat” the Draft and outperform others year-over-year, so the thinking is the more picks the better. Eventually you’ll have to spend more in Free Agency to fill out your roster, and if you do miss on guys then you’re really toast. But, on the other end of the spectrum, a strong draft class can go a long way in catapulting a team to success.

GMs that like to move Down and stockpile Draft Capital:

  • Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings (9 Up, 24 Down). The Vikings prioritize getting as many dart throws as possible, which has definitely proven successful. In 2012, the Vikings traded down from No. 3 to No. 4 with the Browns. Trent Richardson ended up in Cleveland and the Vikings landed Matt Kalil. Two years later in 2014, the Browns called again looking to move up one spot from No. 9 to No. 8. Justin Gilbert ended up in Cleveland and the Vikings took Anthony Barr. One thing is for sure, if the Browns call the Vikings answer (on the first ring). New Browns HC Kevin Stefanski, formerly the Vikings OC, may throw a wrench in that wonderful operation though.
  • Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (9 Up, 22 Down). The Patriots arguably belong in the first grouping, as they move around the Draft unlike anyone else. But, as you can see, they move back more than they jump up. They also made a lot of these 9 trade-ups in recent years, presumably to keep making Super Bowl runs with Tom Brady. Now that they’re onto their next chapter, I’d expect them to get back to their stockpiling ways that led to so much long-term success in the first place.
  • John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks (8 Up, 17 Down). When you draft Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman all in the 3rd Round or later, what’s the point in trading up anyway?!
  • Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts (2 Up, 6 Down). Ballard is relatively new to his position, hired in 2017, but has already made it pretty clear that he prefers to stockpile picks. The Trade-Downs occurred much earlier than the Trade-Ups, most notably when the Colts sent pick No. 3 in 2018 to the Jets for No. 6, 37, 49 & a 2020 2nd which turned out to be pick No. 34. The players taken with those picks look quite promising thus far, perhaps inspiring more of the same from Ballard.

It is probably not a coincidence that the first three GMs in this group have all been in their positions for a decade-plus (Belichick is of course HC, but is also considered the top executive for the Patriots with significant control over personnel decisions). It’s important to point out they are also not averse to moving up to get their guy when they have conviction. They understand that in order to do so without sacrificing their shot at multiple impact players each year, it’s smart to bolster their arsenal beforehand. Trading down often allows you to trade up. They all have about a 2-1 Down-Up ratio, so the extra Draft Capital they accumulate doesn’t go to waste, and they don’t just draft fifteen 7th-rounders every year. They move back when the value isn’t there, and they pounce when they don’t want to wait any longer and risk losing a guy they’re high on.

GMs that like to stand pat:

  • Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers (4 Up). Last year’s move to No. 10 to take Devin Bush came as a complete shock to me, as the Steelers rarely maneuver around the Draft at all. They have not traded back so far this decade, and the other three trade-ups occurred in the 3rd Round or later.
  • Mike Brown, Cincinnati Bengals (4 Up, 5 Down). The Bengals tend to work with the Draft picks given to them, and are also great at earning compensatory picks. It is important to note however, that their Trade-Down moves occur much earlier in the Draft than their Trade-Ups, if they do move at all.
  • Tom Telesco, Los Angeles Chargers (3 Up). The Chargers rarely make any Draft trades, preferring instead to sit tight. Nevertheless, there is a key detail to these three prior trade-ups for 2020 Draft purposes: all three occurred in the Top 50 picks. The one exception Telesco and the Chargers make to their no-trade approach… when they want to add a premier talent. The Chargers have been rumored to be in love with Justin Herbert, dating all the way back to 2019 before he made his decision to return to Oregon. Certainly something to keep an eye on with Detroit’s No. 3 pick.
  • Jerry & Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys (5 Up, 4 Down). The Cowboys have also been strong in the compensatory pick game much like the Cincinnati Bengals, and prefer to utilize their own Draft picks. They’ll make rare exceptions, but I wouldn’t count on any early-round trades in most years.
  • Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers (3 Up, 2 Down). Hurney is now in his second stint with Carolina, and so far has continued his strategy of utilizing the Draft picks his team is awarded from the NFL. Hurney is known for his big hits in the first round, but has had a rough go of it after that. I expected a much different off-season from the Carolina Panthers with an analytics-driven approach, but that doesn’t appear to be the case so far. So, while a few months ago I would’ve predicted a Trade-Down from No. 7 to stockpile picks and kick-start a well-timed rebuild (while three Hall Of Fame QBs in their division approach retirement), I’m not sure what to expect now.
  • Bob Quinn, Detroit Lions (2 Up, 1 Down). Quinn hasn’t been super active with Draft trades since taking over in 2016.

