The NFL Mock Trade Draft, Part 1

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The week of the NFL draft is finally upon us. If you’re like me, you’ve read (or listened to) so many mock drafts by now that even the slightest hint of somebody arbitrarily making selections for an entire league is enough for you to curl into the fetal position. I love mock drafts, but by the last week of April, the onslaught is a little much.

So, here’s another mock draft. This one is a bit different. As you might have suspected from the headline, this is a mock draft that consists entirely of trades. I’ve gone through each spot in the first round and tried to come up with some sort of deal that makes sense for the team in question. Sometimes, that’s a trade up. Other times, it’s a trade down. In a few cases, it’s a ridiculous, never-going-to-happen-in-a-million-years blockbuster that’s fun to think about. None of these trades will actually happen, but some will come closer than others.

I’ve tried to honor the sort of logic each team’s personnel executives have applied to draft-pick value in the past. In other words, Bill Belichick is going to value his draft picks more than Ryan Grigson will. To estimate the value of each pick, I’m using the draft chart created by Jimmy Johnson; even though there are more accurate measures of draft returns available, the Johnson chart is the one the majority of teams are most likely to be using on draft day.

Finally, it’s important to note that each of these trades occurs in a vacuum. There are separate transactions in which different teams move up for Marcus Mariota; obviously, that can’t happen in real life. I attempted to be fair in how the draft will play out, but the natural variance of the draft means that I’m suggesting some players will be around at certain spots in certain trades when they won’t be available in others. Texas defensive lineman Malcom Brown entices a team to trade up to the middle of the first round here; in another scenario, with Brown presumably unavailable, a team that would likely be happy to take Brown in a similar spot trades down. These are 32 trades in 32 universes.

Let’s start with a tough one: What would it take for the Buccaneers to pass up the option of drafting one of the draft’s two possible franchise quarterbacks with the first overall selection? I promise the trades aren’t all this crazy, but let’s start with a doozy.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers send: 2015-1-1,1 2016-3, Vincent Jackson
Eagles send: 2015-1-20, 2015-4-113, 2016-1, 2017-4 (conditional), Evan Mathis, Sam Bradford, and Brandon Boykin

Forget trading up to no. 2; if the Eagles want to ensure they end up with their pick of the quarterback class, they’ll need to give up a serious haul to make it to no. 1. With the Buccaneers publicly suggesting they could take Mariota with the first overall pick, and the Chargers capable of sending Philip Rivers to Tampa Bay as part of a deal, the Eagles would need to find a combination of picks and players that justifies this sort of enormous swing.

Chip Kelly has publicly suggested he doesn’t want to give away the franchise in a deal for a promising young quarterback. This sort of trade isn’t quite giving away the deed to the team, but it’s admittedly pretty close. The Eagles would give up an additional first-rounder, leaving them without their first two picks in the 2016 draft,2 which is why they get a 2016 third-rounder back. They’ll send a 2017 fourth-rounder to Tampa Bay, and let’s say that can scale up if the Eagles win the NFC (third-rounder) or the Super Bowl (second-rounder) in 2015 or 2016.

The Eagles also send a fair amount of talent to Tampa Bay as part of the trade, albeit mostly in players they don’t really seem to want. They would have little need for Sam Bradford if they traded for Mariota or Jameis Winston, so he would give the Buccaneers a viable quarterback of the present with some upside in the years to come. Evan Mathis would be a massive upgrade for one of the league’s worst guard pairings, and Brandon Boykin gives the Bucs one of football’s best slot cornerbacks. He’s also more likely to get a shot to play outside, as he desires.

Philadelphia does get a useful veteran receiver in return. Vincent Jackson is 32, but the 6-foot-5 former Chargers star gives Kelly the sort of oversize downfield target he desires, at least in the short term. With two years left on his contract, Jackson would profile as Philadelphia’s top wideout ahead of Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews. If the Eagles are going to trade up for Mariota, they better have a receiver like Jackson for him to throw to.

