Draft-Day Trades That Make Complete Sense for NFL Teams

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystApril 23, 2018

Draft-Day Trades That Make Complete Sense for NFL Teams

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Feverish demand for quarterbacks and a lack of supply could fuel a busy first round of the 2018 NFL draft on the trading front. 

    The jostling already started when the Buffalo Bills moved up to the No. 12 spot and the New York Jets jumped to No. 3 soon after. And there are other teams with both a quarterback need and either the ammunition or desperation to trade up in the first round. Buckle up, because quarterback thirst could lead to some wildness.

    That might include the Bills' moving up again to pounce on an opportunity to select a franchise arm. Or the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots dealing to find a successor to replace aging veteran quarterbacks.

    Most trades will probably be centered around one of the top four quarterbacks: Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. But later in the round there could also be leapfrogging tied to Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph, the two passers who occupy the second tier at the position.

    Let's explore the trade possibilities that make the most sense for the teams likely looking to move up.

Buffalo Bills Trading Up to the No. 6 Spot

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    The Buffalo Bills have gone through an offseason of upheaval, especially along the offensive line after the retirements of center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito. But the biggest question is still the future at quarterback.

    The Bills signed AJ McCarron after trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns. But McCarron lacks experience and has made just four career starts since being a fifth-round pick in 2015 (playoffs included). He's a fine short-term bridge quarterback, and now the Bills need to find a permanent solution.

    They've already been aggressive by shipping off offensive tackle Cordy Glenn as part of a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals that gave the Bills the No. 12 pick. But their work isn't done yet.

    If the Bills want quarterback stability, they'll likely have to move up closer to the top five. There will be a quarterback frenzy at the top of the draft. But it's still possible one of the top four passers is available beyond the first five picks. Which is why the Indianapolis Colts' pick at No. 6 is a trading hot spot.

    The best trades leave all parties involved satisfied, and there could easily be smiling faces in both draft rooms here. The Bills would get the quarterback they covet—likely Allen or Rosen—and a Colts team in need of secondary help would still have premier talents to choose from at No. 12.

Denver Broncos Trading Up to No. 2

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    The Denver Broncos found a bridge quarterback of their own by signing Case Keenum hot off his 2017 brilliance with the Minnesota Vikings.

    Keenum finished the season with 22 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.

    But there's a chance we'll look back at the 2017 season as an outlier in his journeyman career. Which is why the 30-year-old was signed to only a two-year contract and Broncos general manager John Elway will still be searching for solid footing in the years ahead at the quarterback position.

    If the arm he wants is available at No. 2, it's not hard to imagine seeing Elway make a trade call to the New York Giants.

    Elway recently said he's open for business with the fifth overall pick, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. He could move in either direction, and the franchise's recent struggles at quarterback might make it tough to wait and hope a golden-arm passer falls.

    The Broncos have had a woeful passing offense the past two seasons. They averaged only 230.3 passing yards per game in 2016 (21st) and 208.3 in 2017 (20th). Making the move to secure Darnold, Rosen or Allen could solve that problem in a hurry.

    The Giants, meanwhile, would likely have a chance to go a couple directions at No. 5. One of the top quarterbacks could still be on the board, along with running back Saquon Barkley and defensive end Bradley Chubb.

New England Patriots Trading Up to No. 8

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    The New England Patriots have already done plenty of draft maneuvering. So much that now they have the ammo to do a lot more and make a significant draft splash.

    The Patriots are well aware that eventually quarterback Tom Brady will fade and lose his battle against time. Not even Brady is immune to the basic process of human aging.

    He might still be highly effective at an age long after most wither away. And he probably has at least one more championship-contending season left in him. But Brady will enter his age-41 season in 2018 and do it after the Patriots traded away longtime backup Jimmy Garoppolo because of salary-cap restraints.

    If the Patriots want to maintain their AFC dominance, they'll need to draft a high-end successor for Brady. And the defending conference champions have four picks in the first two rounds to dangle in front of other teams.

    One of the top four quarterbacks could fall toward the back half of the first 10 picks, with Rosen the most likely candidate for a slight tumble. The Patriots have expressed interest in him, according to a recent report from NESN's Doug Kyed. But to even have a shot at Rosen or any of the other top-tier arms, the Patriots might have to leap way up to No. 8 in a trade with the Chicago Bears.