There is nothing inherently wrong with sticking with what you were given and trusting your Big Board. The Cowboys have been very strong drafters for example, but the rest of this list has struggled a bit in the Draft from 2011-2018. You don’t want to reach for players, and that seems somewhat unavoidable if you’re unwilling to move up or down.

Too soon to tell:

  • Chris Grier, Miami Dolphins (hired 2019 season). Grier has been stockpiling picks alright, but not via the Draft. I suspect he is just getting started in Miami.
  • Eric DeCosta, Baltimore Ravens (hired 2019 season). DeCosta is a disciple of longtime Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, but I want to see a few more Drafts from him before making any declarations. In 2019, the Ravens traded down early and then made a move up late. Newsome would have landed in the “maneuver Up & Down” category with 6 Trade-Ups to 8 Trade-Downs from 2011-2018, so DeCosta appears to have picked up where he let off.
  • Bill O’Brien (GM since 2019). While he just recently earned the title of GM, he presumably had some say in personnel decisions beforehand. Since he arrived in Houston in 2014, the Texans have traded up five times and moved back zero. I’d expect more of the same, but we’ll see.
  • Joe Douglas, New York Jets (hired 2020 season).
  • Andrew Berry, Cleveland Browns (hired 2020 season). Berry is a disciple of Sashi Brown, a.k.a. the Trade-Down King. No matter what you do with trades, you just have to scout talent better than Brown & Co. did during his time in Cleveland. If Berry can combine the smart, analytical approach of trading down with quality scouting… watch out NFL.
  • Ron Rivera, Washington Redskins (hired 2020 season).

Now that you know which Draft trade strategies you can expect from some NFL GMs, what have these trends led to in terms of increased/decreased Draft Capital over the years? While many GMs have come and gone over the course of the decade, for this research I took a look at overall team results. I broke down the Surplus Value Gained and Lost for every team from 2011-2018 according to the Jimmy Johnson, Rich Hill, Chase Stuart, and Fitzgerald-Spielberger Draft Value charts:

Draft Pick Value Gained/Lost 2011-2018 (Value as a Draft Pick # in parentheses)

The way I like to describe the difference between these first two Draft charts and the next two is this: The Jimmy Johnson and Rich Hill charts reflect the perceived trade value of each team’s Draft picks based on historical Draft trades. The Chase Stuart and Fitzgerald-Spielberger Draft charts reflect the true value of the Draft picks as players.

There are of course mixed results with any process, and at the end of the day scouting top talent is what matters most. To that end, the two best teams of the decade (Patriots & Seahawks) are No. 2 and No. 3 in Total Draft Value added per the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart. However, the worst team of the decade is also No. 1 (Browns).

The Browns only had the opportunity to be so high on this list because they routinely started with Top 5 picks in most Draft years, thus providing an opportunity to land a huge haul from QB-needy teams. Don’t be mistaken though, they also traded up to No. 3 and No. 8 over this span, selecting Trent Richardson and Justin Gilbert. Their final huge Trade-Down in 2017 was a success, netting them the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 from the Houston Texans (which they used on Denzel Ward). Unfortunately, they acquired that No. 12 pick by trading down from No. 2 with the Eagles in 2016 (Carson Wentz). And more unfortunately, that No. 12 pick was used on Deshaun Watson. Trading down is the smart move over the long run by a good margin, but you still have to hit on some of your newly acquired Draft picks.

