At the league meetings a little over two weeks ago, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said everyone wants to trade down in this year's draft:
"It makes more sense in this draft than trading up," Colbert said of trading down, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I’m sure everyone shares the same thought."
Given the purported depth of this year's draft, it doesn't really come as a surprise that most teams in the league want to trade down. But in a market where many teams are looking to trade down, simple market dynamics suggest that the Cowboys could be better served by trading up.
Of course, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with staying put and taking the best player available, whoever that may turn out to be. But if supply outstrips demand, prices inevitably fall. Could that happen in this year's draft? If the teams picking in the top half of the first round in this draft are stumbling all over themselves to trade down and acquire extra picks, will they accept a lower price for trading down than teams historically have?
First-round deals can be tricky because of the stakes involved and the price attached to the top picks. There are many examples of teams getting great value by trading up, just as there are many examples of teams getting thoroughly hosed for trading up. Last year, the Dolphins only had to give up a second-round pick to move from 12th to third and select Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. Here's the deal in draft value points:
That is a significant, 24% discount the Raiders afforded the Dolphins. And not everybody got such a sweet deal. The Rams, for example, had to give Buffalo a first-, second- and seventh-round pick to move from 16th to eighth last year. The teams also swapped a third-round pick. That proved to be a much more equitable trade:
For the sake of argument, let's assume the Cowboys would be willing to trade up to the 11th spot (this is where both Aaron Donald and Anthony Barr are very likely still to be available): That deal, going strictly by the draft value chart, would require the Cowboys to give up their third- and fourth-round picks.
Of course, that's assuming there's no discount for trading up into the top half of the draft. And there's no way the Cowboys should agree to such a deal. But what if the Cowboys were able to swing a deal where they offer their fourth and a seventh to move up?
That's not quite the 24% discount we saw in the Raiders/Dolphins trade, but it is still a 15% discount. Under this hypothetical scenario, the Cowboys could be in play for the 11th pick currently held by the Titans. Whether that's realistic or not remains to be seen, but if the Cowboys were to trade up, they need to take advantage of the supply/demand imbalance in this year's draft. And that doesn't just apply to the 11th spot. In any scenario involving a trade-up, the Cowboys should be targeting that significant discount.
After the Cowboys successfully traded down last year for the Travis Frederick/Terrance Williams combo, popular sentiment among Cowboys fans is that a similar combo might be waiting for the Cowboys if they were to trade down this year. But this year could just as easily bring a repeat of the many trade-downs that didn't go quite as well as the one last year.
In the NFL, you usually win games with the players you draft in the top two or three rounds. But you win championships with blue-chip players. The best place to find those blue chippers is in the top half of the first round. The Cowboys could sit pretty at #16 and hope that a blue-chip player like Aaron Donald or Anthony Barr falls to them. Or they could realize that hope is not a strategy and go after a true blue-chip prospect by trading up.
This year, market dynamics may make it easier (and cheaper!) than ever to trade up. The Cowboys could find themselves fielding multiple calls from teams wanting to trade out of the top half of the first round. Would you be willing to trade up (at a discount) to secure a true blue chipper? And who would that blue-chipper be?