The Myth of Trading Back


Every year it's the same: People not happy with their team's draft position dream up wild scenarios that involve trades that put their team in a better position for the draft. But the truth of the matter is that this just doesn't happen.

Everyone wants more draft picks. Everyone. One per round simply isn't enough. You have to get more and you have to get them now. That is the mindset that drives people to think that trading back, the holy grail of the armchair coach (or GM in this case). But how often does trading back actually work for a team? And just how likely is it even?

Let's look at last year for a minute. There was certainly a lot of shuffling going around during the last draft, likely a fallout of the new CBA that protects teams from drafting players earlier. You incur far less risk now as a franchise now, where as before having the #1 overall pick made sure to hitch you to your selection with a ball and chain (see: St Louis and Sam Bradford).

Sometimes it works out pretty well. Minnesota managed to convince the Cleveland Browns to part ways with their 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks just so that the Browns could move up a single spot and take Trent Richardson, a move they performed presumably to prevent Minnesota from trading to another team targeting the Alabama running back. In all honesty, it's impossible to say this was bad for Minnesota. They still took the player they wanted (Matt Kalil) and managed to nap a few extra picks, regardless of how good or bad Trent Richardson performs. It's these kinds of trades that the armchair GM's are targeting, but they don't always work out that way.

In the same vein, Tampa Bay made a trade with Jacksonville. Jacksonville moved up to draft 5th overall, while Tampa dropped down to pick 7th while also picking up a 4th round pick (which they were missing). However, most people expected Tampa to be targeting CB Morris Claiborne, and if everything had gone according to plan, they probably would have. However, Dallas seized upon the opportunity to trade up, swapping with St Louis to grab the star CB with the 6th pick, forcing Tampa to settle on S Mark Barron.

And therein lies the danger you face with trading away your picks. The only time you can guarantee that you will be able to draft the player you want is if they are on the board when you're on the clock. There was only one team between Tampa and Jacksonville, and they weren't looking at Claiborne, so Tampa probably thought they were completely safe. However, you are never safe when trading back, and that one spot was all it took for them to lose out on the player they wanted.

And what about St Louis anyway? They got an awful lot of draft picks out of their trades, but the problem is they never did get the one player they wanted. Remember how Jacksonville jumped over St Louis to grab Justin Blackmon? That set into motion this entire series of events.

The Rams definitely wanted to get another weapon for QB Sam Bradford last year (they would draft WR Brian Quick with the first pick of the 2nd round), but because they moved back, it let Jacksonville move up and snag Blackmon. That meant the Rams didn't really have a guy they were targeting anymore, so they traded back again.

In the end, they wound up with Michael Brockers in the 1st round, when they could have just taken Blackmon #2 overall. Not that I blame them for taking the king's ransom that Washington offered up, mind you - but trading back again meant they lost out on Michael Floyd as well.

So let's add it all up, shall we?

Trading Back

St Louis: Lost out on Justin Blackmon on first trade. Lost out on Michael Floyd on second trade. Results in the following: Selected DT Michael Brockers who missed the first 3 games, but finished with 31 tackles, 4 sacks, and a force fumble. WR Brian Quick: 11 receptions on 27 targets, 156 yards, 2 TDs. RB Isaiah Pead: 10 attempts, 5.4 yards.

Tampa Bay: Lost out on CB Morris Claiborne. Would settle for S Mark Barron: 89 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT and trade back into the first round later, but not with any of the picks they gained.

Minnesota: Got the player they wanted by trading back 1 spot and picked up several additional picks.

Trading Up

Washington: Got their franchise QB, but gave up 3 1st round picks for it. Short term, that's painful. Long term, that depends.

Dallas: Selected CB Morris Claiborne: 55 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT by giving up a 2nd round pick.

Jacksonville: Selected WR Justin Blackmon: 64 receptions, 865 yards, 5 TDs by giving up their 4th round pick.

Tampa Bay: Moved up from the 3rd pick in the 2nd round to take RB Doug Martin: 319 attempts, 1454 yards, 11 TDs by swapping 4th round picks as well.

So who can say that the people trading back really ended up better? Tampa and St. Louis really screwed themselves over, while Minnesota simply could do no wrong by moving back one spot when the player they were targeting wasn't the same as the team they traded with.

As for the teams that traded up, Dallas got a starting CB for an extra 2nd round pick, Washington mortgaged their future to acquire their franchise QB, not unlike a certain Super Bowl winning division rival did years before, and Jacksonville probably made the best deal of all, picking up a legitimate WR threat (once Gabbert was benched, I should say) for only an extra 4th round pick.

The point is this: Trading back seems great and all. Everyone fantasizes about the perfect scenario that unfolds from it. But unless you're trading with the team that is picking directly behind you, there's a very good chance someone else might come along and take your pick from you. It happened 4 times in a single draft last year. (Twice to St. Louis!)

So be wary. Trading back is playing with fire. Don't expect to come out without a few burns. If last year is any indication, it's the teams that traded up that really seemed to shine.

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