The Draft is just five days away. Be prepared for much more chaos and the rumor mill to kick into overdrive.

Follow me on Twitter @BradOTC for analysis of every Draft trade of 2020. According to many reports, it could be a strange year for Draft trades because of the conditions surrounding COVID-19. Teams may look to unload 2020 Draft picks because they have less confidence in their player analysis as a result of far fewer Pro-Days and in-person visits. Should be interesting!

Looking at the Browns Past QB Trades That Built The Roster They Have Now

Next week I will be appearing on my friend Jack Duffin‘s podcast titled, “The Paul Brown Show,” so I’m looking over some of his questions for the upcoming episode to prepare. I hope you’ll be able to listen, I love talking about the Browns and the process they’ve gone through over the last few years; I’ll post a link on my Twitter when it’s up. 

Continue reading Looking at the Browns Past QB Trades That Built The Roster They Have Now »

Trading Dead Money & The NFL Expiring Contract

Dead money has historically served as an impediment to the consummation of player-related trades in the NFL, but recent trends in contract structuring have opened up the possibility for the opposite outcome to take place: dead money as a driver of player-related trades. The new, and increasingly common, contract structures employed by NFL teams allow for dead money to be assigned to any team, whereas traditional contract structures rendered dead money “stuck” with the team which had originally signed the player. As a result, much dead money is now “tradable,” allowing for NBA-style transactions in which one team provides compensation to another team in return for taking on cap-clogging contracts.

Prior to the trade deadline of the 2013 season, the Philadelphia Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga to the New England Patriots for marginal draft pick compensation. At first glance, the trade seemed fairly inconsequential. Sopoaga, while a starter, had not received a substantial amount of playing time for the Eagles, and the Patriots did not send a noteworthy amount of compensation in return. However, the transaction was somewhat surprising due to the fact that the Eagles had just signed Sopoaga to a three-year contract in free agency prior to the season. The contract, worth a total of $11 million, included $4.75 million worth of guaranteed money. The guaranteed money came in the form of a $2.75 million roster bonus in 2013, a $1 million guaranteed base salary in 2013, and $1 million of the $3.75 million 2014 base salary guaranteed.

This final portion of guaranteed money is what makes this transaction interesting and potentially precedent setting. The Eagles, having apparently decided that they did not want Sopoaga on the team anymore, managed to trade not only the player, but also the $1 million worth of guaranteed money, to the Patriots. If the Eagles had released Sopoaga in the spring of 2014, this $1 million worth of guaranteed money would have become $1 million worth of dead money for the Eagles. Instead, the Patriots released Sopoaga in the spring of 2014 and absorbed the dead money.

Under a “traditional” contract structure, the $4.75 million guaranteed (let’s use $4.8 million for the sake of round numbers) would have come in the form of a signing bonus, with $1.6 million counting against the cap each of the 3 seasons of the contract. If the player were to be traded or released prior to completion of the contract, the yet unaccounted for $1.6 million amounts would accelerate against the salary cap in the year of the transaction (or in the following year if the June 1st rule is applicable). With such a structure, the Eagles-Patriots trade would most likely not have taken place, because the Eagles would incur $3.2 million worth of dead money in 2014 had they traded Sopoaga during the 2013 regular season. The Patriots would receive a salary cap windfall – a player on a contract stripped of all prorated signing bonus amounts and without any potential to generate subsequent dead money – but the Eagles would receive a substantial salary cap hit.

An alternative traditional structure would have involved including the entire $4.8 million guarantee as a roster bonus in 2013. Such a structure would preclude any future dead money, but it also requires more salary cap space in the year of signing. Teams have also traditionally used a combination of signing bonus and first-year roster bonus, with the aforementioned pros and cons of each present to the degree of distribution between the two.

