Anatomy Of A Trade Down: The Quiet #13 Pick

Scott Halleran

The NFL Draft is 3 months away. The Rams hold the #2 and #13 selections in the first round. In all likelihood the Rams will be attempting to trade down the #2 pick. What will they do with the #13 selection? Part five, of a ten-part off season primer series, examines the Rams' trade down options, and how a trade down is consummated.

Mock Draft season is swinging into high gear. With the #2 and #13 overall selections, many are contemplating what the Rams will do with those picks, particularly the #2 overall selection. A popular scenario involves the Rams trading down the #2 for a bounty of additional selections. Almost forgotten in these scenarios is the possibility of the Rams trading down the #13 selection. Will they consider trading down the pick? What are the processes involved in consummating a trade down?

Why trading down from #13 is a feasible and attractive option

  • As proven in the last two drafts, Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are not averse to considering trade down possibilities. They have accomplished 4 trade downs: 3 in 2012, and 1 in 2013.
  • The new CBA, the relatively flat salary cap, and the Rams' commitment to building through the draft all favor accumulating draft picks. More picks across the draft - especially in the hands of Fisher and Snead - equals more opportunities to find successful players at good value.
  • The Rams have been quite successful - during the Fisher/Snead regime - in selecting quality players in later rounds, from picks acquired as a result of trading down in the 1st round.
  • A record 102 players with college eligibility remaining declared for the 2014 NFL draft. As a result, this draft is expected to be brimming with talent and very deep.
  • Sports Illustrated's Peter King confirms the potential of the 2014 draft:

    "Even though NFL teams have just started their evaluation of the underclassmen, general managers universally believe this will be the deepest draft ever because of the influx."

    "That could lead to a rash of trade downs—including picking up seventh-round selections to get a jump on undrafted free agency—and teams using picks from the ’15 draft to get more picks this year."

  • The Rams have fewer needs and holes in the roster than they did two years ago. The remaining needs and depth issues will be addressed in the upcoming draft. Additional picks acquired by trading down would be beneficial in resolving those issues. The composition of this draft is set up very well for the Rams to trade down and align need with value.

The anatomy of a trade down

Trading an NFL draft pick is a very complex transaction. Most often, it resembles dealings in a Wall Street commodity futures trading pit, combined with a chapter straight out of an economics textbook. Most NFL draft pick trades are conducted using the age-old principles of horse-trading, fair market value, and the supply/demand equation.

Supply

If the Rams were to contemplate trading down the #13 selection in the draft, the first step taken would be making the pick available to the other 31 teams. The decision to make the pick available depends on three considerations:

  1. Is there a player available at #13 the Rams covet, who they would rather select than making the pick available to other teams?
  2. Is the same player the Rams covet likely to be available at a later pick if they trade down? Are the picks acquired in a trade down worth the risk of losing the coveted player to another team?
  3. If the player the Rams covet is chosen before the later pick, are there other players high on the Rams' board likely to be available with the pick they traded down to?

The trade down with Atlanta in the 2013 draft - from #22 to #30 - is an excellent example of this decision making process. The Rams targeted Alec Ogletree - and would have selected him at #22 - yet took the risk of him being selected before the #30 pick. Luckily for the Rams, Ogletree was still on the board at the #30 spot. The Rams picked Ogletree, despite receiving an offer from Minnesota to trade up for the #30 selection.

From the Rams' perspective, too much "supply" in the draft could be an unwelcome sight. If many teams make their draft picks available for trading down, it might hinder demand for the Rams' picks, and reduce their value.

Demand

In addition to making the draft pick available for trading, there must be demand created for the selection by another team [i.e.: a team willing to trade up for it]. The willingness of a team to trade up will be based on three considerations:

  1. What will it cost them - in terms of picks - for trading up?
  2. The team must be coveting/ targeting a particular player on their board who is available at the #13 spot in the draft.
  3. The team must assess whether the targeted player could fall to them at their initial position in the draft order, precluding the need for trading up. They must look at the teams in front of them in the draft order, and determine how many of those teams could potentially select their targeted player. In essence, they are determining how far they have to trade up - or leapfrog - past other teams to ensure they get their targeted player.