2. Tennessee Titans

Titans send: 2015-1-2, 2016-3 (conditional)
Chargers send: Philip Rivers, 2015-1-17, 2016-2 (conditional)

I wrote at length about the possibility of a Rivers trade two weeks ago, and if Mariota is still on the board at no. 2, a Rivers-for-Mariota swap looks more and more likely with each passing day. If the Chargers are sure they want to move on from their longtime quarterback, this is going to be their best chance to get something substantial in return.

The question then revolves around the various picks that would be included in such a swap. The Chargers would almost surely have to include the 17th pick, but what else would have to go into the pot? The fairest way to measure it is to adjust the compensation for success. Let the Titans swap a three for a two. If the Titans make the playoffs this season, the third-rounder becomes a first-rounder; likewise, if the Chargers make the playoffs with Mariota at the helm, the second-rounder transitions into the first round.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars send: 2015-1-3, Justin Blackmon
Browns send: 2015-1-12, 2015-1-19, 2015-4-111, Josh Gordon

Even after two years of rebuilding under general manager Dave Caldwell and spending in bulk during each of the last two free-agent periods, the Jaguars still have one of the thinnest rosters in football, having been left in ruins by former general manager Gene Smith. The Jags took Blake Bortles third last year and selected receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round; now they need to start acquiring additional picks to swap out the replacement-level talent lurking on their roster for quality NFL contributors.

In this case, that means passing up the opportunity to take hulking USC end Leonard Williams or an edge rusher like Florida’s Dante Fowler. This is just about a dead match on the Johnson chart, and it leaves the Jaguars a pair of first-rounders this draft. That gives them all kinds of flexibility. They can take an Ozzie Newsome–esque approach and move around to grab the guy they want later in the first round, especially if that’s somebody like Nebraska pass-rusher Randy Gregory.

The Browns, meanwhile, leverage the first-rounder they got from the Bills last year in the Sammy Watkins deal to trade up to grab a true superstar. That probably won’t be a quarterback, but they can fill one of two critical needs at no. 3. If they want a wide receiver, they should be able to choose between Amari Cooper and Kevin White, the draft’s two premier wideouts, before the Raiders can get to one of them at no. 4. If they want to improve their 31st-ranked run defense, they can draft Williams and plug him in as a 5-technique end. The teams also swap their troubled wideouts in a total-change-of-scenery maneuver that would probably benefit both players.

4. Oakland Raiders

Raiders send: 2015-1-4
Dolphins send: 2015-1-14, 2015-2-47, 2015-4-114, Dion Jordan

It will be tough for the Raiders to justify moving out of the fourth slot, if only because they have a glaring need for a top wide receiver and are likely to have their choice of Cooper or White at that spot. If they move down 10 slots, they should still have the opportunity to grab somebody like DeVante Parker or Breshad Perriman at 14 while picking up a valuable second-rounder in the process. This deal would also have Oakland receive Jordan, who has been wildly disappointing during his two seasons in Miami and was drafted by an administration that is no longer in power.

New Dolphins executive vice-president Mike Tannenbaum is no stranger to trading up to grab a high-profile player in the first round, having sent two picks and three players to the Browns in 2009 to draft Mark Sanchez. Here, he would be likely going after a wide receiver, assuming that the Jaguars take a defensive player third and that both Cooper and White are on the board.

5. Washington

Washington sends: 2015-1-5
Rams send: 2015-1-10, 2015-4-119, 2016-2 (acquired from Philadelphia)

I have to admit that I want to see the tables turn between these two, with the Rams trading up and sending extra picks to Washington after enjoying the bounty of picks provided to them by Daniel Snyder in the RG3 trade. New Washington general manager Scot McCloughan has to acquire extra picks to make up for the selections that the previous administration sent to St. Louis, and here, he gets the second-rounder the Eagles sent to the Rams in the Sam Bradford–Nick Foles trade.