However, in the years since the 2011 CBA was signed, a new type of contract structure has emerged. With Sopoaga’s contract being an example, this new contract structure typically features a fully guaranteed first year base salary, a first-year roster bonus, and full or partial guarantees on subsequent-year base salaries. Under this structure, the salary cap allocation of the guaranteed money – and the potential dead money associated with such guaranteed money – is spread over multiple years. But because the guaranteed money comes in the form of guaranteed base salary, it can be traded to another team, whereas prorated signing bonus guaranteed money and first-year roster bonus guaranteed money cannot be.

These charts demonstrate the difference in potential Sopoaga contract structures:

Traditional Signing Bonus Structure

SeasonSalary Cap AllocationPotential Dead MoneyTradable?
2013$1,600,000$4,800,000NO
2014$1,600,000$3,200,000NO
2015$1,600,000$1,600,000NO

Traditional Roster Bonus Structure

SeasonSalary Cap AllocationPotential Dead MoneyTradable?
2013$4,800,000$4,800,000N/A
2014$0$0N/A
2015$0$0N/A

2011 CBA Style Structure

SeasonSalary Cap AllocationPotential Dead MoneyTradable?
2013$3,800,000$3,800,000Partial
2014$1,000,000$1,000,000YES
2015$0$0N/A

These effects have already been seen to some degree in trades involving failed rookies drafted under the new CBA, such as Trent Richardson and AJ Jenkins, but those trades still resulted in dead money for the player’s former team, and the contracts were not specifically designed to facilitate dead money trading.  Isaac Sopoaga’s contract is insignificant within the context of a $133,000,000 salary cap, but one can imagine a scenario in which this new type of contract structure  paves the way for significant dead money dumping deals.

The contract Alex Mack signed with Jacksonville, and which Cleveland matched, contains $8 million worth of guaranteed money in 2015, but it did not include a signing bonus.  If Alex Mack the football player becomes worthless during the 2014 season, how much compensation would Cleveland be willing to provide to another team in order for that team to trade for Mack’s contract and then release him, thereby absorbing the dead money instead of Cleveland?  In other words, how much (in terms of draft picks or young players) is $8 million in cap room worth?

These types of trades have long been a feature of the NBA, where salary cap space is harder to come by and the guaranteed portions of contracts extend longer than the types of NFL contracts discussed here. In the upcoming NBA draft the Detroit Pistons will send the 9th pick to the Charlotte Hornets as a result of a June 2012 trade in which the Pistons traded the two years remaining on Ben Gordon’s contract for the one year remaining on Cory Maggette’s contract. Detroit essentially traded a future first round pick in exchange for dumping two year’s worth of dead money onto Charlotte in exchange for only one year’s worth of dead money.

Perhaps the opportunity to have the flexibility to engage in this type of transaction will encourage teams to implement this type of contract structure more often. The teams that have gotten into serious salary cap trouble have done so because they were forced to release players with large cap numbers but did not recoup a corresponding amount of cap room because of high dead money acceleration. If these teams could trade the dead money to other teams, they could buy themselves another year or two of contention at the expense of draft picks. This most likely exacerbates the problem in the long-term, but it’s a strategy nonetheless.

Perhaps a rebuilding team with ample cap room will determine that its best long-term strategy is to utilize its cap room to take on dead money contracts in trades in exchange for draft picks instead of utilizing the cap room to sign free agents or re-sign its own players. The merits of such a strategy are debatable, but it is a strategy that a patient organization could potentially utilize to success.

Perhaps the term “expiring contract” will enter the NFL lexicon for the same reason it has become widespread in that of the NBA.  But unlike the Sopoaga trade, dead money trades will likely feature the team alleviating itself of the dead money surrendering the draft pick compensation.  As a result, a market will emerge in which amounts of cap room can be priced in terms of draft picks and/or young players.

Having established the foundation for this concept, in my next piece I will propose a new contract structure that takes this notion to its logical extreme in allowing for maximum flexibility in trading and timing the effect of dead money.

Bryce Johnston

eaglescap@yahoo.com, @eaglessalarycap

Thoughts on Trading in the NFL

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Apparently the NFL is slowly turning into MLB with all the trade activity of the past few weeks. Trades, with the exception of draft day trading, have always been pretty rare in the NFL. In season trades for starters were almost unheard of due to the difficulties in sometimes fitting new players into a system, but the times are changing.

