Cowboys 2012 Draft: Best Options For Trading Down?

In the middle of the week, at an interview at the Owner's Meeting, Jerry Jones offered a couple of stirring proclamations: the team will be looking at a slate of defensive players in the draft's first round and that they might be looking to trade down from the 14th pick. This elicited a wave of hand-wringing and teeth gnashing across Cowboys Nation, with fans citing instances where the Cowboys traded down unsuccessfully (cough, 2009, cough) as proof that the strategy is essentially flawed, at least as long as Jones is pulling the strings at Valley Ranch.

I think trading down can be a sound strategy. In a recent post, I cited Cade Massey's fascinating proposition that there are no differences between teams as far as drafting success is concerned; drafting success is essentially a coin flip. The best teams, therefore, recognize this and proceed accordingly, by following the "logic of chance." One of this process's chief tenets is to accumulate as many picks as possible: if each pick has roughly a 50-50 chance of success, the more picks a team has, the better their chances of hitting on one.


Related: Cowboys 2012 Draft: Trading Back is the Optimal Strategy

Indeed, you may recall that, with the Cowboys pick in our BTB writer's mock, I opted to trade down several spots in the first round, accepting an offer from the Steelers (manged by O.C.C.) to slide back to # 24. My decision was influenced by the fact that, before making the trade, I surveyed the landscape and saw a lot of players with similar grades available, many of them at positions of need: Dre Kirkpatrick, Michael Brockers, Courtney Upshaw, Stephon Gilmore, Mark Barron, Peter Konz, and Fletcher Cox were all potential targets. With seven targets and ten picks, I figured at least one of them would still be there. And, in fact, one was: I happily took Cox with the 24th selection.

More after the break...

My Cowboys draft move-back was entirely fictitious, all good fun. How might the team actually operate, when faced with a similar situation? In trying to parse this, I took a look at all the trading partners between picks 15 and 24. I stopped at 24, figuring a) the Cowboys probably wouldn't want to move back any further than ten spots, unless they can get a future first-rounder out of the deal and b) that a team drafting much beyond the 24th slot would have to give up the farm to get to # 14 - a second-rounder plus perhaps another second-day pick. Unless a team is sold on a specific player at a position of need, its unlikely that they’ll trade that far up, given that, historically, the talent is somewhat evenly distributed from the final third of the first and into the second round - roughly picks 22-40.

So, lets look at general possibilities. The closer teams are to the Cowboys pick, the less they’ll have to give up. According to Jimmy Johnson's well-worn draft value calculator, the fourteenth pick is worth 1100 points. I’ve used this useful pick value calculator to figure potential draft pick swaps, assuming that the Cowboys will trade back only if the trade gives them at least a slight points advantage. I’m also assuming that Dallas won't accept a trade involving future draft picks.

To move up to the fourteenth pick, teams in the 15-24 range will have to give up anywhere from a fifth to a second-round pick, depending on how far they'd need to move. A couple of notes : First, the only team that would need a fourth-rounder to move up is the Jets, and they don't currently have a fourth-round pick, so I've eliminated them from contention and, because Cleveland has the Falcons pick at 22, but the rest of their picks are much earlier in rounds, they slide up in the selection gradation, which goes as follows:

Fifth and a Sixth Rounder:

Philadelphia 15 + 153 + 172 (1104.5) for Dallas 14 (1100)

Third rounder:

Cincinnati 17 +83 (1125) for Dallas 14 + 186 (1118)

San Diego 18 + 78 (1100) for Dallas 14 (1110)

Third and a Fifth Rounder:

Chicago 19 +79 + 150 (1101.4) for Dallas 14 (1110)

Third and a Fourth Rounder:

Tennessee 20 + 82 + 115 + 227 (1110.4) for Dallas 14 + 222 (1103.6)

Cleveland 22 + 67 + 118 + 211 (1101) for Dallas 14 (1100)

Second Rounder:

Cincinnati 21 + 53 (1170) for Dallas 14 + 113 (1168)

