Valuing the Draft Day Trades

With round 1 complete in the draft I wanted to go back and value the trades that happened. To do this I’ll be looking at the financials involved in the trade and see how much value was obtained in a trade. The basics of my net value formula look at three criteria.

The first criteria is what is the expected return on the draft pick. This is based on my draft rating metric which translates a draft slot into an expected veteran salary. So for example the 2nd pick in the draft if expected to give you a $7.8M per year player.

The second criteria looks at the financial risk per year invested in the players. Essentially this is the guarantee per year that you are setting aside for the player. For first round picks that is more or less their entire contract while it’s only a signing bonus for the final picks. In theory every dollar saved here can be used to improve the team elsewhere.

Finally I want to look at the value obtained by determining the difference between their expected contribution and projected contract value on a yearly basis. The difference between the two numbers is effectively the excess return you are getting on the player. For instance paying $2M for a $5M player is a solid excess return. Theoretically that value can be sunk back into the team at a later date on veterans to improve areas of weakness or maintain areas of strength.

Adding all those numbers together gives the net value that can be gained by a team per year over the next few years. It doesn’t, of course, mean that a team will actually gain that value (many picks flop, others are home runs and savings aren’t necessarily spent) but it can give you an idea of how much they could gain.

Trade 1: Chicago/San Francisco

Winner: 49ers acquired $12.6M in net value

Chicago traded the 3rd, 67th, and 111th pick in this draft plus a 4th rounder next year to acquire the 49ers 2nd pick this year. The expected return on the 2nd pick in the draft is that of a $7.8M player, which is not much higher than the $7.5M return associated with the 3rd pick in the draft. So for the most part all the other picks are just bonus players. Those additional picks should provide San Francisco with a $3.3, $2.1, and $2.8M quality player, so basically three quality situational players who are contributors. The Bears do net a small safety in guarantees, paying about $1.5M less than the 49ers which can be used to acquire other players. The 49ers will also obtain about $6M in additional cap value compared to just $250,000 for the Bears which should also be money that can be spent, in theory, elsewhere in free agency.

This is a landslide for San Francisco and about the only way that this evens up is if Trubisky hits the high end of value. Normally that would be around $12M, but when you factor in the cost of a QB and the benefit to the team that would be higher. So for this to even remotely work out on paper Trubisky will need to perform in the $18-20M range. Clearly the Bears think he can do that and they gave up a ton to see if that can happen.

Trade 2: Kansas City/Buffalo

Winner: Bills acquired $7.9M in net value

Kansas City trades the 27th and 91st picks this year plus next years first rounder to grab the 10th overall pick from the Bills. A lot of the value here is contingent on where this pick is next season. For the time being since the Chiefs were a playoff team I valued it as the 21st pick in the draft. If they end up like the Vikings and drop out of the playoffs this trade moves even more in the Bills favor.

This is an interesting trade for the Chiefs because they currently have a very expensive roster and the only thing that does not make this entirely lopsided in the Bills favor is that by dumping a first rounder next year the Chiefs save themselves somewhere in the ballpark of $11M in guaranteed salary. So in theory they are saving money that can either help them retain current players or sign someone in free agency. For a “win now” kind of team there can be some merit in that. KC has to remain a playoff team to justify that logic. Any drop out of the playoffs renders that argument completely null and then this becomes a landslide for the Bills, bigger than the trade above.

In terms of cap value the Bills wipe them out with an expected gain of over $6.2 in expected benefits vs cost compared to just a bit over $2M for the Chiefs. Like with the trade above, that value can improve for KC if the QB pans out since their value is much more than that of an average draft pick, but they need to hit here. The Chiefs can probably recapture one pick next year by trading Alex Smith which can also be a factor.