The Rams, on the other hand, have a deep roster in need of a few game-changing contributors. While they’ve invested six draft picks in the first four rounds on wide receivers in their last four drafts, St. Louis still lacks a no. 1 wideout. The Rams could roll into 2015 with Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, and Tavon Austin in the slot, but by trading up here, they could add White or Cooper to the mix as another weapon for Foles. With Jeff Fisher and Les Snead possibly fighting for their jobs this year, the Rams should be all in to win in 2015.

6. New York Jets

Jets send: 2015-1-6
Saints send: 2015-1-13, 2015-3-75, 2015-3-78

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis trades up in the draft as much as any other general manager in football. So while he’s acquired five of the top 80 picks in this year’s draft by trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, don’t expect him to stand still. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him package a couple of those picks to move up to grab a specific target earlier in the first round.

Here, that comes by trading his two third-rounders to the Jets, who move down seven slots amid rumors that they’re interested in drafting Stanford tackle Andrus Peat as a long-term replacement for left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The Saints would love to move up to grab Williams if he somehow makes it to no. 6, but more likely, they would be in the running for one of the draft’s higher-profile edge rushers, like Fowler or Gregory, to play across from Junior Galette.

7. Chicago Bears

Bears send: 2015-1-7, 2015-3-71, 2015-5-142
Raiders send: 2015-1-4

New Bears general manager Ryan Pace had spent his entire NFL career working for the Saints, and while there’s no guarantee he’ll be as aggressive about trading up as Loomis has been, the apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree. If Pace falls in love with a player who isn’t likely to make it from no. 4 to no. 7, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him send a pair of picks to Oakland to nab his man.

Who would that be? It depends on who goes third. If the Jaguars take Fowler, Pace could justify trading up to grab Williams, who would give new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio another toy to play with in Chicago’s rebuilt front seven. If the Jaguars take Williams, Pace could move for Cooper or White as a replacement for Brandon Marshall, knowing that one or both could be gone by the time the Bears pick.

8. Atlanta Falcons

Falcons send: 2015-1-8, 2015-4-107
Rams send: 2015-1-10, 2015-3-72

The third straight team in this draft to undergo some sort of administrative shake-up, the Falcons shifted job responsibilities around this offseason and gave former Patriots and Chiefs head Scott Pioli additional powers at the expense of Thomas Dimitroff. While Dimitroff is still technically in charge, it certainly seems like Pioli will have a larger voice in the draft room, which could be a good thing; he’s tended to lean toward a more conservative, pick-stockpiling approach in the past, while Dimitroff authored aggressive moves for the likes of Julio Jones that helped the Falcons approach a Super Bowl in 2012 before leaving them barren in 2013 and 2014.

They don’t pick up any extra picks as part of this swap, but moving up 35 picks later in the draft is a subtle victory as part of such a minor move. The Falcons should still be able to pick the pass-rusher they would have wanted at no. 8 two picks later, given that the Rams won’t be trading up to grab one and the Giants have too many needs elsewhere. St. Louis would move up two spots to leap ahead of New York and grab much-needed offensive line help in the form of Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff, which … I’m crying. Let’s just move on.

9. New York Giants

Giants send: Jason Pierre-Paul, 2016-6 (conditional)
Colts send: 2015-1-29, Donald Thomas, Bjoern Werner

OK, so this is cheating. It’s a trade that doesn’t involve the ninth pick at all, but that’s not a surprise. Giants general manager Jerry Reese probably isn’t going to budge from this spot; he hasn’t traded a first- or second-round pick during his tenure as GM, a run that has included just three draft-day trades. The Giants are probably locked in at no. 9, and for Eli Manning’s sake, let’s hope they’re locked in on Scherff.