Detroit 23 + 54 (1120) for Dallas 14+ 186 (1118)

Pittsburgh 24 + 56 + 159 (1108.8) for Dallas 14 + 222 (1103.6)

Which of these scenarios is most likely? This is difficult to ascertain, largely because of where the Cowboys currently sit - smack dab in the middle of the round. The first five to seven picks of a given draft are usually fairly easy to predict; after this, however, the surprises begin to pop up - and each one leads to a chain of new decisions. The draft becomes exponentially harder to predict as it labors through each pick on its seven-round excursion. In short, the draft operates according to chaos theory; a butterfly flaps its wings at pick seven and, by pick fourteen, produces a veritable hurricane. Trading back increases the uncertainty.

This is a complicated and rambling way of saying that a team cannot trade back with a specific player in mind; that would be silly. A trade back must be made with value as the overriding consideration. Looking at the above scenarios, which offers the most value?

At this juncture, one point must be made about Massey's analysis. He's not saying that a seventh-rounder is as likely to succeed as the first pick in the draft; there is a clear correlation between success and draft position. Rather, the draft is a coin flip relative to the historical success of each pick. So, trading back means trading to a position that, historically, has produced fewer successful players. So, anybody trading back must weigh the benefits of extra coin flips versus the costs of moving to a less successful draft spot. In making my trade, I felt that the benefits (and extra second-rounder) far outweighed the costs (missing out on nine players), largely because there were so many guys on the board that I thought were roughly equal in ability and projected success.

If I'm trading back, I want a premium pick for my troubles - a second or third rounder. The quality and depth at cornerback and offensive guard in this draft is such that a starter could well be found in the first three rounds, which increases this imperative. This eliminates Philadelphia (Ohhh, I like the sound of that). Among the rest of the teams, who might be most willing and likely to move up? Which GMs have demonstrated the courage and aggressiveness to move up in the past? Tennessee tends to stay put, and let the draft come to them; Cincinnati and Chicago make trades only rarely. Since Martin Mayhew took over Detroit's draft, however, he has traded up to nab a player on more than one occasion. San Diego GM A.J. Smith has done this multiple times and, although Steelers GM Kevin Colbert is not a wheeler-dealer, he's pulled the trigger in the past to secure a player he really likes. So, the three teams I'd expect to deal with are the Lions, Chargers and Steelers.

How about team needs? The Chargers need offensive linemen; at that point in the draft, who might they trade up for? Johnathan Martin? Cordy Glenn? The middle of the first round seems a bit soft on the O-line, unless David Decastro lasts until pick fourteen, which seems unlikely. The Lions need offensive linemen as well - but they also have a hole at cornerback, a position of need for several teams that pick in front of them. Could they broker a deal to jump those teams and select a Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore? Pittsburgh's defense is getting long in the tooth, and they need inside linebackers and defensive linemen (as well as offensive line upgrades). Might Colbert follow O.C.C.'s lead and trade up to nab Luke Kuechly or a falling 5 technique?

Given that the Cowboys also seem to be focusing on 3-4 DEs, they might be disinclined to let the last top-tier guy out of their grasp, but I could see them trading back if several of them were available (as they were in the BTB mock). I'd be mightily surprised if that happened in practice, however; I expect that the top D-linemen will get snapped up early, as they always do. Also: since the Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans, they almost certainly won't draft Kuechly. If the Boston College standout is available at fourteen, with no teams between 16-25 with a huge need at ILB, he might fall into the late teens or early twenties, where Pittsburgh can snap him up for far less cost.

To my mind, that makes the Steelers a less likely trading partner. If the Cowboys move back, then, I think the most likely candidate would be the Lions at 23. Although they did a superb job in free agency, the Cowboys still have numerous positions of need: OC, OG, TE, WR, DE, OLB, CB, FS. Engineering a trade down would give Dallas three picks in the top 54, and a terrific opportunity to draft quality players at three of them.

Whaddya think, BTBers? Would you pull the trigger? Which of these scenarios would best suit your personal risk-reward sensibility?

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