Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Luck-Barkley Syndrome: Should Seattle Trade Up?

Football fans don't want the next Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, or Carson Palmer. Franchise QB's they may be, but they've never seen a Super Bowl.

They don't want the next Matt Hasselbeck or Donovan McNabb. Franchise QB's they may be, and they've been to the big dance, but they've never won - and they fall apart without support from their team.

Some don't want the next Eli Manning, Drew Brees, or Kurt Warner. Franchise QB's they may be, and they may have won a Lombardi, but they haven't repeated. And they still rely on scheme or surrounding talent to keep winning.

You might even hear a few reject the next Peyton Manning or the next Brett Favre: "All he does is choke in the playoffs."

When faced with a choice, some fans aren't content with a franchise leader or playoff QB - they want a legend. They want a dynasty. They want a winner of multiple Super Bowls - a Tom Brady or a Ben Roethlisberger. They want a guy who provides that ironclad aura of winning regardless of circumstance, a player who makes the team around him better, the threat of the storm on the horizon that others must either go around or get blown away by. Fans don't want a QB who relies on the system - they want a QB who is the system.

And so it is that fans of every team are willing to mortgage an entire draft to trade up the following year, if it means nabbing that once-in-a-decade QB prospect that will light up their team in the glow of multiple Lombardi trophies.

Is that really such an unreasonable thing? And is it a dream that Seattle can follow by trading up in 2012's draft?

The Proposition

This year, it's Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley who are stoking the trade-up fever. Luck's been called the next Peyton, but he needs to prove that his winning is his own and not the product of the outstanding team around him. Barkley is still coming off his "hype year", need to keep succeeding, and may not even declare. If he does, however, it's safe to assume that both will be gone by the #4 pick (and that might be generous) - because they're very likely to become franchise quarterbacks, if not repeat Pro Bowlers.

The Cost

The Seahawks won't be in a position to draft either player with its natural 2012 pick. We have seen how Pete Carroll operates, and there is no way this team will do anything but overachieve and play its heart out while he's on the sidelines. Seattle doesn't just need to be bad next year (that's already in the bag), it needs to be historically bad. As in four wins or less - usually less. As talent-poor as the Seahawks are, they're still playing in a bad division and have enough easy teams on their schedule (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington) to easily lift them out of the top five. Trading up is really the only way to get a sure shot at a top-tier QB.

We all know that Seattle will need a lot of draft collateral to move up high enough for a big quarterback in 2012. The problem is, that collateral will need to be generated from the 2011 draft - any trades that give us higher picks for next year will need to be done in just a few weeks, with the 2012 QB class still a year away from becoming defined. How many of us saw Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert coming a year go? How many draft pundits had Jake Locker in the #1 slot - with not pencil, but pen? And who saw Luck staying in school for another year?

So right away, we're asking Seattle to sacrifice a first-round pick for a QB class that could look completely different in just eight months. It's a rocky proposition right off the bat.

But the potential reward is worth it, you say. Fair enough. What will Seattle need to trade up into the top 3? According to the draft value chart (which could be defunct in a matter of weeks, for all we know), the third pick is worth 2,200 draft points.

The History

This is where we take a glance at recent trade history: with the exception of the Manning-Rivers trade (which really doesn't compare here) and the Mark Sanchez trade (which I'll get to in a minute), no team has traded away a top-five pick since 2000.

I find that quite telling. It's right in that period, in the last ten years, that the NFL has morphed into a quarterback's league, with QB-friendly rules and schemes, thus making the QB position the most powerful. It's quite common to refer to the last decade as a separate era unto itself. And with new eras come new priorities and new value placements on high draft picks. It could mean something that teams aren't just frittering away the top five picks lately.

