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Cowboys 2016 Draft: Should Dallas Trade Down At A Discount This Year?

If the teams picking in the top ten of the draft are stumbling all over themselves to trade down and acquire extra picks, simple market dynamics suggest that they'll have to trade down at a discount.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In this week's edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King spoke with 10 team officials with "power over their teams’ draft board and draft process." One of the many things he asked his interview partners about was the strength of the 2016 draft, particularly the depth in the second an third rounds. Here's a quote from one of the guys King talked to:

"Load me up with twos and threes in this draft. That’s where I’d want a lot of picks."

Given the perceived depth on the second day of this draft, it doesn't really come as a surprise that many teams in the top ten are looking to trade down.

  • Titans GM Jon Robinson for example looks like a used-car salesman as he tries to drum up trade interest for his No. 1 overall pick. Initially, Robinson talked about needing a "king's ransom" to move out of the No. 1 spot, but it didn't take long to soften his stance.
  • The Cleveland Browns might be willing to trade down this year instead of taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall. On NFL.com, Lance Zierlein quoted an unnamed NFC executive: "Everyone thinks you have to move ahead of Cleveland, but (Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta) will want to get as many picks as possible out of this draft. It wouldn't surprise me if a team moved directly to Cleveland's spot for Wentz."
  • The Chargers have traded down the last two times they've held a top pick in the NFL Draft. They've made it clear they are open for business this year as well, and have reportedly already been approached by "multiple teams" about a trade.

These teams and others in the top ten are looking for extra draft picks to address their roster need and are therefore looking to trade down. But in a market where many teams are looking to trade down, simple market dynamics suggest that when supply outstrips demand, prices inevitably fall.

If the teams picking in the top ten 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?

Top ten 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 down, just as there are many examples of teams getting thoroughly hosed for trading down. Today we'll walk through the last four drafts to see which directions trades in the top ten have taken.

There were no trades in the top ten in 2015, but there was one in 2014 that involved the fourth overall pick, the same pick the Cowboys hold this year.

In 2014, Cleveland traded down from No. 4 to No. 9 with Buffalo, and got a fourth-round pick as well as a first rounder in 2015 in return. This trade is tricky to quantify with the traditional trade value chart because the trade included a pick in the following year's draft. As a rule of thumb, future picks get assigned the value of a pick in the middle of the next lower round. In this case, we'll assume Buffalo's future first would have the value of the 16th pick in the second round (48th overall) of the 2015 draft, which would give us the following deal value:

4 = 9 + 48 (future first) + 115
(1,800 points = 1,834 points)

This looks like the two teams struck an equitable deal here, no significant discount (just 1.9%) given by either side.

But a year earlier, Oakland gave a significant discount on the third overall pick to move down. Miami only had to give up a second-round pick in the deal to move from 12th to 3rd and select Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. Here's the deal in draft value points:

3 = 12 + 42
( 2,200 pts = 1,680 points)

That is a significant, -24% discount the Raiders afforded the Dolphins. But not everybody got such a sweet deal that year.

Buffalo, which held the eighth overall pick, agreed to a much more equitable trade with St. Louis, who traded a first-, second- and seventh-round pick to move from 16th to 8th that year. The teams also swapped a third-round pick as part of the trade. That resulted in a trade that's about as even as it gets under the trusty Jimmy Johnson trade value chart:

8 + 71 = 16 + 46 + 78 + 222
(1,635 points = 1,643.6 points)

A year earlier, the 2012 draft was of course dominated by the RGIII trade that saw the Redskins move up from No. 6 to No. 2 for a second rounder and two future firsts. I'm not exactly sure what that deal would look like in trade value terms, but the Redskins got thoroughly hosed on that one.

But there were a three more top ten trades that year that are summarized below in table form.

Pick Teams Trade Trade Value Discount
# Trading Down Trading Up Picks exchanged Trading Down Trading Up Trading Down
3 Vikings Browns 3 = 4+118+139+211 2,200 1,902 -13.5%
5 Buccaneers Jaguars 5 = 7+101 1,700 1,596 -6.1%
6 Rams Cowboys 6 = 14+45 1,600 1,550 -3.1%

In all three cases, the team trading down did so at a discount, though not to the extent we saw in the Miami/Oakland trade in 2013. While nominally showing a slight discount, the Claiborne trade between the Cowboys and the Rams is a pretty equitable deal, as I would consider any trade that's within +- 5% to be a fair deal between two teams.

Even though I looked at a four-year span of drafts (2012-15), there were only six trades that I could fit into the trade value chart methodology. Three of them (2014 CLE/BUF, 2013 BUF/STL, 2012 STL/DAL) showed a discount of less than 5% and fit the trade value chart methodology to a T. Three more (2013 OAK/MIA, 2012 MIN/CLE, 2012 TB/JAC) showed teams trading down from a position in the top ten at a discount.

That's not exactly a solid statistic sample size, but it does show that trading down at a discount happens, perhaps more frequently than we believed. And if you're a team looking to add picks this year by trading down, trading down at a discount is a reality you may have to accept

After the Cowboys successfully traded down for the Travis Frederick/Terrance Williams combo 2013, 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 2013 trade down did.

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 No. 4 and pick the best player that falls their way. Or they could trade down within the top 10 or top 15, hope that a blue-chip player is still available and solidify their roster with an extra pick or two on day two of the draft.

This year, market dynamics may make it harder for teams trading down to get equivalent trade value when trading down. The Cowboys could find themselves fielding calls from teams wanting to trade up to the fourth spot, but only at a significant discount.

Here are two hypothetical trade scenarios that have the Cowboys moving down from No. 4 to No. 9, one with an even trade value, and one with a discount of about 13%.

Trade Trade Value Discount
Picks exchanged Trading Down Trading Up Trading Down
4 =
9+39 1,800 1,860 +3.3%
4 =
9+74 1,800 1,570 -12.8%

An equitable pick with the Buccaneers (irrespective of whether they are interested in a trade, this is just hypothetical) would net the Cowboys an extra second-rounder. But what if the only call the Cowboys get is from the Bucs, and they're only offering their third-rounder?

Would you still be willing to trade down (at a discount) to secure extra picks?