Every year as we near the draft, somebody will stand up somewhere and loudly proclaim that the old Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart is worthless these days, citing the changes to the game, the salary cap, the new CBA, the new rookie wage scale, some insider information only they are privy to, as well as a plethora of other reasons why the chart has long passed its sell-by-date.
In theory, those are all good reasons why the chart should not be used anymore. And some of those proclamations are probably correct in that teams today don't use the exact chart that Jimmy Johnson used 25 years ago. Every year, the analytically inclined come up with new, more accurate and more quantitatively sound ways of building such a chart (see Football Perspective, Harvard Sports Collective and Datascope Analytics).
But despite these improved proposals, draftniks all across the nation continue to use the "Jimmy Johnson Chart" in one form or another, and it's generally assumed that when "NFL general managers consider trading draft picks, they more often than not consult this value chart."
And the reason for its continued use lies in its primary benefit: The Value Chart is basically a Rosetta Stone for the NFL. It allows different teams to communicate with each other because it establishes a common valuation methodology that can be used as a reference to evaluate a trade proposal. Every team can and does supplement that initial information with their own valuation methodology.
But just like the claimed demise of the value chart is a hypothesis, the Rosetta Stone argument is also a hypothesis. And as I am always wary of arguments that are made without a factual, quantifiable base, I decided to take a look at the trades made in the top three rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts to see whether the trade value chart is still relevant today.
Two make the analysis a little simpler, I excluded trades for future picks (with one exception) and also excluded trades involving players, because the value of both is hard to quantify using the Trade Value Chart. That still leaves a total of 29 trades in the first three rounds of the last two drafts that involved the exchange of that year's draft picks.
Here's an overview of those 29 trades, including the detail of the picks exchanged, their trade value and the trade value gained or lost in the trade by the team trading up (you'll find an explanation of the color codes below the table):
|Year||Pick||Teams||Trade||Trade Value||Gain/Loss in %|
||Trading Down||Trading Up||Picks exchanged
||Trading Down||Trading Up||Trading Up|
That's a lot of information to digest, so for the purpose of this analysis, I'm going to consider any trade that was within plus or minus 8% in terms trade value points gained or lost as an outright validation of the Trade Value Chart because those trades were close enough in terms of trade value to pass the eye test.
That includes the Cowboys' trade for Morris Claiborne in 2012: The Cowboys traded their 14th and 45th picks (1,550 points) to the Rams in exchange for the 6th pick (1,600 points). The Cowboys came out slightly ahead in trade value gained (+3.2%), but had to give up one extra pick. The Rams lost a little trade value but gained an extra pick. All in all, a textbook trade in terms of the Trade Value Chart.
Of the 29 trades listed here, 18 fall within that 8% band. That means that without any further research, I can already categorically state that about two thirds of all draft-day trades in the first three rounds in 2012-13 confirm the valuation of the Trade Value Chart.
But there are also 11 trades that exceed 8% in trade value gained or lost, and look like they may not fit the Trade Value Chart particularly well. You'll find the details of those 11 trades below, conveniently grouped into three distinct clusters and marked in three different colors.
RED : The Trade Value chart goes out the window in the top five - trades into the top five have their own unique rules.
Pick 3, 2012 (MIN-CLE): The Vikings trade down a spot (3=4+118+139+211) and get four Browns picks in return, but lose 300 points in trade value, the equivalent of a low second rounder. The Browns could have offered their second rounder (3=4+37, 130pts advantage for Vikings) or their third rounder (3=4+67, 145 pts advantage Browns), but didn't.
The Browns could also have offered their first- and fourth-rounder (3=4+100, 1,900 points) to move up one spot, which appears to be what they were willing to invest to trade up. But they didn't trade their fourth, instead trading their fifth, sixth and seventh-round picks, which brought the total value of the trade to 1,900.2, almost the exact value of the deal with the fourth-round pick.
Pick 3, 2013 (OAK-MIA): This deal looks even more lopsided than the MIN/CLE deal from the year before. The Dolphins trade their first- and second-round picks to Oakland to move up into the third spot and grab Dion Jordan (3=12+42). This trade leaves the Dolphins with a phenomenal 520 trade value point advantage, the equivalent of a pick at the top of the second round. Even the Dolphins' first five picks of the 2013 draft (12+42+77+82+104=2,151 pts) would not have been enough to get Oakland's pick - if the teams would have gone strictly by the Trade Value Chart.
Two trades into the top five in the last two years both resulted in very lopsided trade values, at least according to the trusty Trade Value Chart, a strong indication that teams may not value top five picks (unless they are QBs) quite as highly as the Value Chart does.
ORANGE: Somebody got screwed - These deals do not fit the Value Chart, and could have been made more equitable given the picks available to both teams at the time.
