USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes looks at some of the big questions that will help shape the outcome of the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia.
USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has built a reputation as one of the NFL’s most active executives during the draft.
He’s pulled off at least one trade during each draft since he was hired in 2008, and six years ago pulled off one of the biggest draft-day deals in recent memory, when he sent five picks to the Cleveland Browns in order to move up 21 spots, from No. 27 to No. 6, to select wide receiver Julio Jones.
“I’m not a big believer of sitting on your hands and waiting,” Dimitroff told USA TODAY Sports last week. “You have to make things happen and be aggressive about going after what you need.”
But those type of draft-day trades aren’t last-minute decisions. At least when it comes to first-round trades, teams have been plotting for weeks, if not months, in advance.
“Well before actual draft day, you’ve come to the conclusion that you’re willing to trade back, or, you’re in that mode that you’ve targeted one or two people, and we’re going to get them however it takes,” Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead told USA TODAY Sports.
Across the NFL this week, general managers and personnel executives are exchanging phone calls, trying to get a sense of which teams are looking to move up in the first round of the draft, and who might be trying to trade down and acquire more picks later in the draft.
Teams are already discussing potential compensation, and using the league’s trade value chart while negotiating how many picks it would cost to make potential moves. In some cases, like when the Falcons made their trade for Jones in 2011, teams might have verbal agreements in place for first-round trades days or hours before the first team is officially on the clock.
Last year’s draft weekend included 25 trades – five in the first round, and then 10 each on the next two days.
(Before the 2016 draft even started, the top two picks had been dealt, with Snead’s Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles moving into position to take quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively.)
This year there is more uncertainty at the top of the draft, where Cleveland owns the No. 1 pick. That could mean even more action:
— San Francisco 49ers first-year general manager John Lynch has already said he is willing to trade back, which would not be an uncommon move for a team that has as many holes to fill as the Niners do.
— Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson, whose team has the No. 5 pick from the Rams as well as the No. 18 selection, and Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, with the No. 6 pick, have also been on the record this spring about their willingness to move back.
— Among the teams that might be looking to move up are the Browns, who also own the No. 12 pick and have a major hole to fill at quarterback; the Denver Broncos, who have moved up in the first round in each of the last two drafts; and the New England Patriots, who currently don’t own a pick in the first two rounds. The Patriots, while lacking in draft pick capital to make a move, do have two players, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and cornerback Malcolm Butler, who could be used as trading chips.
“I think anytime you move up or down it’s usually player-driven and player-specific. So until you actually know what you’re comparing and who you’re comparing to then it’s hard to make that decision,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said at a news conference last week. “There are a lot of variables involved and ultimately it’s going to be player-specific and player-driven. We’re not going to really know until we’re actually sitting there or kind of going through the draft once it gets started.”
In the days leading up to the draft, in addition to the exploratory phone calls, teams are also exchanging lists of contact information to be used throughout draft weekend. The lists include landlines and cell phone numbers for general managers, head coaches, football operations personnel and other executives who will be in each team’s war rooms.
As the draft begins to unfold, and players begin coming off the board, those phones are buzzing.
“As soon as you get on the clock you might get one or two calls, or three, depending on how many people behind you you’ve said you would trade back with. At that point, things can get a little hectic. As soon as you get on the clock you can say, ‘Hey, do you want to do it?’” Snead said. “But what’s interesting is when you get another team that calls in that maybe you weren’t expecting, maybe they’re more desperate, and all of a sudden you might have a better deal on the table so now you’re frantically working to analyze that. And the clock is ticking.”
Once teams have reached a verbal agreement on a trade, someone from each side will call the NFL’s head table, and the trade becomes official. But for many teams, that doesn’t mean the conversations stop. Trading picks continues throughout the weekend, with teams moving up in later rounds to grab specific players who may have fallen, or moving back to stock pile picks for future drafts.
“When people feel the draft talent is dwindling, that’s when you’re willing to dole out their picks to acquire future picks,” Dimitroff said. “I personally believe there are benefits of acquiring. But you have to continue to build your team and you have to play now.”
Recent draft-day trades for the Falcons have netted linebacker Deion Jones in 2016, the result of moving back, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett after moving up in the fifth round in 2015. Both were key players on the NFC championship defense last year, and proof that Dimitroff’s aggressive philosophy can pay off.
“Most general managers and head coaches are cognizant of the fact they better capitalize now with their organization or in three or four years they won’t be around to reap the benefits,” Dimitroff said. “There’s certainly the aggressiveness to go and get the pieces you need to build your team into a contender.”
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.
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