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Equal compensation harder in pre-draft trades

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Watching NFL executives work out trades at this time of the year is almost as absurd as watching "Let's Make a Deal,” the former game show where costume-clad people routinely turned down thousands of dollars for the goat behind Door No. 3.

The Miami Dolphins got linebacker Akin Ayodele and tight end Anthony Fasano from the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick on the eve of last year's NFL draft. Ayodele and Fasano started all season while Dallas didn't even use the pick, eventually sending it to the Oakland Raiders.

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Moss had a record-setting 23 TD catches in 2007.
(Jim O'Connor/US Presswire)

A year earlier, an all-time heist took place when the New England Patriots fleeced Oakland by getting wide receiver Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick.

Contrast those to the regular-season deal in which the Detroit Lions traded wide receiver Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick to the Cowboys for a first-, third- and sixth-round pick and it's clear that getting equal-value compensation is sometimes harder in pre-draft deals.

"The mindsets are completely different," former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "During the season, you need to get the player on your team right away. There's an urgency. You don't have time to waste haggling over every part of the deal, so it gets done.

"In the offseason, things move much more slowly. Everybody is thinking through everything, trying to figure out what works best and it takes weeks. About the only thing that moves it along is the fact that the draft may be coming up."

There are obvious exceptions to the rule – such as the Jay Cutler deal to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago and the Minnesota Vikings' landing of Jared Allen last year – but one-sided deals aren't uncommon this time of the year. Reminiscent to when game-show host Monty Hall was swaying people into giving up a sure thing for the hope that there was a brand new car behind one of those big doors, NFL executives now routinely give away proven performers with the belief that an acquired draft pick could turn into a star player.

"There's definitely a lot of that going on," said Mike Lombardi, a former NFL personnel executive who worked with five franchises. "You get a lot of people who fall in love with the mystery of the draft, the idea that every player they take is going to be great. That's why a lot of teams then hold on to those guys they draft for too long."

In addition, there's a quick payoff when trading a player for picks right before the draft.

"There's immediate gratification," Savage said. "It's not like during the regular season, where if you make a trade, you're not going to make the picks for another six months. When you trade that player, you're getting somebody new right away with those picks around draft time."

The situation is further tinged by two things. First, and foremost, there is usually some contract problem with the veteran player.

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The Giants are expected to trade for Edwards before next weekend's draft.
(Marc Duncan/AP Photo)

"For whatever reason, you have a player who is making too much or too little and one side or the other wants to redo the deal, but the club doesn't want to put more money into that aging, veteran player," Lombardi said. "Look at Cleveland and Arizona right now with Braylon Edwards and Anquan Boldin. The reason they're willing to move those guys is the contract. Cleveland thinks Edwards is going to leave anyway [his contract expires after the '09 season], so why not trade him now. Arizona knows Boldin wants a new deal, so move on."

Sources said the Browns want at least a first-round pick for Edwards or an equivalent package of picks and players. That's why Cleveland reportedly asked the New York Giants for a second-round pick, a fifth-rounder and wide receiver Steve Smith in exchange for Edwards recently. Likewise, Arizona is reportedly asking for a first- and third-round pick for Boldin.

In all likelihood, neither team will get that at this point of the year. That's because of the second part of the trade issue in the offseason. The perception in many cases is that the veteran being traded is declining. With football being a short-term life, by nature, many executives are willing to sell low.

"Do you think anybody is giving up a first and a third for [Cincinnati wide receiver] Chad Johnson now," Lombardi said. "No, because the perception is that Chad is declining. Everybody looks at this numbers and says, 'He only averaged 10 yards a catch and his longest was 25 yards last year' and thinks he's close to being done. They don't look at the tape and find out that the guy is getting open still, the Bengals just couldn't get him the ball for whatever reason.

"They don't call a former coach who was on the Bengals staff last year and find out what was going on in practice and what was the team really able to do. That's why they don't really find out and then judge for themselves."

Coupled with the desire of the team trading the player to get draft picks, you get a perfect recipe for a bargain price.