The Eagles' sweeping draft-pick swap with the Saints this week wasn't really about next year's supposedly improved quarterback draft class. It was, at its core, about asset reallocation and balance and sustained team building.
And it makes total sense.
Philadelphia and New Orleans swapped first-round picks for 2022 and, along the way, the Eagles picked up an additional first-round pick in 2023 and a second in 2024. The Eagles have been largely lauded for the trade, and for good reason. Only I wouldn't focus so much on the relative strengths and weaknesses of any potential draft position group as part of the post-trade calculus.
After talking to multiple sources with knowledge of each team's thinking, here is what I would posit. For the Eagles, this was about the relative merits of having three swings in the first round of one particular first round, rather than what could be gained by having the latitude to move up and down future draft boards that comes with already having multiple first-round picks in tow. In terms of team building, if you manage to hit on all three first-round picks, then you are staring at potentially three fifth-year options with major pay jumps all coming at once, versus having that spread out over multiple years.
"It's really about trying to balance your roster and be in best position to execute a short- and long-term plan," is how one source summed it up. And I totally get it.
Furthermore, consider the rare dynamics of this first round. Eight teams control half of the first round, with two picks each. When you look at the teams ahead of the Eagles, the Giants, Jets and Texans control six of the first 13 picks alone. Trying to mock that up and discern the players who will fall to you is difficult under normal circumstances, and bizarre under these ones. Consider how much that dynamic could impact future trades, and the ramifications of what that means as to actual player selection. Could there be more certainty in 2023, with fewer teams having multiple picks?
"I would think that was on Howie's (Eagles GM Howie Roseman) mind when he pulled this off," one NFL GM told me. "I have never seen a draft like this before, with so many teams holding multiple first-round picks. Never. Never. Never. This is a new one for all of us. This is unique."
As for the Saints, I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that this is about a quarterback for them, or having enough draft capital to leap ahead of QB-needy division rivals like the Falcons or Panthers. New Orleans can be a tough team to read, but I spoke to multiple GMs who believe this trade is more about going all-in right now (like their trade up for Marcus Davenport a few years back) than it is about finding their QB of the future or beating someone to the punch for that.
"The Saints in general play their cards very close to the vest, but I don't think this is about moving up to grab a quarterback," another GM said. "They really like Jameis (Winston) and I think they are looking around at the NFC, and thinking they have as good a shot as anyone, especially if they land two impact players with these picks. It feels more to me like the kind of move they made when Sean (former coach Sean Payton) was there than it does about finding a quarterback for two or three years down the road."
Two top-10 QBs?
Newsflash: NFL evaluators are largely higher on this class of quarterbacks than the media, and the three teams I spoke with early this week all believe two passers are going in the top 10 picks. At least two.
It's been all the rage to tear these kids down, but execs I speak to who aren't in the market to draft a top QB -- and therefore have less to gain or lose by lying about their true feelings about them -- continue to posit that the run on them will start quite early. Possibly, with the Lions at second overall, and surely by the time the Panthers (sixth overall) and Falcons (eighth overall) are on the clock.
"You guys (in the media) are harder on these kids than we are (in the scouting community)," one high-ranking exec said. "I don't care what anyone whispers, (Kenny) Pickett and (Malik) Willis are legitimate quarterback prospects. Willis, if it all comes together, could be really special, and Pickett played like a first-round pick last year. If I am doing a mock draft right now, two of them are in the top 10 and four of them are going Thursday night. It's not as bad as some are making it out to be."
Follow the money
The NFL has fans fooled into following salary-cap numbers like they are a real indicator of intent to win a Super Bowl, and as if that is a telling metric on actual spending. It isn't.
Please, please, please, look at actual payroll figures. That's where it's at. And in light of the Bills making yet another huge splash this week, securing top receiver Stefon Diggs to a massive extension with $70M guaranteed, I'd urge all of you to keep track of projected cash committed to the 2022 season as a far greater barometer of an owner's attempt to win a Lombardi Trophy than how much -- or how little -- cap space any team had on paper at any given time (because it's a soft cap and always fungible, anyway).
According to Spotrac, as of Wednesday morning, there were 15 teams projected to be above the $208 million salary cap in actual spending (nearly half the league), with some teams far in excess of that number. Here are the top-five cash spends in the NFL, currently, per Spotrac:
Keep in mind, every owner gets roughly $360 million per year just for the rights of their games to be broadcast nationally. Don't fall for the okeydoke. Wanna know if the owner of your team is really going for it or not? Follow the money and keep your eye on the cash spend. Not everyone who spends big is gonna win, but you better be drafting your backside off if you think you are going to win anything of note if you're in the bottom third in spending.
More insider notes
- There are definitely some strong splits of opinion of Oregon edge prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux. Is he really someone who will top 10 sacks regularly? How high is the ceiling? He has not exactly rubbed every team the right way through this process. Still enough talent to keep him in the top 10-12 picks, I suspect, but opinions vary.
- Despite an Achilles injury suffered at his pro day, Michigan edge prospect David Ojabo remains likely to hear his name called in the first round from what I gather. A strong team picking in the back of that round will want the fifth-year option on him, knowing 2022 will likely be a redshirt rehab year. Too much potential to let fall to Day 2.
- The veteran pass rush market -- and there is no shortage of them still out there -- seems likely to be seriously impacted by how deep this pass rush group stands to be. Expect a flurry of signings just after the draft among veterans OLB/DEs in early May, among the teams that don't land what they need in the selection process.