Instead, here, they make a move for an additional draft pick. The organization franchised Jason Pierre-Paul this offseason after failing to come to terms with their star defensive end on a long-term contract, and while they can do that again next year, JPP’s salary would rise from $14.8 million to $17.8 million. It’s not a very appealing outcome. If Reese doesn’t think he’ll be able to lock up Pierre-Paul, he’s better off trading JPP now, as the South Florida product is coming off a 12.5-sack season and looked to be at his healthiest since that fateful 2011 season.

Reese could find a willing trade partner in the Colts, who could still use another edge rusher despite signing Trent Cole this offseason. Robert Mathis could be out until November after tearing his Achilles last year, and if Grigson is really all in to try to win a title in 2015, he can surely justify using the 29th pick on a impact edge rusher like JPP. The Colts would send back their own failed first-round pass-rusher in Bjoern Werner, who exhibited little as Mathis’s replacement last season, and some cap ballast in Donald Thomas, who could compete for snaps at guard.

10. St. Louis Rams

Rams send: 2015-1-10, 2015-4-119
Cardinals send: 2015-1-24, 2015-3-86, 2015-5-159, 2016-2

If the Rams don’t trade up to grab a premium wide receiver, they could choose to trade down, stockpile more picks, and wait to find better value on a cornerback like Byron Jones. This trade would give them three second-rounders in the 2016 draft, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them flip two of those second-rounders to pick up another first-rounder in this year’s draft.

Arizona, meanwhile, has been popularly linked to a move for Georgia running back Todd Gurley; Steve Keim doesn’t strike me as the sort of general manager to go crazy for a running back, but after the Cardinals averaged a miserly 3.3 yards per carry last year, they might try to shop in the premium aisle. They have to worry about the Browns taking Gurley at no. 12, and if the Vikings can find a suitor for Adrian Peterson, they would be a prime candidate to nab Gurley at no. 11.

11. Minnesota Vikings

Vikings send: 2015-1-11, 2015-5-137, Cordarrelle Patterson
Bears send: 2015-1-7

Patterson, who showed flashes of brilliance during the second half of his rookie season, simply never got going last year. He seemed to get on the wrong side of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and by the end of the year, he was fourth on the depth chart behind even waiver-wire acquisition Charles Johnson. Minnesota’s offseason trade for Mike Wallace suggests the Vikings don’t have a lot of faith in Patterson as a deep threat, let alone as a no. 1 receiver.

The Bears, meanwhile, desperately need options at wide receiver; after trading Marshall this offseason, they’re down to 2013 seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson as a starter across from Alshon Jeffery. That’s trouble. It seems certain they’ll address the position at some point during draft weekend, but they could justify moving down four spots by taking a flier on Patterson. This trade would implicitly value him as being worth a mid-third-rounder, which seems fair.

12. Cleveland Browns

Browns send: 2015-1-12, 2015-2-43, 2015-4-111
Washington sends: 2015-1-5

We’ve already seen reflections of this deal in a couple of other swaps. Washington needs the extra picks and doesn’t match up well with the top of this draft class, given that teams will be looking at wide receivers like Cooper and White and possibly an interior defensive lineman like Williams at no. 5. Washington could justify an edge rusher, but with Ryan Kerrigan already on one side, it’s not the team’s biggest need. McCloughan would feel better about working on his secondary or offensive line at no. 12 and no. 43. And the Browns could trade up for, well, one of the three prospects I just mentioned.

13. New Orleans Saints

OK, I feel like this is lagging. Let’s throw a bomb out there. This is a three-way trade, so it’ll be easier to look at it from the perspective of what each team gets:

Saints get: 2015-2-33 (Titans), 2015-4-113 (Eagles), Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin
Titans get: 2015-1-13 (Saints), 2015-1-20 (Eagles), 2016-1 (Eagles), Sam Bradford, possible future considerations
Eagles get: 2015-1-2 (Titans), 2015-3-78 (Saints), 2016-4 (Titans, conditional), Justin Hunter

Everyone wins! Or loses! I can’t tell which, and that makes me think it’s fair.