And for good reason. The trade everyone probably quotes to justify a massive trade-up, the Jets' quantum leap from #17 to Cleveland's #5 last year, nabbed New York a franchise QB in Mark Sanchez at the cost of only three average players. Good luck getting a team to repeat that disaster. Not only did the Browns pass up a franchise QB at #5, they passed up another one at #17 (Josh Freeman) for more extra picks. Belichick fans would love this sort of thing, but when you look at it, the Browns gave up two possible Pro Bowl quarterbacks for seven sacks, two interceptions, and no starts for a backup DB in two years; three cut players, one a second-rounder; and a Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack. For two chances at a franchise QB.

Unless you're one of those Seahawks fans who still believes that the offensive line is everything, the trade was a black hole for Cleveland and you cannot convince me otherwise. They're going nowhere with Colt McCoy and probably never will. Josh Freeman, on the other hand, is single-handedly keeping Tampa Bay afloat while they rebuild, and Mark Sanchez has seen two AFC Championships since his selection. Sam Bradford has elevated his team. Matt Ryan is doing great things for the Falcons. The list goes on.

Which makes the Sanchez trade a cautionary tale for the entire league and something that we shouldn't count on teams being willing to repeat.

The Market

But you know what - let's stay focused and just assume that a team would be willing to trade a top-3 pick. Seattle has no players anywhere near first-round value except Russell Okung and Earl Thomas, and if the Seahawks give up either of them in trade, I will eat my hat. And I don't wear a hat. So the Seahawks had better not do that. How, then, can Seattle rummage up enough draft cash to lure such a pick away from a top-3 team?

It starts with where Seattle will pick in 2011. By rights, we should have picked #8 in 2010, but that selection could have been as low as #11 depending on incidental strength-of-schedule ratings. Based on our 2011 schedule, which I don't think is much more brutal than last year's, another 7-9 season looks like a decent estimate, depending on the strength of the division.

For the sake of argument, then, let's say we pick #9 next year. That leaves us 850 points short - about the worth of the #20 pick. So Seattle would need the #9 and the #20 to match the chart's value of the #3. Even if Seattle were picking at #6, they'd still need a borderline 1st-2nd rounder to complete the trade. If this trade is to happen, the most likely scenario requires two first-rounders - and again, not only are there no incumbent Seahawks likely to help this happen, but the labor situation may not even allow it. Pick trades are the key here - something that will garner us an extra first-rounder.

The Solution(?)

Now this is where I pull a Dom Cobb and plant an idea in people's heads that will be impossible to eradicate: Seattle could trade its #25 pick this year for an extra 2011 first and an extra 2010 second.

This is the type of trade that actually has recent precedence to it. Philadelphia did it in 2008, trading away the #19 pick to Carolina (who were moving up for OT Jeff Otah) for a mid-second, a mid-fourth, and a 2009 first. The previous year, Dallas gave up its #22 to Cleveland in exchange for a high second-rounder and an '08 first (the Browns picked Brady Quinn; long and sad is that team's search for a franchise QB).

If Seattle gets a call from a team desperate for a particular player, dropping into the early second and nabbing a 2012 first-rounder wouldn't just complete a massive trade-up for a 2012 star QB - it's a great move in and of itself. It's very Belichick, for those of you still slavering over the guy.

I wouldn't automatically pull the trigger, necessarily; Seattle's needs are severe and plentiful enough to where their draft board should be quite influential, and considering the D-line depth and QB possibilities in the late first and early second, that call might be slower to come AND slower to be answered. I have no problems with Seattle actually just, you know, using its first-round pick on a football player, as boring and shockingly counter-intuitive an idea as that may seem.

