The San Francisco 49ers had the No. 3 overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft. Short on defense, they could have chosen defensive tackle Corey Simon. They could have taken linebacker Brian Urlacher.
But the 49ers never got a chance because before draft day, then-general manager Bill Walsh peddled the pick to Washington for two lower first-round picks — No. 12 and No. 24 — along with fourth- and fifth-round picks.
The 49ers were a bad team with some salary cap problems. Trading down was the quickest way to stockpile younger, cheaper players.
“It was vital for us to secure choices to supplement our roster,” Walsh said at the time. “The trade will give us the chance to add four players with what would have been just one choice.”
The 49ers traded down again, ending up with the 16th and 24th picks, and chose linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Ahmed Plummer. Both are starters today for the NFC West champs.
In these times of gigantic rookie contracts for early choices and a draft limited to seven picks per team, trading down is an attractive option. The team trading down, in theory, is giving up on a better player. But by acquiring extra picks, the team can use that quantity to improve in more areas.
Of the teams choosing with the top six picks in Saturday’s NFL draft, every one but the Dallas Cowboys at No. 5 have publicly expressed an interest in dealing its choice and moving down. That includes the Cardinals at No. 6.
“(Trading down) is a rich alternative,” said Rod Graves, Cardinals vice president of football operations. “If you have that option, I think it is something that is certainly beneficial.”
ART OF THE DEAL
Trading down from an early pick is a risk-vs.-reward judgment, although the clarity of that decision is often muddied by the inexact nature of the draft.
“If you are in the top five, you should be able to get a guy who is a difference-maker, an impact, hopefully Pro Bowl-type of guy,” said Houston coach Dom Capers, whose team chooses third. “How far down does that go? Those guys, it’s what everyone is looking for. You have to get two or three difference-makers on each side of the ball.”
Chicago coach Dick Jauron, whose Bears select fourth, said he would lean toward taking a special player at the top of the draft “because you don’t know when you’re going to get another chance.”
The problem is the special player doesn’t always turn out to be special. In 1995, Carolina dealt its No. 1 overall pick to Cincinnati, which held the fifth pick. The Bengals chose running back Ki-Jana Carter, who blew out his knee and was never the same. In 1996, the Rams traded for Washington’s No. 6 overall pick to get running back Lawrence Phillips, an outright bust.
Sometimes, the team makes the right move to trade down and it still backfires. The Cardinals proved that in 1998.
San Diego, desperate to get its hands on Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf, swapped its No. 3 overall pick for Arizona’s No. 2 pick. The Cardinals still were able to draft the guy they wanted — Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth — and pick up linebacker Patrick Sapp, return man Eric Metcalf and two other draft choices. Leaf was a magnificent waste of a pick. But Wadsworth didn’t amount to much after a series of injuries and carried heavy dead money on the salary cap when the Cards finally had to release him before the 2001 season.
At least one of the draft choices the Cards received turned out to be the No. 8 pick in 1999, which became receiver David Boston.
PRELUDE TO A DRAFT
Graves all but guaranteed that, given the Cardinals' many needs this year, they won't trade up. Instead, they'll spend time on the phone with the teams behind them in the draft. While trades like the 49ers-Redskins swap in 2000 came in February, most first-round deals happen on draft day, when the pressure of the clocks creates a sense of urgency.
The Cards, like most teams, already have assigned values to the players available, so a deal posed in the 15-minute window each team gets for a first-round pick can be efficiently evaluated.
“You can’t go through all the scenarios,” said Detroit coach Steve Mariucci, whose Lions own the No. 2 pick. “Someone might say, ‘We’ll give you this pick and Joe Schumutz,’ and then you have to say, ‘Hey, do we have a grade on that guy? Is he healthy? Is he alive?’
“But if it is just draft picks, we will be prepared to say yes or no and this is what we need. We will also know if we go back to (No.) 5 or 8 or 12, who the players are going to be there, and then make an educated decision.”
A handful of teams have multiple draft picks available to pry one of the early choices. Four teams — New Orleans, New England, Oakland and the New York Jets — have two first-round picks. Houston has three third-round picks to play with if it wants to jump Detroit at No. 2 and take the Bengals’ No. 1 overall pick. Philadelphia has two second-rounders.
The Saints, for example, would love to get a premier cornerback — either Terence Newman or Marcus Trufant. New Orleans coach Jim Haslett admitted it might take both of the Saints’ No. 1 picks (17 and 18 overall) to move up into the top six and guarantee a chance at one of them.
But Haslett also said he would be leery of the cost of a top-six pick, which will be considerably more than the combined cost of two lower first-round picks.