This is not the guaranteed home run of the first trade but the Bills have potential to really make out if that first round pick is high. This trade is entirely against anything and everything the Bills front office has done for 20+ years which as a Jets fan Im not thrilled with. I can see some logic in this for the Chiefs too but if this is not a seamless transition from Smith to Mahomes with no loss of playoffs in between this can be a nightmare.

Trade 3: Cleveland/Houston

Winner: Browns acquired $4.8M in net value

This was almost equal to the Bills trade except the Texans did not have to include a 3rd round pick which almost makes the trade even. In terms of pure value with no financial considerations the Browns were a clear winner gaining about $4M in the trade. Like the Bills one this also can have big time gains beyond that if the Texans fail to make the playoffs this year. There is probably a far greater likelihood of that happening than the Chiefs missing out. The Texans have more or less been a playoff team the last few seasons in part because of how bad the AFC South is. If the Titans and Colts have improved that makes things more difficult for the Texans and unlike the Chiefs the Texans have no veteran QB to use this year. So in that respect my guess is Cleveland comes out with a big win when its all over.

The benefit for Houston here is solely financial in that they are projecting to have any issues coming up with extension for DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney. If that’s an issue, writing off $10M or so in guaranteed salary next year for a rookie may be justifiable even though its going to be better to cut ties with a veteran for flexibility than dumping a rookie.

Trade 3: Atlanta/Seattle

Winner: Seahawks acquired $5.5M in net value

One of the most questionable trades of the night came from Atlanta moving up a few spots and in return gave up two additional picks. The 7th rounder may have little more than replacement level value (its basically the same value as a minimum salary vet trying to make the team) but to get a third rounder to drop down 5 slots where the difference in return is next to nothing is a big win.

I love this move for the Seahawks. They gain $3.2M in projected draft value, will basically save about $500,000 in guaranteed salary risk, and stand to benefit about $4M in terms of contract value vs performance level. That’s just a great play by them and they have gotten pretty good at these late draft moves.

Trade 4: Cleveland/Green Bay

Winner: Packers acquired $4.4M in net value

Whenever you can trade a few slots back into the second round you should always do it. The cost of the 2nd round pick drops tremendously and the expected return is almost no different.  It’s the same as acquiring a $2M player for absolutely nothing.  Moving back into the first round for a tight end is definitely a curious decision as there is less to gain from that than the more expensive impact positions as well. Like Seattle Green Bay is a master of this move. The Browns basically end up even on the night after this one.

I did receive a lot of comments last night about the concept of having the option 5th year versus the non-option but lower cost rookie contract so Ill just share my thoughts here on it. If you are a proactive organization that typically extends early or clearly conveys the value to players agents the option year is of little benefit. Using Seattle as an example- did not having an option year impact their negotiations with Russell Wilson or Richard Sherman?  No. Did the Packers having an option on Datone Jones change their ultimate end game with him?  No. If the player is good enough he’ll be extended regardless of where he was drafted. The franchise tag is always in play as well.

If you are a team that tends to struggle with decisions, is constantly capped out, etc… then the option is something that may be of added benefit. A team like the Jets with Muhammad Wilkerson benefitted from that option because they could not make a decision on what to do with him and they wanted him to linger there while they figured it out.

Until I see the option somehow being a massive benefit to either a reduced contract rate or the lack of an option causing a team to grossly overpay/lose a player I would not be concerned about losing an extra year of control on a player Im likely extending anyway.

Trade 5: San Francisco/Seattle

Winner: Seahawks acquired $4.2M in net value

Pretty much everything written about the prior trade applies here as they are virtual images of one another. After this trade went down I think you can argue that the Seahawks had the best trade return on the night and moving up for a linebacker for the 49ers does put a bit of a damper on how great that first trade was for them.  I know it can be disappointing when your team trades out of the first but Seattle is in a position where getting more darts is important because they have a number of veteran decisions coming up. If one of those players hits they can save millions of risky dollars that they are going to have to reinvest in a soon to be 30 year old player. That’s a big savings if they can avoid that kind of contract.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc