2011 NFL Draft: The Perils of Trading into the Top Five

Graeme FrisqueContributor IIApril 12, 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium on stage during the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 22, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Since the 2001 NFL draft, there have only been four trades involving top five picks, and only one of those involved the first overall pick. There are a few reasons that have contributed to the lack of movement at the top of the draft over the years, but will things be any different in 2011?

The last time last the first overall pick was moved on draft day was back in 2001, when the Atlanta Falcons traded up to the No. 1 spot to select Michael Vick.

In exchange for that pick, the Falcons sent the Chargers the No. 5 overall pick, who turned out to be LaDainian Tomlinson, along with a 3rd round choice in that year's draft, and a second rounder in 2002.

In 2003, the New York Jets traded two first rounders (No. 13 and No. 22) plus a fourth rounder to the Chicago Bears to move up to the No. 4 overall pick. The Jets then used that pick to select DE Dewayne Robertson.

The following year in 2004, the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers swapped their first round choices. Eli Manning, who was drafted at No. 1 by the Chargers, was sent to the Giants in exchange for Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick. Along with Rivers, the Giants also sent their 2004 third round pick, along with their first and fifth round picks in 2005.

Finally, in 2008, the Jets traded up again, to the No. 5 spot, to select Mark Sanchez. In exchange, the Cleveland Browns received the Jets first round pick (No. 17), as well as the their second rounder from that same year. The Browns also received DE Kenyon Coleman, QB Brent Ratliff and S Abram Elam from the Jets.

So, why have there been so few trades involving top five picks over the last decade? There is no one simple answer. There is a combination of factors that makes trades involving top five picks very difficult.

First, and the most obvious reason is that top five picks are valuable. Generally speaking, players taken with the first five picks are highly touted prospects that can, and sometimes do, have a serious impact on a franchise right away.

Recent examples of that are players like Matt Ryan, drafted third overall by the Falcons in 2008. Ryan has been a stabilizing force at quarterback for the Falcons from the day he arrived in Atlanta, and has been a big part of the turnaround of that franchise after Michael Vick's not so nice departure from the team.

Ndamukong Suh, drafted second overall by the Lions in 2010, was a defensive force for Detroit in his rookie season, racking up 66 tackles and 10 sacks. His impact on the defensive line was immediate, and he should be a gamer for the Lions for years to come.

Another stumbling block for any team looking to either acquire, or move, a top five draft pick in the past has been the enormous personnel costs involved. This has been true no matter which side of the equation you're on.

For teams looking to acquire a top five pick, as illustrated by the few trades mentioned above, it's gonna cost a lot in terms of assets going the other way. On the flip side of the coin, if you are a team looking to trade down, it is often hard to find a trading partner that is willing to give up such a large ransom for what is ultimately an unproven rookie commodity.

Looking back over the last decade there have been as many misses as there have been successes when it comes selecting a player in the top five. For every LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Ryan and Ndamukong Suh, there is a Dewayne Robertson, JaMarcus Russell and David Carr lurking around the corner.

To add to the difficulties for a team looking to move down in the draft, is the enormous salary demands that come along with a top five choice. Just looking at a list of the top five picks in 2010, and the contracts they commanded, should be enough to drive this point home.

1) Sam Bradford, QB (Rams): 6 Years, $78 million, $50 million guaranteed.

2) Ndamukong Suh, DT (Lions): 5 Years, $60 million, $40 million guaranteed.

3) Gerald McCoy, DT (Bucs): 5 Years, $63.5 million, $35 million guaranteed.

4) Trent Williams, OT (Redskins): 6 Years, $60 million, $36.75 million guaranteed.

5) Eric Berry, S (Chiefs): 6 Years, $60 million, $34 million guaranteed.

Those are some big numbers, even going back to 2001.

At the time Michael Vick signed a record rookie deal worth six years and $62 million, $15.2 million of which was guaranteed. The numbers have increased steadily since then up to the absurd contract that Sam Bradford received last season.

That's an enormous financial risk to take on players who have never taken a snap in the NFL; enough to scare even the richest owners in the league. Especially given the fact that, according to the NFLPA, the average career span for an NFL player is only three and a half years.

There is one factor that might make 2011 different. The new impending CBA.

Most observers and experts agree that the new deal between the players and the owners will include some sort of rookie cap or scale to reel in the bloated rookie contracts, and minimize the financial the risk to ownership involved in drafting a high pick.

This impending new rookie salary structure might be enough to get some owners and GM's to pony up the required assets to move into the top five this season.

Although no one knows for sure what such rookie scale or cap might look like at this point, it might just make taking such a risk a little more palatable, and encourage a little more upward movement on draft night.

It's hard to tell at this point whether this will in fact be the case, but given the lack of trades involving top five picks over the last ten years, it certainly can't hurt.