    The Patriots could then plug in their young quarterback who can receive the torch from Brady. And on the other side, a rapidly rebuilding Bears team under a new head coach would be able to add more young talent to its roster.

Patriots Trading Up to No. 18

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    Marcus Davenport
    Marcus DavenportAssociated Press

    The Patriots could instead make a first-round move that wouldn't cost quite as much but would still add a crucial missing piece.

    The Patriots made it to the Super Bowl without a dominant pass-rusher in 2017. Defensive end Trey Flowers led the team with just 6.5 sacks.

    That lack of a consistent pass rush left the secondary exposed at times, which was especially evident during a Super Bowl loss when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns.

    Aggressively pursuing a quarterback in the first round is a move for the future. But trading up to solve that pass-rushing problem would improve the Patriots roster and the chances of adding another banner with Brady at the helm.

    It wouldn't take too much either, as just moving up five spots to the No. 18 selection held by the Seattle Seahawks would likely put the Patriots in position to draft either Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport.

    Those two are among the best pass-rushers in the 2018 draft class. Landry struggled through an injury in 2017, but in 2016 he exploded for 16.5 sacks and 22.0 tackles for a loss. And Davenport recorded 51 pressures in 2017, per PFF.

    This would be another mutually beneficial trade. At No. 23 the Seahawks would have options to address their offensive line with tackle Kolton Miller or guard Will Hernandez likely available. Or they could look to improve their defensive backfield with cornerbacks Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander probably waiting to hear their names too.

Arizona Cardinals Trading Up to No. 9

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    Much like the Bills, the Arizona Cardinals have a temporary solution at quarterback and nothing more.

    They signed Sam Bradford to a short-term deal, giving the 30-year-old injury-prone quarterback $15 million in guaranteed money. Behind him on the depth chart is Mike Glennon, who was quickly cast aside by the Chicago Bears after being a free-agency flop. Now the best and most polite assessment of him is that he can be a serviceable spot starter.

    So there is no answer at a core position for the Cardinals beyond 2018. Which is a problem that gets even more concerning because of their draft position.

    The Cardinals hold the No. 15 pick in the first round. That's tough because it feels a little too early to dip into the second tier of quarterbacks by selecting Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph. And that draft spot will likely be far too late to pursue one of the top four passers.

    Moving up 10 spots into the top five is costly and far too risky for a team in the middle of rebuilding and facing what could be the final year of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's career. But if one of those top pivots starts to slip, the Cardinals need to get ahead of the Bills, and a trade-up to No. 9 wouldn't be as expensive.

    That would mean swapping with the San Francisco 49ers, and general manager John Lynch has already shown his openness to making aggressive draft-day moves. The 49ers need more secondary help, and plenty of promising prospects should be available in the middle of the round, likely including cornerback Josh Jackson and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

New Orleans Saints Trading Up to No. 20

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    This would be the massive cannonball trade splash of the 2018 NFL draft. And it would also make a lot of sense for a championship-contending team with an aging quarterback.

    The New Orleans Saints just re-signed Drew Brees to a lucrative contract that will pay him $50 million over two years, with $27 million guaranteed. That may seem like a lot of cash for a 39-year-old quarterback, but Brees is aging gracefully after averaging 8.1 yards per attempt in 2017.

    However, he threw only 23 touchdown passes, his lowest single-season total since 2003. And Brees' 4,334 passing yards was a low since 2005.

    He can still play at a high level, especially now that the Saints offense has transitioned to a run-focused attack and less is asked of Brees. But the second year of the contract he just agreed to will be Brees' age-40 season, a time when even Hall of Fame-bound passers can decline quickly.

    Which means it's the ideal draft for the Saints to pursue a quarterback who's overflowing with potential but would benefit from a year or two of development. That's why they should be aggressive and trade up for Mason Rudolph.

    The Saints would need to get ahead of the Patriots, who hold the No. 23 overall pick in the first and could also be looking for a successor at quarterback. The Detroit Lions at No. 20 would likely be the best trade partner because they need to improve multiple areas of their 27th-ranked defense.