Pick 18, 2013 (DAL-SF): The Cowboys trade down with the 49ers (16=31+74; 900pts = 820pts) and get publicly blasted for giving up too much value, and rightfully so. At the time, the 49ers still had the 61st pick which could have resulted in a more equitable trade (16=31+61; 900pts = 892pts). The Cowboys announced that using their own trade charts "for the most part, we either won or hit right on it." Be that as it may, this trade remains outside the norm of the trade value chart, and the 49ers may have simply taken advantage of the Cowboys' wish to trade down and short-changed the Cowboys in the trade.
Pick 55, 2013 (GB-SF): The Packers trade out of the 55th spot in exchange for the 49ers second- and sixth-rounder (55=61+173). The 49ers walk away with a handsome 11.4% or 36-point value advantage. At the time of the trade, the 49ers had the choice between offering 61+128 or 61+173 (their 131 was an untradeable comp pick, their 164 had already been traded for Colt McCoy). 61+128 would have been the more equitable trade that still would have left the 49ers with a 4.2% or 14-point value advantage. At the end of the day, 49ers took advantage of the Packers on this trade.
Pick 58, 2012 (HOU-TB): Here, the Texans traded 58+233 for Tampa's 68+128, which gave Tampa an 8.8% advantage. The are countless variations of draft picks these two teams could have exchanged to make this a more equitable trade. As such, this trade does not conform with the Trade Value Chart, which suggests there were other factors than pure trade value involved in this trade.
Pick 67, 2012 (CLE-DEN): The Browns give up their 67th pick for Denver's 87th and 120th (255pts=209pts), giving the Broncos a huge 22% trade value advantage. The Broncos could have offered their 108th pick, which they acquired from the Jets in the Tebow trade, which would have made for a much more equitable trade (67=87+108; 255pts = 233 pts), though even this trade would have seen the Broncos with a 9.4% advantage. The Browns got hosed, but for some reason were willing to go along with it.
Pick 88, 2013 (GB-SF): Seeing that the 2013 Packers were in a giving mood, the 49ers decided to fleece the Packers once more. The trade here (88=93+216; 150pts = 134pts) would have been much more equitable if the 49ers had offered their 180th instead of their 216th pick (88=93+180; 150pts = 148.4pts), but they didn't.
YELLOW:Teams can only trade the picks they have - Some deals may look lopsided at first, but at second glance turn out to be best possible trades given the picks available to be traded.
Pick 25: The Patriots trade up for Tampa's first, offering their first and fourth (25=31+126), a move that brought the Patriots an 11.5% trade advantage. The Patriots had already traded away their third-round pick (90th), and the next highest pick left to trade would have been their second rounder (62nd). But a 25=31+62 trade would have cost the Patriots 884 points and left them with a -18.6% trade point deficit. 25=31+126 was the more equitable option for both teams.
Pick 51: This trade between the Packers and Eagles (51=59+123) shows the Packers improving their trade value by 8.6%. In this case, the only pick the Packers had remaining to make the deal more equitable (90th) would have left them with -13.3% in terms of trade value. The 51=59+123 trade was the most equitable one for both sides given what each team had in terms of draft picks.
Pick 62: This seems like easily the most lopsided trade on this chart, and looks like the Packers fleeced the Patriots. But did they really? By the time that trade happened, the Packers had already traded away their 123rd pick to the Eagles, and their 132nd and 133rd picks were compensatory picks which, by rule, cannot be used in a trade. The next best available pick for the Packers to trade was the 163rd, which led to the skewed trade value. Teams can only trade what they have.
Pick 93: At the time of this trade between the Packers and Dolphins (93=109+146+224, 128pts = 112pts) the Dolphins didn't have much more to offer. Including their 111th pick would have been too rich, and their remaining picks (166, 250) were comp picks and therefore untradeable.
If we leave out the trades into the top five, which appear to operate by a different logic than the one used in the Trade Value Chart, we're left with 27 draft-day trades in the last two years. And outside of the five "somebody got screwed" trades, it looks like teams still stick fairly close to the Trade Value Chart (or an updated version of it).
That means 80% of the draft day trades (22 of 27 trades) over the last two years were conducted according to the value structure established by the Trade Value Chart, or as close to it as possible.
The key takeaway here is that the Trade Value Chart is a good first indicator, but many other factors can influence the value of the trade, and trade value is not the only factor by which to judge a trade. Ultimately, a trade is the result of a negotiation between two teams, and reflects the value each team places on the picks being traded, the players available with those picks and many other things.
Overall it looks like the Trade Value Chart is alive and well. It is certainly not perfect, but the evidence from the last two drafts suggests that for the most part teams do tend to try to stick fairly close to it. However, teams can only trade the picks they have at their disposal; at times, this can lead to some skewed trade values.