The purpose of the NFL draft has always been to help bad teams get better. But for many years, a club with a high pick had to take a major risk by paying a huge salary to an unproven player. To persuade JaMarcus Russell to sign in 2007, the Oakland Raiders had to guarantee him $32 million before he took a snap.
That all changed under the new collective bargaining agreement approved in summer 2011. It established a rookie wage scale and dramatically reduced the money paid to top picks.
Suddenly, those top selections became a lot more desirable – both to teams that held the picks and to teams that wanted to trade up. Last year, in the first draft under the new CBA, 16 of the top 32 picks were traded, including six of the first seven. In the previous five drafts, an average of 10 first-round picks were traded, and fewer than two of the top 10.
“It’s not the ‘losers’ curse’ anymore,” Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland said. “If there is a need and there is a conviction by the team to take any particular position, then you go up and get it.”
Whether last year was a one-year aberration or the start of a trend will be seen Thursday night, when the NFL holds Round 1 of the draft. This year’s draft doesn’t have can’t-miss prospects like last year’s Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but many NFL experts believe the Dolphins, who have the 12th pick, could be one of the teams that makes a splash by trading to move up.
Whether the Dolphins do so could depend on whether they manage to acquire left tackle Branden Albert from Kansas City. If they don’t land him, then getting one of the draft’s premier left tackles (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson) could become more of a priority. Because several teams drafting above Miami need a left tackle, the Dolphins might want to make a deal to draft sooner.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for three teams, joked that whenever he thinks about the Dolphins’ pick this year, he sings the theme song from “The Jeffersons” — “Moving on up.”
And Ireland, with extra picks in the second, third, fifth and seventh rounds, is well-equipped to make a move.
“I’ve got enough ammunition to get to the first pick if I wanted to,” he said.
League sources believe it would be too costly for the Dolphins to trade all the way up to get the Chiefs’ No. 1 pick to land Joeckel, who played in college for Mike Sherman, the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.
But former NFL general manager Charley Casserly and Jeremiah wouldn’t be shocked to see the Dolphins trade up for Johnson, a former junior college quarterback who transitioned to left tackle at Oklahoma, or Alabama’s Dee Milliner, widely regarded as the best cornerback in the draft.
“They’re kind of in no-man’s land there” with the 12th pick, Casserly said. “If it costs you one of those second-round picks and you get one of those two players, you go ahead and do it.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he expects the need for offensive tackles to spur trades, and that the first-round has several “pressure points” for trades – Philadelphia at No. 4 and Cleveland at No. 6.
“I think there’s more uncertainty at the top end of this draft than I’ve ever been associated with, and I think it adds more drama,” Mayock said. “If you are San Diego at 11 and Miami at 12, you’ve got to make some decisions – ‘Do we go make a trade for a Branden Albert, or do we look at a free agent to get through the next year, or, are we going to move up?’ ”
The draft’s current format, now in its fourth year, also spurs more trades, with the second and third rounds being held Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, giving teams the ability to reset their boards each morning. Ireland has pulled off trades the past two years: In 2011 he used three lower choices to get back into the second round to select running back Daniel Thomas, and last year he moved up in the fourth round to get running back Lamar Miller.
Former Tampa Bay and Oakland coach Jon Gruden said he expects more trades toward the back end of the first round than in the front end.
“You’re going to see a lot of trades at the end of the first round, pick number 20 on down, where teams are going to try to get back up in there and maybe take one of these quarterbacks,” Gruden said.
Round 1: 8 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Thursday, NFL Network, ESPN
Rounds 2-3: 6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, NFL Network, ESPN/ESPN2*
Rounds 4-7: Noon-8 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network, ESPN/ESPN2*
*ESPN2 takes over at 8 p.m. Friday and at 7 p.m. Saturday.