Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes’ first major transaction was trading Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams and courtesy of a Rams’ 2022 season that went completely sideways, the Lions now own the No. 6 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Possessing a top-10 pick can be a luxury, but with the organization’s developmental arrow pointing up—they are the current odds-on favorites to win their division—the Lions don’t anticipate finding themselves in this spot again anytime soon.
While the Lions are trending in the right direction, they do have one glaring question that does need answering: Is current starting quarterback, Jared Goff, the guy they can commit to long-term?
If the answer to that question is no, then Detroit needs to be exploring quarterback options in this draft class, including what would it cost to move up to get the franchise’s future quarterback.
After trading up to the top of this year’s draft, the Carolina Panthers are most assuredly taking a quarterback at No. 1, and behind them at pick No. 2, the Houston Texans are poised to take their next signal-caller, as well. Detroit’s opportunity to move up is more than likely with the team drafting third, the Arizona Cardinals, who recently gave Kyler Murray a contract extension and seem set at the quarterback position.
Recently, the Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner and Colton Pouncy proposed the Lions part with picks No. 6 and 48 to move up to No. 3 in their latest mock draft, labeling the move a “slight overpay” considering there might be a bidding war amongst other teams also in search of a quarterback. Additionally, earlier this week, Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger also floated out the idea of Detroit moving up to three in his latest mock draft, but the cost was much, much different: Detroit would send picks 6, 48, and 81 in this draft, as well as a future first and fourth in 2024.
If you’re going by Rich Hill’s trade value chart, then Baumgardner and Pouncy are correct in saying picks 6 and 48 would be a slight overpay: Detroit would be sending out 567 points in draft pick value for the third overall pick, valued at 514 points. Recent history, however, has shown us how moving into the top three can be much more costly.
The 2018 NFL Draft gave us an exact blueprint for what the parameters of this hypothetical move for Detroit could look like—but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
That season, the New York Jets traded up to No. 3 with the Indianapolis Colts to select quarterback Sam Darnold—the second quarterback off the board after Baker Mayfield went first overall—and it cost the Jets picks No. 6, 37, and 49 in 2018, and a second-round pick in 2019 to get their quarterback, much more in line with Spielberger’s projection.
Spielberger has a trade value chart he developed alongside Jason Fitzgerald from Over the Cap, but even by their numbers, the Jets wildly overpaid the trade charts projections to move up in 2018. The Jets sent out 4,290 points of draft pick capital in 2018 alone, not even factoring in the second-round pick in 2019, in exchange for the third overall pick, valued at just 2,443 points.
So how do you square that circle?
Sure, you always hear of having to pay a premium to move up that far on the board, but the Jets clearly overpaid in a way that doesn’t align with any trade value chart out there. And to further underscore an already puzzling move, they made this trade over a month before the 2018 NFL Draft got underway, not knowing who would come off the board before pick three. If you recall from that offseason, the Jets were very much in on then-free agent Kirk Cousins, offering him a fully guaranteed, three-year $90 million deal. Cousins took a lesser offer to stay in Minnesota, and two days later, the Jets pulled the trigger on the deal to move up to No. 3 in the draft. It’s hard to characterize that move as anything other than desperate and a flagrant disregard for the first lesson you learn when gambling: never chase your losses.
From what we know, Holmes has considered moving up in the draft on a few occasions but only followed through on it last year when he moved up 20 spots in the first round to select Jameson Williams. Detroit is far from being in a desperate spot, and considering the restraint Holmes has already shown in passing on other opportunities to move up—like he did when targeting Ja’Marr Chase and later on in that same draft for Levi Onwuzurike—it feels safe to assume Detroit wouldn’t relinquish anywhere close to that kind of capital to move up to the third overall pick.
For Detroit to move up to the third overall pick, it would likely cost somewhere more in the middle between the two mock trades mentioned earlier. Detroit could likely send No. 6, 48, and 81 in 2023, and a 2024 second or third-round pick to Arizona for No. 3 in what seems like a fair deal for both sides.
With the resources on hand right now, and not many immediate needs to be filled with rookies in 2023, it’s a deal Detroit can afford to make without compromising their goal to compete for a division title this season. It could also give them a key piece to team-building in this era of the NFL: a quarterback on a rookie contract.
Alternately, they could move up for Alabama edge defender Will Anderson, a player worthy of being the first overall pick if not for the quarterback-needy teams at the top of the draft.
Regardless of the player they decided on, an aggressive move-up shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention. Holmes has amassed some seriously valuable draft capital by trading Stafford and T.J. Hockenson at this past season’s trade deadline. So, it could be time for Holmes to cash in the fruits of his labor for a player he views worth it. Or if the value isn’t there, he can always walk away from the deal, as he has previously shown he is willing to do.