It began with the big trade of Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns to the Indianapolis Colts which was followed up by back to back moves that brought starting Left Tackles to  the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. There are plenty of more rumored trades on the horizon and with weeks to go until the trading deadline maybe some more materialize. So why the seeming increase in trade activity?  Let’s look at some of the reasons.

The 2011 CBA plays two major roles in facilitating trades.  The first is the rookie wage scale which applies to Richardson and should play more of a role in future years. I touched on this when looking at the Richardson trade, but essentially the new CBA has eliminated the use of the option bonus and not likely to be earned incentives and escalators from all rookie contracts. While the trade of Richardson was certainly expensive in cap dollars for Cleveland it was a few million less than it would have been in the old CBA. For the acquiring team they only take on reasonable base salaries rather than highly escalated salaries of the old style rookie contracts, giving them reason to  take a chance on what seems to be an underperforming player. I’d expect to see more trades of high draft picks like this in the future.

Perhaps the biggest reason lies in the changing of the spending requirements of the CBA. Under the old CBA team spending was tied to salary cap dollars. Teams were required to spend around 90% of the unadjusted salary cap number. That, in turn, led to less carryover for each NFL team and the utilization of a good chunk of cap space by the time the season began. Trading away a piece that saves you a few million dollars likely meant that you would need to find a way to re-spend those cap dollars to be compliant with the salary cap limits by the end of the season, making you think twice about such a move.

The way that the salary cap is structured for most teams now makes it easier to make these moves. There are no salary cap minimums and the cash minimums are maintained over 4 year periods. You no longer have to sink money into players you do not want in a given year. Now teams can just perform a salary dump while they prepare to rebuild. Huge carryovers give teams added cap space to absorb large accelerated charges with minimal problems and may give teams more room to absorb new players. While the latter was not the case with the Steelers and Ravens, in the future my guess is teams with cap space to spare will be making these trades, and some of those teams would not have existed before 2011.

I tend to think the trades also show the more progressive movements and general youth in the front offices. I certainly think there was a time when the NFL front office looked at everyone not in the NFL as a complete outsider to the NFL system. What they did or suggested would never work because they have never been on a sideline or in a huddle. Much of the league has moved away from that. Many GM’s in the NFL come from financial management backgrounds much moreso than football backgrounds. They have a much different approach to managing contracts and the risk management associated with cap structure than before.

In my years of primarily following the Jets salary cap I used to note how the team was using guaranteed salary in lieu of large signing bonuses to get players under contract. They were not the only  team doing this by any means, but it was a very different approach  than the traditional “give a star a monster bonus” approach that was used for many years. Teams like Tampa Bay have taken it a step further and eliminated signing bonuses entirely. While these contracts can be a problem if the players fail to perform they are all very open ended for trade possibilities. The dead money of the trade in these scenarios is limited giving teams every opportunity to move a player. While it has not happened yet, I would imagine it is something that may happen more in the future. It’s an example of the league moving forward.

We see more openness in the NFL now than ever before. The opinions of those in the media or sitting in the seats maybe has some merit to it. Teams are embracing statistical analysis and “outside the NFL” evaluations and thoughts. That would have been unheard of 15 years ago.  Teams are starting in analytical departments, giving credence to various people who don’t work in the NFL but immerse themselves in a facet of the NFL such as statistics. That type of change also means more outside the box thinking that sees the regularity of trades in the NBA and MLB and begins to think “why not” the NFL.  I mean if you can sign a player off the street in September and get him up to speed why not simply execute a trade?  It’s just a matter of making the financials work and teams are getting more advanced with that every year.

Now for all I know this will be the end of the trades for this season in the NFL, but I think we are beginning to see the  start of a new direction in the NFL, one that is open to trades and constructing contracts to facilitate them.

