Skip to main content
Carolina Panthers

After combine, teams know the cost of doing trade business

Scott Fitterer

CHARLOTTE — Teams spent last week in Indianapolis meeting with and watching the prospects work out, but the real work was often happening in meetings between the guys already in the league.

The workouts and interviews with college players establish the targets. The hallway conversations and meetings with other coaches and general managers establish the price for teams that might want to move up in the draft order.

There are a handful of things we know after the league's annual trade show at the Indiana Convention Center. The Panthers are going to add a quarterback in the next couple of months. They'd clearly prefer it to be a drafted rookie, all things being equal. All things aren't equal since many other teams feel the exact same way. The Panthers pick ninth overall in the draft, which means most of this process is beyond their control unless they press the issue.

Both head coach Frank Reich and GM Scott Fitterer made it clear last week that trading up to get a young quarterback was definitely a possibility between now and the draft, and there were conversations along those lines.

"You go get the guy that you want, you know," Fitterer replied when asked about the risks involved in making a move. "If you have a conviction on a guy, you go get him. It's pretty simple that way. If you don't know and you're going to give all these resources to go up and get it, you're hurting your team in the long run.

"You better be right. You better have conviction if you do move up. When you do that, you're all in."

And with the Bears and other teams ahead of them making it clear they're open to deal, the combine was an important opener in discussions with teams that might want to deal. Again, the Panthers aren't the only team looking for a quarterback (the Texans and Colts are for sure, and others ought to be if they're not), and scarcity increases demand. So it's worth looking at what it would actually cost to do the kind of business they might have to do to get to the place they might want to be.

"Every option is on the table at this point, every option," Reich said Wednesday of acquiring an upgrade at quarterback. "Moving up, moving back, signing a free agent. Every option is on the table. It has to be.

"This is a huge decision. It would be malpractice not to really vet through every one of those decisions. What's the impact? What are the unintended consequences? You have to think through all that. That's where we're at right now."

So if it's not a pursuit of free agent (Derek Carr reportedly agreed to terms with the Saints today), the Panthers are also factoring in the cost of making a deal to draft one.

To understand how these trades work, you have to be familiar with the Jimmy Johnson draft value chart. (You can see an example of the full chart here.) Teams often have their own internal methods of determining the value of picks (which include weighting by position), but the Johnson chart is effectively the league standard, the language all 32 teams speak when they talk trade. Each pick has a fixed value on the chart, and when teams start trading future picks, they generally attach a value in the middle of the round (since no one knows where that pick will actually land).

The top pick, owned by the Bears, is worth 3,000 points. That prime real estate is followed by the Texans (2,600), Cardinals (2,200), Colts (1,800), Seahawks (1,700), Lions (1,600), Raiders (1,500), Falcons (1,400), and then the Panthers (1,350). So, if the Panthers want to get to the top spot, they'd need to make up 1,650 points worth of value to make it worthwhile to the Bears.

Since the 16th pick carries a value of 1,000 points, you can get a rough idea of how this goes. For reference, their 39th overall pick has a value of 510, and their 61st overall has a value of 292. But in a competitive environment, you can't just make someone accept your offer, and the Bears will definitely be trying to maximize the value they get. And when the target is a quarterback, teams often expect a premium on top of the normal chart value. Bears GM Ryan Poles told NBC's Peter King he knows he can get three first-rounders for the pick, which is the kind of thing you say when you're auctioning it off to the highest bidder.

So to get from the No. 9 overall pick to No. 1, the cost of such a deal will likely include the ninth pick, a future first (getting you to 2,350 points on the chart) and then some combination of other things to entice Chicago to make a move. Teams could also include players in the deal, though that happens less frequently than it used to.

Since the difference between the values of picks isn't staggered evenly, it costs significantly less to get to the No. 3 pick (owned by the Cardinals, who ostensibly aren't drafting a quarterback since they just paid Kyler Murray) than it does to get to No. 1. That could make it an attractive option in a year with multiple top-10 prospects.

That 850-point value difference between the ninth pick and the third is around the equivalent of a future first-rounder, or a little more than those two seconds the Panthers own this year.

To get from No. 9 to No. 5 (owned by the Seahawks, with whom general manager Scott Fitterer has had many trade conversations with over the years) represents a 350-point difference, something around a mid-to-late second-rounder.

The farther down the order you get, the less you have to give to move up. For instance, in 2018, the Bills moved from No. 12 to No. 7 to get Josh Allen. That cost them their first-rounder and a pair of late second-rounders.

There's a risk in applying precedents to current discussions, as a desperate party can overpay and change the dynamics in any year. The level of the prospects involved also changes things.

Of course, this isn't just a math problem; it's a talent evaluation. Winning a trade on a spreadsheet has negative value if the player you acquire isn't good at football.

So while the Panthers and other teams are trying to assess the value of picks, they're also trying to assess the relative value of Bryce Young and CJ Stroud and Will Levis and Anthony Richardson (and also guys such as Hendon Hooker and Max Duggan). If you get that part of it wrong and bet on the wrong horse, the numbers on the chart don't matter at all.



SF/Mia for Trey Lance at 3

Miami traded a first-round selection (3rd overall) to San Francisco in exchange for a first-round selection (12th overall), 2022 first- and third-round selections, and a 2023 first-round selection.


NYJ/Ind for Sam Darnold at 3

Indianapolis traded a first-round selection (3rd) to the Jets in exchange for the Jets' first-round selection (6th), two second-round selections (37th and 49th), and a second-round selection in 2019.


Buf/TB for Josh Allen at 7

Tampa Bay traded first- and seventh-round selections (7th and 255th) to Buffalo in exchange for Buffalo's first-round selection (12th) and two second-round selections (53rd and 56th).


AZ/Oak for Josh Rosen at 10

Oakland traded a first-round selection (10th) to Arizona in exchange for Arizona's first-, third-, and fifth-round selections (15th, 79th, and 152nd).


Chi/SF for Mitchell Trubisky at 2

San Francisco traded a first-round selection (2nd) to Chicago in exchange for Chicago's first-, third-, and fourth-round selections (3rd, 67th, and 111th) as well as a third-round selection in 2018.


KC/Buf for Patrick Mahomes at 10

Buffalo traded a first-round selection (10th) to Kansas City in exchange for Kansas City's first- and third-round selections (27th and 91st), as well as a first-round selection in 2018.


LAR/Ten for Jared Goff at 1

Tennessee traded its first-, fourth-, and sixth-round selections (first, 113th, and 177th) to Los Angeles in exchange for Los Angeles's first-round, two second-round, and third-round selections in this year's draft (15th, 43rd, 45th, and 76th) as well as Los Angeles's first- and third-round selections in the 2017 NFL Draft.


Phi/Cle for Carson Wentz at 2

Cleveland traded its first-rounder (2nd) and a conditional fifth-round selection in 2017 to Philadelphia in exchange for Philadelphia's first-round, third-round, and fourth-round selections (8th, 77th, and 100th) as well as Philadelphia's first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft and a second-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

View photos of head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer from their press conferences and interviews with the media at the Combine on Wednesday.

Related Content