2012 NFL Draft: Why the New CBA Will Make Trades More Unpredictable

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2012 NFL Draft: Why the New CBA Will Make Trades More Unpredictable
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Earlier this month, the Boston Globe repeated a quip about top draft picks from Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who received a phone call from then-Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly:

When Casserly did his due diligence on the market for the top pick in the 2006 draft, he called Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

“No, you’ve got this wrong,’’ Tannenbaum told Casserly. “It’s what are you going to give me to take that pick?’’

That's not a typo. The cost of top-five draft picks used to be so prohibitively high that Tannenbaum was demanding extra picks from the Texans to move up in the draft.

Obviously, that trade never happened. The new CBA will probably make draft-day trades easier this year, but also more unpredictable.

That's because this is the first draft being held with the new rookie pay scale in place, which had dramatic effects at the top of the pay scale.

In 2010, the No. 6 pick overall, Russell Okung, signed a $58 million, six-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2011, No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton received a four-year deal worth $22 million.

We've already seen one blockbuster trade this offseason just involving draft picks. The Washington Redskins traded away their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, along with their second-round pick this year, just to move up from the No. 6 pick to the No. 2 pick, where they will presumably draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
QB Andrew Luck will make far less than QB Sam Bradford did in 2010.

The Redskins obviously felt that someone in this draft was a transcendent enough talent to risk giving up two additional first-round draft picks to guarantee the chance to draft him. Fortunately for the Redskins, if they are wrong, they will no longer be stuck with an albatross of a contract around their necks (such as the $21 million in guaranteed money the Jets gave to Vernon Gholston, who failed to record a single sack).

There will definitely be many trades this year. There are two reasons why they'll be unpredictable.

 

What's the New Value of a Pick?

The "Draft Value Chart" widely used by NFL front offices was created in the early 1990s by the Dallas Cowboys.

The old chart may no longer work as it used to because teams will no longer face the burden of a massive contract for the top picks. That should give teams lower in the draft an incentive to try to move up to get special talents.

On the other hand, that also means that teams at the top of the draft may not have as much of an incentive to trade down, unless they can get an overwhelming trade offer. Knowing that they won't pay an arm and a leg if they make a "mistake" in the draft may give teams with early picks more confidence to actually use them.

There were 7 first-round draft day trades in 2011. This year there'll be

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Will teams cling to the old chart, or will some teams abandon it and become more willing to make bold moves like Washington's or Atlanta's 2011 trade-up for Julio Jones?

 

 

The New "Break Point" in This Year's Draft

The new CBA shortened rookie deals for first-rounders from the previous five- or six-year deals down to four-year deals, with a standard option for a fifth year.

The caveat is that the amount of the tender depends on where the rookie is drafted.

For players in the first 10 picks, the required fifth-year salary is tied to the No. 1 through No. 10 salaries at that player's position (it will be roughly equal to the No. 5 salary).

For players drafted from No. 11 to No. 32, the fifth-year option is based on the salaries of players No. 3 through No. 25 at that player's position (and thus, roughly equal to the No. 13 salary).

At key positions such as quarterback, the difference between No. 10 and No. 11 could be several million dollars.

Thus, teams just after the break point—Kansas City at No. 11 and Seattle at No. 12—might find themselves at an advantage trading up—since they can cite the possibility of an extra several million dollars in cap savings. On the other hand, teams just ahead of the break point—Carolina at No. 9 and Buffalo at No. 10—may not be able to get as much if they try to trade down. That may prove especially important if, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft has suggested, the salary cap will not grow as fast as some teams have been expecting.

 

How these two new wrinkles will play themselves out will be one of the more fascinating angles in this week's draft.

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