Follow @Jason_OTC

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Looking at Past NFL Player for Draft Pick Trades

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With the Darrelle Revis trade about to go down I wanted to go back and look at some of the trades for players over the last 10 years or so as we begin to make early judgments on who got the better or worse value in the trade. Id say in general none of the trades have been franchise defining for the team giving away the first round pick. Based on the fact that Revis is looking for a new deal and is considered a top defensive talent I would look at the Jared Allen trade as a trade that might hold some weight in terms of compensation. Gut feeling is that some combination of a 1st, 3rd, and 4th/5th would be considered a pretty fair trade. Two first round picks would be an absolute steal for the Jets.

Here are the player for 1st round pick trades I could come up with since 2000, plus some brief comments on each. (Credit to Pro Sports Transactions for making it easy on me to look these up)

2000

Jets trade WR Keyshawn Johnson to the Buccaneers for the 13th and 27th pick. Johnson did win a Super Bowl in Tampa and have two productive seasons before being shut down by the head coach in 2003 and traded that offseason;

Seahawks trade WR Joey Galloway to Cowboys for a first rounder in 2000 and 2001. The picks are the 19th and 7th picks in the draft. Galloway was a total bust for the Cowboys

2001

Rams traded QB Trent Green to the Chiefs for the 12th and 150th pick in the draft.  Green was productive with the Chiefs even if the playoff results were not there

Rams traded DE Kevin Carter to the Titans for the 29th pick in the draft. Carter didn’t put up the sack numbers in Tennessee but was a solid starter on a good defense though only there for 4 seasons

2002

Saints traded RB Ricky Williams and a 4th round pick to the Dolphins for the 25th pick in the draft and a conditional 2003 first round pick that ended up being the 18th pick in the draft.  Williams’ first year in Miami was great, but within 2 years he retired from football. He returned in 2005 only to get suspended for drugs in 2006.

2003

Jets received the 13th pick in the draft as compensation from the Redskins for RFA WR Laveranues Coles. Coles made 1 Pro Bowl with the Redskins before being traded back to the Jets in 2005

Patriots traded QB Drew Bledsoe to the Bills for the 14th pick in the draft. Bledsoe lasted three years as a Bills starter producing 1 Pro Bowl and 0 playoff appearances.

2005

Vikings traded WR Randy Moss to the Raiders for the 7th and 219th picks. Moss was a complete bomb for Oakland, quitting on his team until a trade to New England saved his career.

Raiders traded TE Doug Jolley, the 47th pick, the 182nd and 185th pick to the Jets for the 26th pick and the 230th pick. This was harder to include since it did involve a 2nd rounder that was close to the 1st the Jets gave up, but Jolley was such an epic failure and this such a bad trade I wanted to include it.

2006

Jets trade DE John Abraham to the Falcons for the 29th pick in the draft. Abraham had a long and productive career in Atlanta that saw multiple playoff appearances and 4 double digit sack seasons

Patriots trade WR Deion Branch to the Seahawks for a 2007 1st round pick that proved to be the 24th pick in the draft. Branch was a bust for the Seahawks and sent back  to the Patriots after 4 unproductive seasons.

2008

Chiefs trade DE Jared Allen and the 187th pick to Vikings for the 17th, 73rd, 82nd, and 182nd pick. Allen has been one of the most dominant pressure generating ends in the league since being acquired by the Vikings

2009

Bills trade LT Jason Peters to Eagles for the 28th and 121st pick. Peters had 3 Pro Bowl seasons for the Eagles before being injured off the field this past season.

Broncos trade QB Jay Cutler and the 140th pick to the Bears for the 18th pick , 84th pick and Kyle Orton. The Broncos also received a 2010 first rounder that was the 11th pick in the draft. Cutler has twice led the Bears to the playoffs though he has not been considered a top tier QB.

2011

Raiders trade a 1st rounder in 2012 and 2nd rounder in 2013 to the Bengals for QB Carson Palmer. The picks end up being the 17th and 37th picks in the draft. Palmer was traded off the Raiders before they even accounted for the 2nd round pick involved in this trade

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