It comes as part of the package: the draft-day trade.
You've seen mock after mock, including ours here, that predict picks for every team, some even going as deep as seven rounds. But most are thrown off course by the inevitable meeting of the minds that happens five to 10 times a year in the first round alone.
These encounters are so hard to predict because as a matter of business, everyone is talking to everyone in the weeks and days leading up to the main event. Just like collecting 40 times, giving physicals and doing background checks on players, part of a team's draft research is to determine what positions each team is looking to fill and how far up or down each is willing to move to get the player it wants — or should we say needs? — at the price it wants.
Despite proclamations from many GMs and personnel people who spout the "best player available" mantra, in the salary cap era, where you don't have the proverbial five years to put your plan in place, the first round has become a need-based entity where teams look for a player who can contribute right away. Even those who seemingly have "starters" set at every position are looking for upgrades.
The "need" piece of this is what drives the trade business in Round 1 and beyond. And much of it won't play out until the draft starts and teams see who is beginning to slide, the run on picks at a certain position, or other trades that change the landscape that they will have to work in when they go on the clock.
As an example, if the Kansas City Chiefs need an offensive tackle and get shut out of the Jake Long game, why would they stay at No. 5 to select Ryan Clady or Branden Albert, especially if QB Matt Ryan is also gone? They can get either of those players down closer to No. 10. So they will be on the phone to teams such as Cincinnati, which could be looking to snag DT Sedrick Ellis, or Denver, which could be looking to get ahead of the Jets and Patriots for a pass rusher such as Vernon Gholston or Derrick Harvey.
The point is, this year will be no different than the past, and there are plenty of rumors about teams trying to move up and down the draft board. Here is some of what we are hearing.
We'll start close to home. The Jets want Gholston, but they aren't alone, and they may have to work their way into the top five to get him. Word is that New York is trying to get to Oakland's No. 4 spot. If Lane Kiffin loses his internal battle with Al Davis (Kiffin wants Gholston or a pass rusher to boost the defensive front), then the Raiders could still snatch RB Darren McFadden.
Our guess is the Jets will have to give up their first and second, as well as a fourth or a fifth, to get to that spot and assure themselves of securing Gholston. In 2004, Cleveland moved one spot from seven to six overall, giving up its second-round pick, to select Kellen Winslow.
We mentioned the Chiefs above. There is talk that they have enough interest in Matt Ryan or Jake Long to discuss trade possibilities with the Dolphins at No. 1. To do that, the Chiefs will have to give up their second-round pick this year, and possibly a fifth or sixth (KC has multiple picks in both rounds), and next year's first-rounder. That would be a deal similar to the one the Giants made for Eli Manning, also in 2004. New York moved from four to one by giving up its third-rounder that year plus its first and fifth in 2005.
That's a pretty high price to pay for a QB who isn't among the top 20 players on some team boards, and Jake Long, while considered the best OT in this draft, may not measure up to 2007 first-rounders Joe Thomas and Joe Staley in some scouts' eyes.
So the Chiefs could take an alternate route: sit back and let the top of the draft play out. Every interview we've done or heard with Herm Edwards suggests that his fifth pick is for sale. The Chiefs are in the midst of a youth movement and are looking to build through the draft, which means they want more picks.
If the Jets can't get a deal done with the Raiders, look for New England to try to move up to the five spot to get Gholston. The Patriots would have to likely give up a second and a fourth- or fifth-round pick, and they have an extra third-round pick that could help get the deal done.
The Bengals have made no secret of their need for a defensive tackle. Trades for Shaun Rogers and Dewayne Robertson (which could still happen) fell through, and waiting for Ellis to drop to No. 9 is a risky proposition. The gap-shooting DT is a key piece to Marvin Lewis' defensive scheme and the piece that has been missing since he arrived in the Queen City. A second- or third-round pick plus a fifth this year could be enough to get them to New England's No. 7 spot.
If that deal doesn't get finalized, Cincy could come out of this first round a bit frustrated if New Orleans is able to jump ahead of the Bengals to Baltimore at No. 8. The retirement of Steve McNair puts the Ravens squarely in the QB race, but they may not have the pieces of the pie to get into the top four ahead of Kansas City. That could have them thinking about a move (or a couple moves) down and a serious look at Brian Brohm.
The Saints did a poor job of getting to the passer last season and did little to protect a linebacker corps that struggled at times against the run. The Saints could be willing to give up a third-round pick and likely something else (maybe a 2009 pick or a player), but they don't have a fourth-round pick this year and may not have a second- or third-round pick next year, depending on the performance of former Jets LB Jonathan Vilma this season.
Though the Bears re-signed QB Rex Grossman, it was only to a one-year deal, which means if Ryan starts to slide, they could be interested in getting to New England's spot. They are also in bad shape on the O-line and may want to get ahead of Denver and Carolina. New England will be all ears to the tune of a first-rounder next year or a second-rounder this year, and Chicago also has an extra third this year that could sweeten the deal.
Finally, the Cowboys' two No. 1s put them in any conversation about moving into the top 10, though we don't know that they will do that. However, if McFadden gets by the Jets, look for Jerry Jones to be on the phone to Scott Pioli and company, packaging those two ones for a shot at the top back in the draft.
The moving prices are generally dictated by the standard trade-value chart used by most teams, but that is not written in stone, either. With the ability to sign and trade players becoming more palatable and the need for veteran players at the core of any potential championship run, don't be surprised to see pick-for-player deals in addition to the traditional swapping of selections a la the Randy Moss trade last year.
The wide receivers in this draft are dropping and the depth of talent among the pass rushers is not expected to meet demands, so those storylines could also dictate some trade action in the bottom of Round 1. More on that toward the end of this week.