Bite-size Nuggets: Trading picks for players is often a smart thing to do

I agree with what Doug wrote yesterday about Maurice Jones-Drew not being worth trading for - not for the Broncos, and not for anybody else, either.  While driving the last two days, I’ve heard all kinds of “trading for MJD” talk on Sirius, and I was thinking about how I’ve meant to do an article for quite a while about trades for veteran players.

More often than not, it’s a good idea to trade draft picks for proven veteran players.  A draft pick is a derivative asset, in the sense that it has no definable value, in and of itself, other than the fact that it confers upon the holder of it the right to acquire a football asset at a point in time.  A player is a football asset that’s more or less known.  There’s some uncertainty to how he’ll perform in a new place, while being a year older, but there’s less risk than with a guy straight out of college.

Whether it is a good idea to trade a pick for a player almost always hinges upon the reason why the player is available.  MJD may or may not be available, but if he is, it’s because he wants more money.  That’s almost never a good situation from which to acquire a guy.

As Doug noted, you have to pay out significant compensation in the form of draft pick, and you also have to satisfy the player’s hunger for more money.

It’s the Brandon Marshall scenario from two years ago, in other words.

The Broncos had made an organizational decision not to pay Marshall, just as I suspect the Jaguars have made an organizational decision not to pay Jones-Drew. You’d much rather be the seller than the buyer, because the acquired player almost can’t possibly perform well enough to justify the combined cost of trade assets and cash outlay.

There are other scenarios, though, where trading for the proven guy is a good thing to do.  Here are three of them:

A good player doesn’t fit a scheme change

This is the DeMeco Ryans scenario, where a player under a fair and reasonable contract doesn’t fit the scheme that a new coach brought in.  Ryans is a natural MLB in a 4-3 scheme that allows him to run and hit.  He’s not a good fit as a downhill ILB in a penetrating 3-4, taking on lead blockers. 

The Eagles saw Ryans as a guy who perfectly fit what they want to do on defense, while the Texans viewed him as somebody who didn’t really fit well with their approach.  They gave up a fourth-round pick, and they swapped third-rounders with Houston (which was favorable to the Texans).  Ryans, who has made two Pro Bowls, is better than anybody that Philadelphia was likely to draft in the fourth round.

I’m going to quickly scoff at the draftnik types, who like having that fourth-round pick with which they can project some diamond-in-the-rough guy to in their 84-part mock drafts, posted in the comments section of various football sites.  A player is picked in the fourth round because he’s believed to be a borderline starting-caliber player.  More likely, he’ll be a special teams contributor who lives at the bottom of the roster, if at all.  The Texans took center Ben Jones with the 99th-overall pick that they acquired from Philadelphia.  On the swap of picks, the Texans took guard Brandon Brooks 76th, and the Eagles took quarterback Nick Foles 88th.

I would tend to look at it like this:

Houston Texans receive Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones                               

Philadelphia Eagles receive DeMeco Ryans and Nick Foles

Who won that trade?

A good player is a bad personality fit for a management/coaching regime

This is the Jay Cutler scenario, or the Santonio Holmes scenario.  A good player is available because he doesn’t fit in personally with a new or continuing program.

Cutler was kind of a special case, because if you think a guy is a franchise QB, there’s almost no price to pay that’s too high. The Broncos didn’t want him anymore, and got a more-or-less fair price for him, whether they used the acquired assets well or not.  The fact remains, though, that the Bears got a franchise QB.  He’s seemingly still a petulant child, when it comes down to it, but the Bears are willing to deal with that, and Josh McDaniels (and eventually, and more importantly, Pat Bowlen) weren’t willing to do so.  The difference of valuation on something non football-related drove the trade, and made both teams feel like they won.

Interestingly, Mr. Marshall fit into this category a few months ago, as well.  The Joe Philbin regime didn’t want Marshall, and they sold him off to the Bears for two third-round picks.  The Bears, again, are running a club for difficult personalities, and they don’t mind the management challenges that Marshall creates.

Whenever a player is available, that tends to mean that something is wrong with them.  If what’s wrong with them doesn’t have anything to do with their ability to play football, the buying team can often get a major bargain.

A good player plays the same position as too many other good players

This is the Asante Samuel scenario.  NFL teams are playing within a salary-constrained environment, in which smart franchises manage their caps by allocating slices to position groupings.  When one group gets too heavy, they’ll often decide to trade a player who is duplicative of others.

The Eagles felt good with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as their starters, and knew that the already highly-paid Samuel wanted some more money.  They sold him off to the Falcons for a mere seventh-round pick because they didn’t want to pay him, and they didn’t want to deal with him belly-aching about his money, or the fact that he’d been relegated to being the third CB. 

The Falcons gave Samuel an extension, but it was a pretty reasonable one, and they felt okay about doing so, because they’d paid such a cheap price for a pretty accomplished player.  I don’t love Samuel, and never have, but when you put him with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, the Falcons have a better shot to defend the Packers than they previously did. 

A player like Samuel is a bargain for a seventh-round pick, no matter how you look at it.

If you know a player is good, and can perform for your team, most of the time, trading a mid-to-low draft pick for him is a smart thing to do.  Those picks don’t often amount to much, other than getting fans all excited about nothing.  Do you remember the time that Carlton Powell was going to be the savior of the 2008 Broncos defense until he got hurt?  I sure do.

Remember, a player picked in the fifth through seventh rounds is viewed as a backup type of player, and somebody who'll need to contribute on special teams.  This year's seventh-rounder often replaces last year's sixth-rounder, as the bottom of the roster churns.  Forgoing a newer model of the same marginal player when you can get a real player is a good idea, more often than not. 

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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Ted's AnalysisBite-size Nuggets