The Opponent

But if the call does come, recent history and the value chart give Seattle room to trade down for that extra first-rounder. Standing in its way are the top-3 teams, who need Luck or Barkley just as badly as we do. Compare the league's 2010 standings with their QB needs:

PickTeamNeeds QBPickTeamNeeds QB
1CarolinaYes17New EnglandNo
2DenverNo18San DiegoNo
3BuffaloYes19New York GiantsNo
3CincinnatiYes20Tampa BayNo
5ArizonaYes21Kansas CityNo
7San FranciscoYes23PhiladelphiaNo
8TennesseeYes24New OrleansNo
12MinnesotaYes28New EnglandNo
14St. LouisNo30New York JetsNo
15JacksonvilleYes32Green BayNo

It's not a coincidence that the teams picking in the top 16 mostly lack a good QB and the teams picking after them do not. Quarterbacks alter your entire franchise. The Seahawks would have to bet their 2010 first-rounder, and any big prospects that could be chosen with it, against the likelihood of a top-3 team in 2012 undervaluing the quarterback position and opening itself up to be willingly fleeced. Once again, that's not solid ground for a trade like this.

Some get around this by saying that free-agent quarterbacks will fill some of those needs and lessen the number of suitors for Luck/Barkley's services. I disagree to an extent. 2010 was not a good year for quarterback experiments in free agency. Donovan McNabb, Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton, Troy Smith, Trent Edwards, Shaun Hill, Jason Campbell, Derek Anderson, and Jon Kitna comprise a list of free agents that either flopped or shrugged last year. Fans don't look at any of them and see a future. Young, exciting QB's fresh from the draft - those are enticing. These teams need new faces, new directions. Owners are going to want to sell tickets, generate buzz, and placate fans still grumbling over the CBA drama. McNabb won't do that. Incumbents like Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and David Garrard probably won't do that either; they reduce the risk, but not enough. (This all assumes, of course, that the lockout ends relatively soon.)

It's an unfriendly climate for free agents and, combined with the labor uncertainty and the admittedly flawed depth at the position, I doubt you're likely to see a lot of free-agent experiments attempted in 2011. It's a reactionary league. You do have general managers who want a QB to step in and win immediately, serving as a stopgap while they look for a future prospect. Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton, and Matt Hasselbeck are candidates for a scenario like that (as is Vince Young, but my goodness what a time bomb). But there are also GM's and coaches who will look at the 2010 batch, flawed as they are, and see someone they can mold and fix (whether they're right or wrong). We should be prepared for the league to lean away from stopgaps and towards fresh starts, meaning the top four QB's this year are likely to go earlier than most people think. (I feel even more confident in that prediction after seeing the newest mock draft from Russ Lande, a former scout and thorough draftnik who advises the guys I trust.)

And in the end, it only takes two teams to snatch up two quarterbacks, and because of the importance of the QB position, those two teams are likely to be picking #1 and #2. The following question must be satisfactorily answered: why in the name of Eric Mangini would a bottom-feeder team pass up on one of these guys? What possible motivation could there be for that? The #9 and the #20 only fulfill the value chart, not the dark, wailing hole that some of these teams have under center. Multiple picks of lesser caliber aren't going to fix anything.

The fantasy of trading up to grab Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley in 2012 is not an impossible one. It's not without precedence. The payoff is potentially huge. But it is extremely risky, dependent on a college QB lineup that will remain in flux for another year and predicated on the whims and good mercy of at least four other teams - and, indirectly, the acquisitions and performances of the entire league. It's a complex operation that could fall apart at the slightest disturbance. Now it does carry huge consolation value; even if Luck and Barkley are gone, nobody will complain about having two first-round picks. But if all you care about are those two guys, does this look like a viable strategy?

In our rush to wheel and deal, let's not lose sight of the proven, blessedly simple value of just using your first-round pick on an actual player. I remain convinced that Ryan Mallett is highly underrated and will be huge value at #25. Even if he's gone, or if you don't like him, a number of transformative defensive linemen will probably be sitting there, not to mention Mike Pouncey.

Many good fans I talk to aren't denying the importance of a quarterback. They just don't trust this year's slate of projects, and I understand that. Jake Locker scares me too. But fear of a dicey QB class is not sufficient basis for the Rube Goldberg draft operation that would be needed to jump into the top 3, especially when it has so many ways to fail. If you're trading up for Luck or Barkley, you'd better be sure that they're legends in the making, not just "better than this year's class".