“You might get a better player,” Haslett said. “But you’re paying twice as much, and I’m getting an extra player. So I don’t know if you take that deal.”
If the teams in the top six can’t find a partner to swap picks with, the willingness to trade down isn’t going to mean much.
“One could do a real interesting thesis on the (early) pick vs. the value vs. the production vs. the length in the league and starts,” Mariucci said. “It’s a crapshoot. It really is a crapshoot.”
A pick in the top six of the NFL draft hopefully gives a team instant help. But of the 54 players chosen over the past nine years (the 2002 draftees get a pass because they only have one year in the league) only 21 have become Pro Bowlers within their first three seasons:
Drew Bledsoe, QB (No.1)
Marshall Faulk, RB (No. 2)
1995 Tony Boselli, OT (No. 2)
Kerry Collins, QB (No. 5)
Keyshawn Johnson, WR (No. 1)
Jonathan Ogden, OT (No. 4)
Orlando Pace, OT (No. 1)
Darrell Russell, DT (No. 2)
Shawn Springs, CB (No. 3)
Peter Boulware, LB (No. 4)
Walter Jones, OT (No. 6)
Peyton Manning, QB (No. 1)
Charles Woodson, CB (No. 4)
Donovan McNabb, QB (No. 2)
Edgerrin James, RB (No. 4)
Torry Holt, WR (No. 6)
LeVar Arrington, LB (No. 2)
Chris Samuels, OT (No. 3)
Corey Simon, DT (No. 6)
2001 (played just two seasons)
Michael Vick, QB (No. 1)
LaDanian Tomlinson, RB (No. 5)
Over the past decade, a total of 13 teams have dealt a top six pick just prior to or during that season’s draft, with mixed results:
• N.Y. Jets (No. 3) trade with Arizona (No. 4) so Cards can get RB Garrison Hearst. Jets get LB Marvin Jones and veteran RB Johnny Johnson.
• L.A. Rams (No. 5) trade with Indianapolis (No. 7) so Colts can get LB Trev Alberts. Rams get an extra pick and trade the No. 7 pick again to San Francisco (No. 15) and get OT Wayne Gandy and two more picks.
• Carolina (No. 1) trades with Cincinnati (No. 5) so Bengals can get RB Ki-Jana Carter. Panthers select QB Kerry Collins and get another pick.
• Washington (No. 6) trades with St. Louis so Rams can get RB Lawrence Phillips. Redskins receive veteran DT Sean Gilbert.
• N.Y. Jets (No. 1) trade with St. Louis (No. 6) so Rams can get OT Orlando Pace. Jets get four picks, shipping No. 6 to Tampa Bay for the No. 8 pick (LB James Farrior) and another pick.
• New Orleans (No. 2) trades with Oakland (No. 10) so Raiders can get DT Darrell Russell. Saints get G Chris Naeole, two other picks and WR Daryl Hobbs.
• Atlanta (No. 3) trades with Seattle (No. 11) so Seahawks can get CB Shawn Springs. Falcons get LB Michael Booker and two other picks.
• Tampa Bay trades sixth pick acquired from Jets to Seattle so Seahawks can get OT Walter Jones. Bucs get Warrick Dunn (No. 12) and another choice.
• Arizona (No. 2) trades with San Diego (No. 3) so Chargers can get QB Ryan Leaf. Cards select DE Andre Wadsworth and also get LB Patrick Sapp, RB Eric Metcalf, and two other picks (including 1999 first-rounder that turned out to be David Boston).
• Washington (No. 5) trades with New Orleans so Saints can pick RB Ricky Williams. Redskins get six 1999 picks and two more (including a first-rounder) in 2000.
• San Francisco (No. 3) trades with Washington so Redskins get OT Chris Samuels. 49ers get Nos. 12 and 24 picks (CB Ahmed Plummer) in first round, plus two more picks, then trade No. 12 pick to Jets for No. 16 pick (LB Julian Peterson) and another pick.
• San Diego (No. 1) trades with Atlanta (No. 5) so Falcons can get QB Michael Vick. Chargers select RB LaDainian Tomlinson and also get WR Tim Dwight and two other picks.
• Dallas (No. 6) trades with Kansas City (No. 8) so Chiefs can get DT Ryan Sims. Cowboys select S Roy Williams and get two other picks.
NFL draft order
12. St. Louis
13. a-New York Jets
14. b-New England
15. San Diego
16. Kansas City
17. New Orleans
18. c-New Orleans
19. New England
22. New York Jets
25. New York Giants
26. San Francisco
29. Green Bay
e-from Tampa Bay