There's still one tiny little game left to be played, but for 30-of-32 NFL teams, the process of improving 2012 rosters already has kicked into high gear. From coaching carousels to Senior Bowl scouting, front offices are looking for an angle, while fans are concocting hare-brained schemes to make sure their teams are playing at this time next season.
Admittedly, this article is closer to the latter than the former.
Trades are rare in the NFL, and high-profile trades are virtually nonexistent. But that doesn't mean they can't—or shouldn't—happen. When executed correctly, trades benefit both teams, and I believe that the trade I'm suggesting accomplishes just that: Minnesota sends the No. 3 pick to Cleveland for cornerback Joe Haden.
WHY IT WORKS FOR THE VIKINGS
Coming off a 3-13 season, newly promoted GM Rick Spielman is facing the most important draft pick in franchise history—a pick he can't afford to whiff on.
Spielman can essentially flip a coin between the secondary and offensive line. The general opinion among scouts seems to be that USC's Matt Kalil is the best of a trio of tackles that includes Iowa's Riley Reiff and Stanford's Jonathan Martin, but that none of them grade out as transcendent talents.
That brings us to LSU's Morris Claiborne, who's regarded as the draft's top cornerback and has actually drawn comparisons to Haden. Before taking a chance on a kid who might someday be as good as Haden, however, Spielman would be wise to pick up the phone to gauge the availability of the real Haden.
While trades are rare, teams often overvalue draft picks in pick-for-player trades. Vikings fans know this better than anyone.
The team stole 26-year-old, pass-rushing force Jared Allen from Kansas City for the No. 17 pick and a pair of third-round choices in 2008. They've also seen the other side of it. In 2005, Minnesota sent Randy Moss, in his prime, to Oakland for the No. 7 pick and table scraps.
While the draft is largely a crap shoot, even at the top, Haden, who is 22 years old, is a sure thing who's quickly ascended to the top tier of NFL cornerbacks. Were he thrown back into this draft pool, he'd likely be selected second or third, and there's no risk of him being a bust.
With one box checked, Spielman gets the 800-pound gorilla off his back. From there, he can stockpile offensive lineman throughout the remainder of the draft and hit wide receivers hard in free agency.
WHY IT WORKS FOR THE BROWNS
The Browns are a team without an identity and are in dire need of a talent injection on the offensive side of the ball. As it stands, their No. 29 offense has no chance of moving the chains against the imposing defenses of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
Colt McCoy has plateaued at a low level, so unless Cleveland wants to overpay for Matt Flynn in free agency, they'll zero in on Baylor's Robert Griffin III. It's possible that a team jumps up to No. 2 for RGIII, but by attaining the No. 3 pick (in addition to their own No. 4), the Browns would cut the leap-frog odds in half.
With both the No. 3 and No. 4 picks, the Browns are ensured of securing two of three dynamic offensive playmakers: RGIII, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon and Alabama RB Trent Richardson (Peyton Hillis has clearly worn out his welcome). Do you think an impatient fan base could get behind a rookie crop of RGIII, Richardson and Michael Floyd (at No. 22)?
Parting with Haden would be tough, but frankly, he's much less valuable in the black-and-blue AFC North than he'd be in the pass-happy NFC North. Sure, Cleveland's defense takes a step backward, but Dalton/Flacco/Roethlisberger aren't exactly gunslingers, and at least the Browns will have the firepower to fight back.
PICK UP THE PHONE
Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier recently stated that the team needs to hit on all 10 of its draft picks. They're one-for-one if they make this move.
As for Cleveland, another early first-round pick to spend on a skill position means they'll instantly become one of the league's most exciting young teams.
Feels like a win-win to me.