The Saints do this because it gives them a pair of cheap impact defenders without sacrificing any draft picks. They trade down from 13 (to 33) and 78 (to 113), but in the process, they get two defenders on rookie contracts in Kendricks and Boykin, who have each been the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks. Kendricks would slot in as New Orleans’s best inside linebacker from Week 1, while Boykin would be a massive upgrade on Kyle Wilson in the slot. They’re both due new deals next year, but the Saints will be in better cap shape then. And they can still package their picks for an upgrade at edge rusher.

Tennessee does this because it gets an earthshaking return for passing on Mariota. While they do give up the second overall selection and their valuable pick at the top of the second round, the Titans pick up three first-rounders in addition to Bradford, who would slot in as their starting quarterback on a one-year trial ahead of Zach Mettenberger. They’ll finish up by sending a 2016 fourth-round pick to the Eagles that becomes a third-rounder if Bradford throws 400 passes in 2015. On the flip side, they’ll also receive the compensation currently due to the Eagles if Bradford gets injured.

The Eagles give up the most in this deal, of course, but they also pick up the most valuable asset by grabbing their shot at Mariota, Kelly’s former quarterback at Oregon. In all, they give up two first-rounders, a fourth-rounder, and three players, but they pick up a third-rounder in this year’s draft, a 2016 pick, and add Hunter, another wideout who fits the Kelly archetype as a 6-foot-4 downfield weapon. Coming off a lacerated spleen, Hunter is a nice buy-low opportunity for an Eagles team that’s gone after players with recent injuries this offseason.

14. Miami Dolphins

Dolphins send: 2015-1-14, 2015-2-47
Falcons send: 2015-1-8, 2015-4-107

Whew. Let’s all calm down. This is a less aggressive version of the Dolphins-Raiders deal from the fourth pick. Here, Miami moves up six slots to work its way ahead of some competitors at key positions of need. The Dolphins have a huge hole at cornerback across from Brent Grimes, but to have a shot at consensus top corner Trae Waynes, they’ll need to move ahead of the Rams (no. 10) and Vikings (no. 11). And if they want to upgrade at guard and nab Scherff, they’ll have to get ahead of the Rams and Giants, who pick ninth. This deal accomplishes either one of those goals.

15. San Francisco 49ers

49ers send: 2015-1-15, 2015-4-126
Colts send: 2015-1-29, 2015-2-61, 2016-2

Trent Baalke does two things really consistently: He trades down, and he goes after players who are artificially undervalued after suffering an injury during their final year in college.3 With the 49ers roster looking threadbare after a brutal offseason, Baalke should be back in pick-acquisition mode this week. The Colts need front-seven pieces after getting gashed by the Patriots on the ground in each of the last two playoffs, and while they added Cole and Kendall Langford this offseason, they would have to consider trading up if Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton or Texas lineman Malcom Brown were still available here at 15.

16. Houston Texans

Texans send: 2015-1-16
Patriots send: 2015-1-32, 2015-3-96, Jerod Mayo

Coincidentally, the Patriots are also in need of run support after moving on from Vince Wilfork, who signed with these very Texans this offseason. They should also be interested in Shelton and Brown if they’re available in this range, and while Belichick loves his draft picks, this would be an opportunity to move up to grab a “Planet Theory” lineman.4

While the Patriots just agreed to terms on a restructured deal with Mayo, he would be a logical makeweight for the Texans. Mayo’s role with New England is unclear, with Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower having emerged as key contributors during last season’s Super Bowl run. The Texans have struggled to find effective play at inside linebacker alongside Brian Cushing, who himself hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Mayo has his own injury woes, but he’s a rangy inside linebacker when healthy, and he should already have some familiarity with Houston’s defense under Romeo Crennel, having played in a similar 3-4 earlier in his career with the Patriots. This could be a win-win.


An earlier version of this post said that Justin Hunter was coming off a torn ACL. The post has been corrected; the injury was a lacerated spleen.

Filed Under: 2015 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, St. Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans

Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ billbarnwell