Lockout, talent pool put freeze on trades

The usual torrent of trade rumors has been reduced to nothing this offseason because of the NFL's lockout. And don't figure it to return anytime soon.

"It's completely dead out there this year," one NFC general manager said last week. "Nothing!"

While it's still early in the process and many teams are still finalizing their NFL draft boards, the feeling among a handful of league executives right now is that next week's draft could feature a stunning lack of trades. Because roster moves are prohibited during the lockout, there have been no trades at a time when there are usually at least a dozen.

"Unless we get a [new collective bargaining agreement) done in the next week or so, all of that is gone," the NFC executive said. "With what has happened the past couple of years, not being able to trade players really throws a wrench into the whole thing."

On top of the lockout, some execs believe that the lack of an overwhelming difference among the top group of picks is keeping the market down. In short, the difference between taking someone such as LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green or Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller is considered small.

"I would definitely agree with that," Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. "There are going to be some need issues for different teams, but you're probably not seeing a huge difference in terms of who goes second and who goes sixth."

Or as another unnamed NFC general manager put it: "Unless you're desperate for one of the quarterbacks – and I don't think anybody is really that desperate this year – I think most teams are looking at the top end of the draft and being patient. You have a clump of good players who are all about the same. Yeah, you have a couple of quarterbacks [Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert] who will probably go top 10 just because everybody needs a quarterback.

"But I think most teams think: 'If I get one of the top quarterbacks, fine. I'm not going to reach for one. I'll get one of the next level guys in the second round.' Those teams would just as soon get one of the impact defensive guys or one of the receivers and be happy."

In the past three years, the March and April time leading up to the draft has regularly featured notable trades. Be it defensive end Jared Allen(notes) being dealt from the Kansas City Chiefs to Minnesota Vikings in 2008, quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) going from the Denver Broncos to the Chicago Bears in 2009 or quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes) being shipped by the Philadelphia Eagles to the rival Washington Redskins in 2010, the lead up to the draft has been filled with veteran players going one way and draft picks headed another.

The Jets moved up 12 spots to draft Sanchez.
(US Presswire)

Or, as with the 2009 draft-day trade between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets, the rights to a prominent young quarterback (Mark Sanchez(notes)) moved in exchange for three veteran players and two picks.

Over the past three years, there was an increasing trend toward trades involving players rather than just draft picks, such as the aforementioned deals. In 2008, there were 45 trades between the start of the league year (usually March 1) and the end of the draft. Of those, 15 involved some combination of players and draft picks. The other 30 involved only draft picks, with teams usually jockeying for position during one of the days of the draft.

In 2009, there were 44 trades in that same period, 18 including players and 26 with just draft picks. By 2010, there were 55 trades, 27 including players and 28 just draft picks. In three years, the percentage of trades involving players went from 33 percent to nearly 50 percent.

Some of the reason is functional. In 2009, a large group of teams were significantly under the salary cap, making it easier to trade veteran players. In 2010, the league did not have a salary cap, meaning there was basically no restriction on trading a veteran player from a financial standpoint. But the overriding issue is that many general managers and executives have altered their view on making moves. While many once held onto picks as if they were rare gemstones, there is a feeling that there is a time and place for trading.

"It depends on where you are in the building process of your team," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, who traded quarterback Byron Leftwich(notes) to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the eve of last year's draft. "You may be looking at getting a proven player for a certain spot or you may be shoring up depth."

In recent years, the very top of the draft has been relatively dormant regarding trades. Aside from the deal for Sanchez, the past three years haven't featured any other deals in the top 10 picks. The reason for that was the large amount of guaranteed money that generally went with drafting a player high (i.e. the $50 million guaranteed that quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) received as the No. 1 pick of the St. Louis Rams last year).

This year, most executives don't see that impediment anymore. This year, it's more a question of talent.

"Not that I have any real knowledge of what's going on in the negotiations [over a new contract with the players]," the first NFC general manager said. "But I think it's pretty widely believed that we're going to have some kind of rookie wage scale this year. So that's not going to scare people from moving up."

Mark Dominik
(AP Photo)

It may simply come down to lack of demand at the top of the draft – including the quarterbacks.

"I would expect those two guys [Newton and Gabbert] to be gone pretty high, but I wouldn't be that surprised if they don't go as high as a lot of people think," Schneider said. "I was on a radio show the other day and I came on after Mark Dominik. They said Mark said that as many as five or six quarterbacks could go in the first round.

"Now, Mark and I are friends, but if he was sitting next to me I would say the same thing: He's hoping five or six quarterbacks go in the first round because he already has a quarterback and he's hoping to get a player he wants."

Particularly without having to trade for that player.