From the Rams perspective, they ideally would like to see more than one team interested in moving up to the #13 position. Increased demand makes the pick more valuable, and will garner a better return.

Trade considerations and valuations

An important consideration in this type of transaction is trade value. Each team will want to receive what they feel is fair and equal value in the trade. It's widely assumed NFL teams use trade value charts (link) in determining what draft pick considerations should be exchanged in a trade. I believe NFL teams only use the charts as a minor, quick- reference tool. Instead, trades are consummated using a common economic principle known as "fair market value".

Fair market value is the agreed-upon price at which a willing buyer will buy from a willing seller. No better examples exist of this principle than both the real estate and stock markets. A good example of fair market value principles being applied - as they relate to NFL draft trades - occurred in 2012, when the Rams traded down the #6 pick overall to the Dallas Cowboys, for their #14 and #45 selections. Many thought the Rams didn't get enough in return for the #6 pick. The trade value charts supported that view. The Rams should have received anywhere from additional 5th and 6th round picks, to an additional 4th round selection, according to the charts. Why didn't the Rams receive the additional pick(s) from Dallas? Because the trade was made using the principles of fair market value. The Cowboys were only willing to give up their 2nd round pick in the trade. There were no better offers from other teams. The Rams weighed their options, decided the trade considerations were fair and equitable, and willingly accepted the offer. This scenario was repeated in 2013, where the Rams received less than "trade chart value" in their trade down with Atlanta in the 1st round.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King was in the Rams' war room for the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In his article "The Panic Room" (link), King describes in detail how the trades - resulting in the Rams acquiring Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree - were conducted. Les Snead summed up his own day in the war room:

"Felt like Wall Street in there tonight. Is that what it's like on Wall Street?"

In an article for SB Nation, Kenneth Arthur brilliantly dissected the use of trade value charts (link). He summarizes their use in the following excerpt:

"Teams do not trade for draft picks, they trade for players. The teams trading away players sometimes are acquiring simply "draft picks," but their reasoning behind what draft picks they are willing to accept is no more arbitrary than a chart with point totals, a Harvard study with unqualified values assigned to picks or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich getting sent off for your other Twix."

There are other aspects of trade value charts that reveal their limitations in determining draft pick values:

  1. The charts make no allowance for the composition of drafts. They assume all drafts are alike. The 2014 draft is likely to be the deepest in NFL history. Although the first round appears to have quality high-end talent, it's not the best ever historically. Conversely, other drafts have not been deep, yet were notable for very high quality first round talent. An incredibly strong 3rd-4th round - coupled with a weak 1st round - renders the point values useless.The point values ascribed to every pick on the trade value charts would need to be adjusted every year before the draft, to account for a particular years draft strength and composition. The 1st overall selection in this years draft should not have the same point value as 2012, when Andrew Luck was available with the 1st overall pick. There's little doubt the Rams will prove the validity of this argument in the 2014 draft. If the Rams trade down the #2 overall pick this year, they will not receive near the bounty of picks obtained for the #2 pick - RG3 - in 2012.
  2. Trade value charts have no mechanism for valuing future draft picks included in a trade. The charts assign points to each pick in the draft. Value is virtually impossible to determine, as a future pick could fall anywhere from 1 to 32 in a particular round. A good example is the Rams' trade with Washington in 2012. Would anyone have predicted one of the Rams' future 1st round picks from the trade ending up a #2 overall selection in 2014? Teams arbitrarily devalue future draft picks in a trade [the most common devaluation is one round]; however, many teams will place differing values on future picks. Future picks could come into play for the Rams in the 2014 draft if they trade down the #2 selection. At present, I believe the Minnesota Vikings would be an excellent trade down partner in the 2014 draft. They are in need of a quarterback, have a new coach, and GM Rick Spielman is not afraid to trade up for a player he covets (witness 2013, where he traded 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round picks to move up to #29, and selected WR Cordarrelle Patterson). If the Rams were to trade down with Minnesota, receiving the Vikings #8 selection, plus a 2015 1st round pick, and a 2nd plus 4th round pick in 2014, would not be out of the realm of possibility. The farther the Rams trade down the #2 selection, the higher the likely return.
  3. The human element is an important consideration in the NFL draft, especially when teams are contemplating a trade involving draft picks. Every NFL team has a draft philosophy unique to their organization and front office. Each franchise has a unique situation and different motivations going into the draft. Every general manager values players and draft picks differently. Trade value charts do not account for the human element in their methodology, let alone the randomness of human behavior. Nor do they account for the vast experience and knowledge GM's, coaches, and scouts have in determining player and draft pick values. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have a combined 48 years of NFL experience.

