The History of Trading Down

Posted by Jeff Risdon On March – 8 – 2012
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"2012 NFL Draft prospect, Robert Griffin III"It is all but given that the St. Louis Rams are going to trade the #2 overall pick, allowing some other team (likely Washington) to move up and select Robert Griffin III. The expected ransom is a swap of top 10 picks, 3rd and 5th round picks this year and a 1st and 3rd next year. That is an awful lot to give up, and the spotlight will shine brightly on whether RG3 proves worth it.

But there is another side to that light, and that is what the Rams do with the booty. There will be quite a bit of pressure on the Rams to parlay all those picks into great success. A look at some blockbuster ransoms of draft years past reveals a mixed bag.

Ricky Williams to the Saints: the most famous draft trade, as Mike Ditka traded his entire 1999 draft, and then some, to Washington to move up and select Ricky Williams. Washington picked up picks #12, 71, 107, 144, 179, and 218 in that draft plus #2 and 64 the following year.

Here’s what Washington ended up with for Williams:

#12, #71 and #144 were packaged together and traded to Chicago in order to move up and select Champ Bailey. For their part, the Bears got Cade McNown, Dewayne Bates and Khari Samuel. Sorry, Chicago fans…

#107 was Nate Stimson

#179 and #218 were packaged and traded to Denver for pick #165. That pick was Derek Smith; Denver chose Desmond Clark and Billy Miller.

#2 in 2000 was Lavar Arrington, #64 was Lloyd Harrison.

So the net gain for Williams was a perennial Pro Bowl corner in Bailey (later traded for Clinton Portis) and an overrated supernova LB in Arrington, who had three good seasons before injuries ruined him. The other 3 players that never started an NFL game. The picks they subsequently traded produced a Pro Bowl tight end in Clark, an erstwhile contributor in Miller, and a crippling blow to Chicago, where the name McNown ranks above only Bartman in terms of Windy City sports ignominy. Washington won a playoff game in 1999 but did not make a return trip for the next 6 seasons.

Ryan Leaf to the Chargers: Hold your snickers please. The Chargers traded #3 and #33 overall in 1998, and the #8 pick in the 1999 draft to move up and take Ryan Leaf.

Those picks became Andre Wadsworth, Corey Chavous, and David Boston, respectively.

Wadsworth often gets overlooked, but he was nearly as big of a bust as Leaf; after a decent rookie year (5 sacks) he had just 3 sacks and 30 tackles in two more seasons before washing out of the league. Chavous flopped in Arizona as a corner (22 starts in four seasons) before finding his stride as an above-average safety in Minnesota. Boston had two very good years (out of 4) as a #1 wideout before steroids and injuries ended his career early. The Cards amazingly won a playoff game in 1998 but quickly fell back to being punching bags. San Diego never won more than 8 games in a season until 2004 when the trade below here came about. This deal is the worst case scenario for both sides of the trade.

Eli Manning to the Giants: it was a forced trade thanks to the Manning family rattling its sabre, but a trade nonetheless. San Diego picked up picks #4 and #65 in 2004 and picks #12 and #144 in 2005.

The loot:

#4 became Philip Rivers

#65 was used on Nate Kaeding

#12 in 2005 was Shawne Merriman

#144 was traded several times, ultimately winding up with St. Louis taking Jerome Collins.

Rivers is a 4-time Pro Bowl quarterback and has had largely superior numbers to Manning prior to 2011. Kaeding is an excellent kicker, and from 2006-2009 no player in the NFL scored more points. He is the all-time leader in field goal accuracy. Merriman was the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year and made 3 Pro Bowls before getting busted for steroids, and off the juice he’s been an injury-ravaged phantom of his former self.

Obviously the Chargers did very well in picking up 3 Pro Bowl players, and the team has won 3 playoff games and made the AFC title game in 2007. Alas, the Giants get the last laugh, winning the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowls with Manning the MVP both times.

John Elway to the Broncos: Another forced-hand trade as Elway refused to play for the Baltimore Colts. Denver shipped Mark Herrmann, the rights to #4 overall pick Chris Hinton, and the #19 overall pick in the 1984 draft, which the Colts used on Ron Solt.

