The Bears and Broncos kicked off the April festivities with the Jay Cutler blockbuster that brought Denver the 18th overall pick and a third-rounder this year to go along with a first-round pick next year.
|The Cutler blockbuster opens the draft-trade season in high style. (AP)|
It's unlikely many of those trades will come within the top 10 overall picks -- those spots don't hold the allure they once did due to the massive amount of guaranteed money those players will command.
But there will be plenty of buzz in the opening hours at Radio City Music Hall when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the lectern to announce, "There has been a trade."
Do teams trading up to get that coveted prospect or veteran typically get the better end of the bargain? Or does the trade-down philosophy really enable teams to stockpile more contributors on the roster?
Ups and downs
A team typically trades up because it believes a particular player could take them to the next level -- whether it's trying to return to contention or reach the Super Bowl.
But reaching for a need or for one player at a position brings inherent risk. The data below actually suggests the team trading up usually gets less production from the player(s) it receives than the team trading down.
The statistics are compiled from 169 pick-for-pick trades completed from 1994-2008. Only trades in which both teams used all picks in the current draft to select players were included, which eliminates those including future picks or where a team moved one of its new picks to another team.
Trades are categorized by the top pick included. Each player selected through these trades was given a point value based on his performance for each season he played with that team. Players received one point in a season they played for the team but started less than eight games, three points if they started between eight and 15 games, five points if they started all 16 games and 12 points if they reached the Pro Bowl or were named to an All-Pro team.
The point values were assigned based on the likelihood of a player achieving each level. For example, players are approximately 12 times less likely to be Pro Bowlers/All-Pros than reserves in a given season so they receive 12 times the points for reaching that level of success.
|Trade Success: Pick-for-pick|
|Pick-for-pick||Team moving up||Average points|
|Traded picks||Win percentage||Per trade per team|
There are only two selection areas where the team trading up has a better than 50 percent chance of winning the trade, according to the terms used here. Moving up into the Nos. 11-20 overall area has been the best bet over time, as teams benefited from picking up players like Cutler, Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and former Raiders wide receiver Javon Walker.
Of course, the other side of that equation is the players selected by the team trading down. The Packers used the throw-in fifth-round pick in the 2002 trade of Walker (Green Bay moved up to No. 20 overall) to select Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman, while the Seahawks selected tight end Jerramy Stevens and defensive lineman Anton Palepoi with their new first- and second-round choices. Decisions made by both teams determine the final result of any trade.
The other area of the draft where trading up pays off more often than not (although just barely) is on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the average production points per trade from the late fourth through the seventh rounds is so low that winning those trades doesn't really translate into a significant difference on the field.
The numbers show that each team receives an average of 35.8 points per trade when the top pick is in the top 10 overall selections. That's the equivalent of finding a six- to seven-season starter who could be a Pro Bowl candidate.
The average point value for trades outside the first three rounds, however, is 5.2 -- that equates to finding a two- or three-year reserve or special teams contributor. There just aren't a lot of Tom Bradys and Terrell Davises available late on Sunday, even if you trade up into the fourth or fifth rounds.
Figuring the odds
There are a couple of ways for teams trading up within the first three rounds to give themselves a better chance at success.
For the team moving up, the likelihood of winning a trade increases when the jump is only a few spots. If the team trading up moves five or less spots, its chance of gaining more points than its trade partner is 47.9 percent. Moving up between six and 20 spaces brings only a 33.3-39.8 percent chance of winning the trade.
This occurs because the extra pick traded away to move up the one or two spots comes on Sunday afternoon and has a low likelihood of becoming a really strong player. It's hard to blame the team trading down, however, as it still likely got the player it wanted (at a lesser contract) plus it received that extra choice, even if he doesn't have a great chance of succeeding at the next level.
Franchises' interested in moving up in the top two rounds can also maximize their success by insisting on a throw-in pick in the fifth or sixth rounds. The Packers-Seahawks trade mentioned earlier is one good example of how getting that late pick can potentially pay off. Although history tells us that finding a Pro Bowl player in the fifth round is fairly small, it is better than nothing.
Of the eight two-for-two pick trades within the 169 examined in this article, the team trading up won four and tied two more. The fact that only eight of 169 trades were two-for-two shows that teams trading down are typically attempting to stockpile draft picks.
After making a trade to move up for a coveted prospect in the first rounds, some teams attempt to trade down from one of its other selections to regain the lost pick. If those new picks come in the third or fourth rounds, they could potentially lessen the blow. But trying to make up for the loss of a second-round pick by picking up a couple of sixth-round picks is not likely to be successful.
History is not on the side of wide receiver Roy Williams being a big success in Dallas, at least in comparison to that of the first- and third--round selections the Cowboys sent to the Lions in the deal.
Player-for-pick trades have similar history to the pick-for-pick trades. According to the data below, which applies the same points system used in the previous table on 249 such trades from 1994-2008, gaining veterans by trading picks becomes generally more successful the later the lost pick comes.
|Trade Success: Player-for-pick|
|Player-for-pick||Team moving up||Average points|
|Traded picks||Win percentage||Per trade per team|
Teams giving up top 150 picks for a veteran have about a 40-60 chance of seeing more production from that player than the draft picks given up in the deal. Two of the selection areas (51-64, 97-115) have seen better results than the others, however, as good teams appear to have the ability to fit in veterans like wide receiver Wes Welker (New England), defensive end Trace Armstrong (Miami) and defensive back Aeneas Williams (St. Louis) into the fold.
As for the fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall) the Raiders received for wide receiver Randy Moss? Cornerback John Bowie has a long road ahead to match Moss' production in New England -- even if he recovers from the knee injury that sidelined him all of last season.
Most player-for-pick trades involve fourth- to seventh-round picks, however, which is why the overall success rate for the teams receiving the player crosses the 50 percent barrier.
But the average point total for each team in these trades is even lower than those involving late-round draft picks. They only get one or two years as a reserve from the veteran they gained.
General George Cutler
There haven't been many trades similar to the one the Broncos and Bears pulled off April 2. But one seems to stick out as a particularly interesting comparison.
In March 1994, the Colts sent off malcontent (and disappointing) quarterback Jeff George to the Falcons for two first-round picks and a third-rounder. This was only four years after Indianapolis gave up players and picks to move into the No. 1 overall slot to select George in the 1990 draft.
Some detractors have compared Cutler to George because both have great physical talents but have struggled to prove they have the maturity to match. It's too early to judge Cutler, but his reputation certainly took a hit during the unfolding drama.
So how did that 1994 trade turn out? The Falcons got two-plus seasons out of George before he made himself unwelcome by ripping the team's coaches and administration. The Colts used the future first-round pick to select eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison. But then they traded that year's first- and third-round picks gained from Atlanta to move up and select linebacker Trev Alberts, who spent just three injury-filled years in the league.
Denver could likely move into the top five overall picks on April 25 by using its No. 12 and 18 picks, bringing Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez into play. All of the free agents the Broncos signed this offseason may lead them to believe they can afford to spend two high picks to find a future franchise quarterback.
But the Broncos might want to consider the historical evidence in this article before making another big splash.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.