Trading DOWN: what kind of compensation can we expect?

A few weeks ago, I found this great blog post (link) by a guy who researched every draft pick trade from 1992-2008 (it's a few years old). He built a list of all trades, and what a team recevied for trading up or down from each spot. His list includes trades involving draft picks only, not player trades, as it is difficult or impossible to quantify the exact relative value of a player in terms of draft picks.

I wanted to see what we could expect for trading down in the draft. I added the 2009-2011 drafts to the data. If I have time to put together another fan post, I'll put together another list for trading up.

To get a large enough sample set to show what history says we could expect to receive, I looked at all trade-downs from picks 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25. That is, all instances where a team started within two picks of # 23 and traded down in the draft.

Here is the list. In the first column is how many picks a team traded down. In the second column is what the team received in compensation for that trade-down. This does not count the first pick received, for example, if a team trades down 3 spots from 23 to 26 and picks up a fourth-round pick (105), I list the compensation as simply a 4th round pick for a trade down of 3 spots (not a 3 for 26 + 105). I thought this would be simpler.

One note: When I classify the draft round of a pick in this post, it is based on an original, uniform 32-slot draft, not counting compensatory picks. For example, I would call pick # 99 a "high 4th round pick". Of course, pick 99 could be a "low third-round pick" some years, but not others, depending whether there are several compensatory picks at the end of round 3.

I know this affects the veracity of the description of draft picks slightly, but I prefer to think in terms of 7 rounds, rather than in numbers 1-255 and try to calculate in my head what round a pick is in (e.g. "okay pick # 137--is that a fifth? or a fourth? or maybe it's a sixth?"). It's just easier that way.

Here's the list:

A team trading down: Received:
2 spots a mid-fourth
2 spots a low-fourth
2 spots a seventh
3 spots a mid-fifth AND next year's 3rd
3 spots a high-fourth
3 spots a high-fifth
3 spots a high-sixth AND seventh
3 spots a high-sixth
5 spots a low-second (but gives up a seventh trading down)
6 spots a high-third
7 spots a low-third AND high-fifth
8 spots a low-third AND high-seventh
10 spots a low-second AND favorible swap of a mid-sixth for low-sixth
11 spots a mid-low second
11 spots a low-third AND seventh
13 spots two favorible swaps: a mid-second for mid-third AND a high-fourth for low-fifth
14 spots next year's 1st
15 spots a high-third
18 spots a high-third AND mid-fourth
21 spots next year's 1st AND a mid-fifth
51 spots next year's 1st AND next year's 4th (this does not seem like a good trade)

One other thing I'd like to note is that there is obviously a big difference from one trade to another in compensation received.

For example, one team received a mid-fourth-round pick (# 113) for moving down two spots.

Another team, another year, received a high-seventh-round pick (# 195) for moving down two spots.

Three things could account for a difference like this, and # 3, I think is especially important for us to consider:

1. The marginal difference in value between trading down a given number of spots from # 21 and trading down the same number of spots from # 25 (and each pick in between--22, 23 and 24).

2. The historical change in perception of draft value. In the early-1990's, teams may not have put as much data-driven decision-making into determining what a pick is "really" worth as they have in today's NFL (hell, we drafted a kicker in round 2 back then, but I guess Jason Hanson turned out to be worth it).

3. The composition of the available players at the time of the trade.

Because there could be only one player left that the Lions really really like at # 23, they may decide not to trade down in spite of a very historically generous offer, and choosing not to trade down may be the best decision.

On the other hand, there could be several players the Lions really really like almost equally, and if they are offered a pittance to trade down two spots, and that is the best offer negotiable, then trading down might actually be the best decision, because they'll still get one of these players.

For example, suppose there are three players the Lions really like (suppose their names are Gilmore, Martin, and Mercilus), and they like all players equally. With due diligence and much debate in the preceding weeks, they were able to decide who ranks above whom on their big board, but honestly, all three players look almost equally good to Mayhew & Co, and the Lions brass would be equally happy to draft any of them.

Now, Denver at # 25 calls, and offers a sixth-round pick (# 188) for our seventh-round pick (# 230) to move up two spots and swap 25 for 23. Mayhew makes a counter-offer, but Denver basically says "take it or leave it".

Historically, moving down two spots in the first for a simple late-round swap is a relatively bad deal. However, to Mayhew and our scouts the marginal difference between Gilmore, Martin and Mercilus is so small, that the marginal difference in value between late-round picks # 230 and # 188 may actually be bigger than the marginal difference in value between these three players. And, if we're only moving down 2 spots, it's guaranteed that at least one of them will still be available.

So, accepting this trade might look historically bad, but actually be good for the Lions.

On the other hand, suppose the same situation, except it's Houston at # 26, not Denver at #25 making the call, and they're offering their fourth AND sixth-round picks to swap three spots from 26 to 23.

Now, historically, this looks like a good deal. However, with only three players on the big board left that the Lions really really like, and a big drop-off after that, Mayhew may decide that he'd rather draft a first-round talent that the scouts feel good about, rather than move down, watch these three players get drafted, and have to reach for a lesser talent, only picking up a mid- and late-round pick for this.

So, accepting this trade might look historically good, but actually be bad for the Lions.

Of course, the prospect of trading back up a spot or two, after moving down three, as well as the possibility that Houston does not take one of these three coveted players, meaning one of them will last to pick # 26, could help make this concern over difference in marginal value a little bit less relevant, and Mayhew might go ahead with the trade anyway.

Well, anyway, hopefully this list is interesting and helpful as we look forward to what kinds of trade scenarios could arise in just 9 days...

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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