"John Elway"

Herrmann was a backup QB that the Indianapolis Colts mercifully shipped away after 1984 when it was clear he was not better than Mike Pagel. Hinton and Solt both became offensive line bedrocks, with Hinton making 7 Pro Bowls and Solt becoming one of the best run-blocking guards for a decade. However, both were gone from Indy by 1989. At that point Elway was taking wildly under-talented Denver teams to Super Bowls, and he made the Hall of Fame after winning two Super Bowls in the late 90s.

The Jets get 4 first round picks in 2000: No team has ever picked four times in the first round except the 2000 Jets. They had their own pick at #18, were awarded the #16 pick from New England for tampering charges surrounding Bill Belichick’s one day of NY employment, and they acquired #12 and #27 overall from Tampa Bay for WR Keyshawn Johnson.

Those picks (after a minor trade with San Francisco) wound up being Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington, and Anthony Becht. Abraham has had the most illustrious career, a 4-time Pro Bowler with 112 career sacks. Pennington was an above-average QB ruined by numerous shoulder injuries. Ellis made two Pro Bowls and is still a solid contributor. Becht had a few solid seasons as a starting tight end. But only Ellis was a Jet by 2007, and the team never made it past the divisional round of the playoffs despite the huge influx of talent.

Jeff Otah to the Panthers: It’s often overlooked, but this deal is notable for the bounty a mid-1st round pick extracted. Carolina traded #43 and #109 in 2008 and their 2009 1st round pick to Philadelphia to move up to #19 overall and select Jeff Otah.

Philly subsequently traded #43 to Minnesota (they took Tyrell Johnson) to ultimately get Trevor Laws and Quentin Demps. #109 produced Mike McGlynn. Carolina’s 1st round pick in 2009 (#28 overall) was packaged as part of a deal to trade to Buffalo for Jason Peters. The Bills used the pick on Eric Wood. McGlynn sat for two years before being a below-average starting center and was released. He is now tenuously the Bengals backup center. Laws has been a career backup LB, while Demps is a seldom-used backup now in Houston. Peters is enigmatic but a Pro Bowl talent with elite athleticism for a left tackle when right in the head. Eric Wood is an emerging talent now that he is finally healthy in Buffalo. Otah started very strong at right tackle but has played just 4 games the past two seasons and is in danger of being out of the league with the label of being soft.

The Eagles made the NFC title game in 2008 and the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 before imploding last year. The Panthers made the playoffs in 2008 before bottoming out.

I would include the Herschel Walker trade, but that took place during the season and not during draft time.

By and large, the teams that acquired a multitude of picks for their own draft slot improved themselves, but not dramatically. Interestingly, the team that fared the best-the 2004 Chargers-wound up trading away a two-time Super Bowl MVP winning QB. None of the teams that picked up multiple picks can really be considered winners in the deal, and two of the teams that traded up wound up winning multiple Super Bowls because of it. Rams fans have to hope and pray that changes in this situation, or perhaps jars the team into bucking conventional wisdom and wind up drafting RG3 for themselves.

Follow me on Twitter@JeffRisdon

  • Robert Fischl

    San Diego had no choice - Eli wanted to go to NY and that was that.

  • Kyle-Carpet Cleaning Fargo ND

    Very interesting. Yeah Sand Diego had the best deal in 2004 they got some pretty good players.

  • meh

    I’d almost argue that the Jets had the best trade up out of the group. They essentially had 4 starters - one of which was a QB. Abraham & Ellis anchored the D line.. Pennington brought them to a couple playoff games and Becht was a serviceable backup.. You can argue one of those picks was for possibly the greatsest coach of the modern era - HOWEVER - if Belechick coaches any other team, a new story would definitely been written..

    • JRisdon

      I forgot to throw this in the piece but Keyshawn did win a Super Bowl in Tampa two years later. More fodder that it’s better to be the buyer than the seller. I’m curious how the Julio Jones trade winds up fitting in this scenario down the line, too early to judge yet.

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