HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 28: Rick Smith general manager of the Houston Texans left talks with head coach Jeff Fisher before a football game at Reliant Stadium on November 28 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
It is now 45 days and counting until the 2011 NFL Draft. The speculation of teams’ selections will begin to reach a fevered pitch shortly before April 28th. Whenever an article or poll on the draft is posted you will invariably see one preferred choice over and over, and it’s not a player. It's "trade down." I think we as casual fans underestimate the complexity of this option.
There are several factors that a general manager has to consider when deciding whether to trade draft selections with someone. One is whether there is anyone that desires the team’s draft slot, which in my opinion is an aspect that fans often take for granted. If you force a trade down, it is difficult to get market value for the slot you’re leaving. Also, the GM has to determine whether the compensation for the move and the players projected to be available at the new slot are worth leaving the original pick.
Sometimes there is a reason to move up. While this practice is usually reserved for a team with fewer holes on the roster and therefore less need for draft picks, occasionally there is a player that is believed to be such a difference-maker that a team feels it is necessary to move up to select him. This is a difficult task, because as you’re already using valuable draft picks to get your guy, you don’t want to pull the trigger too early or overpay for the move.
So how feasible and likely is it that the Texans will move draft spots this season? Additionally, what would the implications be on the rest of the draft if these moves were executed?
No matter how you feel about the competence of Rick Smith, I think it’s safe to say that he is aware that the possibility of trading draft picks exists. After all, 2009 is the only draft that Smith was in charge of that the Texans did not trade back in either the first or second round. Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton, Darryl Sharpton and Sherrick McManis were all extra players acquired from these trades executed by Smith. For all the flack that he has taken recently from Texans fans, he has shown adeptness at acquiring extra picks if there is a deal to be made.
This year may be a prime opportunity to make such a deal in the first round. The four positions of greatest need for the Texans, in no particular order, are nose tackle, cornerback, safety and outside linebacker. Opinions vary, but there very well might not be anyone at those positions worth selecting at 11. So for conversation's sake, let’s assume not only that is true, but also that Smith and the Texans don’t simply want to take best player available at a position outside the four areas previously listed. This might be the time to think trade.
The guideline for trade selection worth has always been this famous chart. It’s worth noting that this draft may have different values attached. A rookie wage scale, which was one of the agreed aspects of the proposed (yet not executed) new collective bargaining agreement, might make top picks more valuable, the reason being that the only downside of top picks prior to a wage scale was that a player selected in the top 10 would be awarded a contract that was astronomical. Now that everyone is fairly certain that rookie salaries will be at least somewhat reasonable, teams might consider the picks more valuable. Until shown that it is not valid, however, the established trade selection chart will have to suffice.
In my opinion, a trade down would be worth it if it garnered an extra second rounder. For Smith to pick up an extra second round pick, he’d probably have to look for a team to trade with somewhere below 20. There are several teams that might be eyeing an offensive tackle that would like to move up and get their guy before the Lions are on the clock. Also, while it might break the hearts of Julio Jones advocates, many teams might see #11 as a prime spot to get the Alabama wideout before the Rams grab him. Lastly, quarterbacks are always the draft wild card and there may be someone that wants to jump Minnesota to get their guy for the future. If the Texans found themselves in the 20s, they could find a player they were possibly considering at 11, like Justin Houston or Aldon Smith, and have an extra pick in the second. They might also choose a player they thought wasn’t a good value at 11, like Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard or Stephen Paea, knowing that they have an additional second rounder to fill another hole on the roster. Again though, Rick would have to find someone willing to move up.
There’s also the crazy notion of moving up for a player. When John McClain suggested trading up for Von Miller, he was killed for it. Granted, that was probably criticized more for his thought that a move like that would cost less than a second round pick, which is exactly what it would take, at a minimum. As was stated before, moving up is usually a luxury reserved for a team without many holes to fill. Although it is completely outside of their drafting M.O., Smith and Kubiak might feel inclined to snag a player that can step in and immediately provide such an upgrade in a position of need that it might be worth a second rounder.
In my opinion, there is a variable that no one is discussing in terms of the Texans draft strategy. Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith know how close they came to losing their jobs. In reality, the current labor unrest might be the one thing that kept Bob McNair from completely rebuilding. McNair is among the group of owners with considerable debt because of what the franchise cost him and the stadium that he built. He likely did not want to pay Kubiak’s salary if he was fired, on top of dealing with the debt issue in the event games are missed next season.
This is why I think there is very little chance that the Texans draft Julio Jones. While that makes sense if you believe he is the best player available at your pick (which I am inclined to believe if everything shakes out reasonably close to what is expected), drafting a wide receiver to develop alongside Andre Johnson is smart as a long-term goal of the football team. Yet I believe Kubiak and Smith want to win games next year in order to keep their jobs, and then worry about successive seasons. That means upgrade the defense to at least average in a hurry. It likely won’t make Texans fans happy because it’s not in the team’s long-term interest to acquire talent that way, but it is in Kubiak and Smith’s best interest if they feel 2011 is their last chance.
This phenomenon could mean a new draft strategy that we haven’t seen from this current office. Part of that strategy may mean trading up. If Wade Phillips tells Kubiak and Smith that Player X can immediately make the defense improve drastically to the point he is worth not only our first round pick but also our second, they very well might listen. If you consult the chart, the highest the Texans could reasonably move up without giving up more than their second-rounder is to 6th overall. This range would make sense because it would leapfrog San Francisco, Tennessee and Dallas, all of whom have some similar interests.
I am not advocating trading up; I feel it is shortsighted. I am merely pointing out that it is feasible that it could happen. This year’s draft for the Texans could look totally different than what we are used to seeing because of a shift in expectations and decision-making at the top.
Even though I would prefer the trade down option to trading up, there are three players that I would want to see as targets if they decided they couldn’t live without them. If Von Miller, Patrick Peterson or Marcell Dareus happened to fall to the 6-9 range and a deal could be made to get them, I definitely wouldn’t rake the front office over the coals for making such a deal. All three bring a unique skill set to Wade's defense that requires less development necessary and therefore more immediate impact for 2011. I would still much rather see three players selected in the first 64 picks than just one, though.
It just comes down to how much Rick Smith and company like the players in the bottom of the top 10, at 11, in the 20s and in the second round. What’s your take? Weigh in with not only if you would prefer to trade spots or stay put, but also who the targets would be in the case the Texans moved up or down.