A few weeks ago it was revealed by Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes that he passed on the opportunity to take a trade-down deal in which MMQB’s Albert Breer called “solid.” Instead, as we all know, the Lions threw a party in the war room and drafted Penei Sewell without draining much of the timer when they were on the clock. In fact, there was even talk about trading up to secure Sewell.
That decision has drawn some criticism, specifically from the analytics crowd, who argue that Holmes showed a bit too much hubris in passing down an opportunity to garner more talent.
“Teams don’t trade down because they dramatically over-estimate their ability to differentiate between prospects, especially at the top of the draft,” The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin, who specializes in football analytics, tweeted after reading the news regarding Holmes.
Holmes had a chance to defend himself during a lengthy podcast interview with The Athletic’s Robert Mays. It was a wide-ranging interview that varied in topics from the process of trading Matthew Stafford, to his team rebuilding philosophies, to some of his decisions during the draft. I would definitely give the entire thing a listen.
As for the decision to stick at seven and draft Sewell, Holmes had a lot to say about that. Here’s a transcript from those parts, which start around the 37-minute mark of the podcast.
On how he weighed getting a prospect that ‘makes him sleep better at night’ vs. getting as many draft picks as possible to kickstart a rebuild:
“We always thought that we had to be in a position that, we need to add the best football players that we possibly can. We thought all the scenarios that we went through—yes, we did have dialogue with other clubs on our pick and throughout the other rounds—we did come to the conclusion that, look, if the right guy is there, we’re just staying and taking the best player.
“Now, we didn’t rule out moving back depending on who was or (was) not going to be there. And sometimes you’ve got to think about, depending on the strength of that specific draft—and that’s for every draft—depending on the strength of that draft, do you trade back? What do you acquire or what can you possibly acquire versus if you stayed put?
“So all of those things kind of play into the equation, but we just felt good about when Penei was available then that dialogue with those other teams were pretty quick.”
How do you balance the Rams’ history of embracing the uncertainty of the draft (trading away picks for proven vets) with the temptation to trade up and grab blue-chip talent?
“That’s often brought up and I will say a lot of those moves and trades that were made with the Rams were extremely strategically planned and well thought of, but the other thing is that the Rams, where they’re at from a roster standpoint and where they’re at from an organizational standpoint, let’s just say that they were in a window where we’re just this away from actually making this leap. Where when Dan (Campbell) and I first took this job, it’s like, we’re not in that same window or we’re not there from a roster standpoint.”
Given where the roster was at, isn’t that an argument against trading up?
“You could say that, but I will take it back to knowing the strength of each draft. Every draft is different. The 2011 draft and the, let’s say, 2014 draft. Like what that was at the top, it’s like, wow, that’s a lot of firepower. But maybe the 2013 draft and the 2019 draft, that wasn’t as top-heavy there.
“So that’s the part that you have to weigh, and that plays a lot into that.
“So it goes back to, yeah you could trade back and have more bats at the plate, and more cost and control, but how much impact are you adding versus being in position, or let’s say striking distance, to trade up and get a player where you’re not sure if you’re going to be in striking distance again?”
Two things are interesting from this set of answers. One, this appears to be the first time Holmes publicly admits that the Lions are in a place in terms of talent to be taking big risks. Previously, he’s redirected talks about a “rebuild” to a less-intense “retool.” But here, he clearly states they aren’t where the Rams were (or are), and that, therefore, they can’t act like his previous employers have (yet).
Additionally, at several points, Holmes used the “strength of the draft” as an argument for not trading down. And while he has said several times that there were other players they were comfortable taking had Sewell been off the board, this seems to suggest Holmes was not all that thrilled with this draft class, in particular, so adding more picks may have not been as valuable as other years. Add in the fact that this regime is just starting to take shape and that there were many unique challenges in evaluating this particular draft class, it’s possible that a trade-down scenario will be more appealing in the future.