Thursday’s one-two punch of USC quarterback Matt Barkley staying put at USC and the Colts possibly not staying put at the top of the draft board has renewed the focus on the top 10 picks in the draft.
As Adam Schefter of ESPN reported during a Saturday version of Sunday NFL Countdown (which technically makes it Saturday NFL Countdown), a team that expects to pick between No. 4 and No. 10 is disappointed by Barkley’s absence from the draft pool, because that team had hoped to pull off a Julio Jones-style trade down in exchange for giving up the ability to pick Barkley.
Schefter also points out, as others have (e.g., Friday’s NBC SportsTalk) that the value of those top picks has increased without Barkley, since there will be fewer quarterbacks available.
And so as the Colts, Rams, and Vikings congregate at the bottom with the Colts able to “clinch” the top pick via a loss next week or one win down the stretch from the Vikings and Rams each, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, the Jaguars will be very tempted to lay down for the Colts on January 1. If losing one game to the Colts means not having to deal with Andrew Luck for the next 15 years, it’s a small price to pay. Though the Jaguars players would never lose on purpose and the league office would frown (at a minimum) on any edicts from ownership aimed at delivering a loss (e.g., “let’s punt on first down”), it would be a prudent long-term business decision to give up one game in order to ensure that the successor to Peyton Manning will land in another division and in the other conference.
Second, how much will the top pick yield in trade? Much of it depends on the spot from which the team that makes the move originally will be drafting. It’s one thing for the Colts/Rams/Vikings to slide to No. 5. It’s quite another to free-fall to No. 25. The specific extent of the move down will drive the ultimate compensation for the trade.
Third, to maximize trade value, the team that secures the first pick should try to get the word out that it will pick Luck. While an auction could emerge for dibs on Luck, the best leverage comes from selling everyone on the idea that the team with the first overall selection will say, “Screw it, we’re taking the guy.” The Colts already have convinced everyone that they’ll take Luck, which means that they’ll get even more if they trade him. The Rams, despite the presence of Sam Bradford, could do the same thing, if a new coach and G.M. is hired, and if they decide they don’t want Sam Bradford.
For the Vikings, it will be somewhat tempting to take Luck and to trade Christian Ponder. But it will be even more tempting for the Vikings to try to pull off a reverse-Herschel, 23 years after being fleeced by the Cowboys for the tailback who supposedly was the missing piece of the puzzle. Still, the Vikings would put even more pressure on themselves to develop Ponder, given the possibility that Luck will become the next great NFL quarterback — and that Ponder won’t.
Fourth, at a time when some are speculating that up to six first-round picks could be dangled for a shot at Andrew Luck, it’s important to remember the enhanced value of first-round picks, given the new rookie wage scale. In past years, a high first-round pick became a financial ball and chain. Now, teams have the ability to lock up a blue-chip player for five years with a contract far smaller than what a top free agent at the position would command. As a result, first-round picks means more than they ever did. (Except, of course, in Oakland.)
Fifth, and finally (finally), whoever pays a king’s ransom for the NFL’s presumed crown prince needs to be sure that Andrew Luck actually wants to play for a team that has mortgaged much of its future in order to get him. While empty cupboards quickly can be filled via free agency, the young nucleus of Luck’s new team could consist of Luck and only Luck for several years, if too many draft picks are given up to get him.
And so this situation entails plenty of contingencies and moving parts. As of next Sunday, we’ll know the initial pecking order. Beyond that, things could get complicated and unpredictable.