Case Study: The Rams trade the #13 pick to the Miami Dolphins for their #19 pick, and additional 3rd and 4th round selections

This trade down scenario is an example of what could materialize on day one of the draft. Two assumptions are made for this scenario: the Rams have examined all options and considerations in making the #13 pick available, and Jeff Fisher will hold true to his draft history of not drafting an offensive lineman in the first round.

The Miami Dolphins went through a tumultuous season in 2013. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin mess wreaked havoc on the offensive line, and the team as a whole. Neither Martin or Incognito are expected back in a Dolphins uniform. In addition, aging offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo - brought in on one year contracts to shore up the offensive line - are not expected to be re-signed. Entering the off season, the guard and tackle positions head the list of Dolphins needs.

In this scenario, the Dolphins resolve one of their offensive line problems before the NFL draft. The Dolphins - with ample salary cap space - sign right tackle Austin Howard from the New York Jets. Left tackle remains their #1 priority, one they hope to address in the first round of the draft.

There are 4 tackles on the Dolphins board as first round possibilities: Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan, and Cyrus Kouandjio. On draft night, the Dolphins watch as Matthews (Atlanta) and Robinson (Tampa Bay) are selected in the top ten. The Dolphins are interested in trading up to #13 to select Taylor Lewan, who now sits at the top of their board. They realize both Lewan and Kouandjio may be gone by the 19th pick. Pittsburgh (15th pick) and Baltimore (16th pick) both need an offensive tackle. Arizona - with the 20th pick - also needs an offensive tackle, and may be willing to move up to get one. The Rams and Dolphins agree on a trade. The Dolphins receive the #13 pick, and the Rams in return receive the #19 pick, plus Miami's 3rd and 4th round selections.

The trade values were determined by analyzing and assessing all 2012 draft trades (link), plus all trades associated with the 2013 draft (link). The traditional trade value chart suggested the Rams should have received 3rd, 4th, AND a 5th round picks. According to the newer Harvard trade value chart, the Rams should only have received the #19 pick, plus a 7th round selection. This trade simulation factors in a myriad of considerations, without the use of trade value charts.

How valuable are 3rd and 4th round picks in the hands of Jeff Fisher and Les Snead? They've been quite successful at finding good value, quality players in those rounds: T.J. McDonald, Stedman Bailey, Trumaine Johnson, Barrett Jones, and Chris Givens. The 2014 draft is projected to be very deep. With additional picks in the middle rounds, Fisher and Snead should have little trouble replicating the results of the last two years.

2014-nfl-draft_medium

All of the principles outlined herein can also be applied to the Rams' #2 overall selection. The phones will be ringing. Day one of the draft should find Jeff Fisher and Les Snead right in the middle of the action and intrigue.

The 2014 NFL Draft will again be held at the Radio City Music Hall (May 8-10) in mid-town Manhattan. The Rams' war room will be some 950 miles away in St. Louis. The first round of the draft could leave them feeling like they're 6 miles away...down on Wall Street.

Off Season Primer Series

Part 1 - Salary Capping The St. Louis Rams' Off Season (link)

Part 2 - The Offensive Line (link)

Part 3 - Younger In 2014? (link)

Part 4 - 4 By March 11 (link)

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