  1. Interesting concept, trading the 2010 #25 for a first rounder next year. I'd say it'll probably even be discussed by the FO. But as you mentioned, I think there are too many holes needing to be filled right now to lose that pick on a next year gamble.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great article and breakdown, I was actually linked to it from a reply on seahawks.net in the draft forum, where I pretty much just made nearly this exact argument.

    You make some great points and do an excellent job of referencing, but I also think you make some assumptions to go along with it. \

    You are correct that Luck and Barkley may in fact be gone, but we don't know now, who else may develop, just like before this year. So there may in fact be more options besides just the two.

    There is also a possibility a team who takes they're franchise QB this year, a year when most feel this entire class needs time to develop, could again be picking in the top of the draft and would possibly prefer to first's rather than one, beings they can't really draft Luck or Barkley anyway, due to commitments already made this year.

    A good question would be, if Seattle were to draft Locker this year and Matt signs elsewhere, without surprising improvement in multiple area's on this team, where do you suspect they would be drafting next year?

    My fear is very high and close enough to Luck or Barkley, that many would be freaking out that we didn't wait.

    I like your article, but I am still on the other side of the fence as I explained on .net asking if we are ready to draft a QB.

  3. 've always felt that you should build a team from the lines out, with one exception: quarter back. If you don't have a franchise qb, and you get a chance to draft one, you draft him.

    You can already have most of the pieces in place (Miami and Denver in '83), or you can draft the qb, and then find the other pieces (New England and Indianapolis in the 90's).

    The QB position is more important than any other position, in any sport. Since 2001, San Diego has drafted franchise qbs twice. Atlanta has done it three times. Both did it while they had a franchise qb already on the team. (Brees and Rivers for SD, and Vick, Schaub, and Ryan for ATL) This shows how important the qb position really is to an NFL team. These two teams have been up and down, but they've always sought to improve the team through this most important position.

    Once again you've written a well thought out article, but I don't like trading away a good pick for the possibility of a better pick later. I don't like that because of guys like Jake Locker. As you said, he was penned in at number one a year ago. I that year, his flaws were showcased, and his stock plummeted. Since I started following the draft as more than a way to interrupt the M's or Sonics seasons, I've noticed that every year there is a college qb that is projected to finish out his college career, and then be the first player taken. Only Three times has that undergraduate lived up to those expectations: Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, and Peyton Manning. Next year could expose flaws in Luck and Barkley, or someone could come out of nowhere, ala Newton. The draft is a big enough crapshoot that I don't like taking chances on what might happen next year. If there is a good player, especially a potentially great qb, draft him. If not, then explore the idea of trading the pick.

    When Tim Ruskell traded away the Seahawks '09 second round pick for a '10 first rounder, I was ecstatic. I thought that the Hawks would have a great pick in the top five (Denver's), and a good pick in the 20's (Seahawks'), instead of a potentially good pick in the second round. The Hawks season falling apart, and Denver starting 6-0 killed that vision. But think about one thing (This is a "what if" so sorry about it): Denver had no right being 8-8. They should've been 5-11, or worse. If that had been the case, the Seahawks would've had two top ten picks. Would that have been enough to trade with St. Louis for Bradford? Or might they have taken an offensive tackle, and Sanchez?

    We can second guess the past, and try to predict the future, but no matter what, I feel that if the Hawks have a chance at a franchise qb, then they should do whatever needs to be done to get him.

    You forgot the 2001 trade between San Diego and Atlanta where they swapped the first and fifth picks. How is it that when San Diego trades out of the top pick, they land one of the best qbs in the league in that same draft?

  4. You know, I'm actually kinda glad that Seattle wound up picking at #14 with Denver's selection. Top 10 picks are immensely risky, though PC nailed their first one with Okung.

    I was advocating that Seattle trade up with their first two picks - but for Ndamukong Suh at #2, not Bradford. I didn't see the Rams giving up a QB, just like I can't see teams giving up Luck or Barkley (unless they start to decline - in which case, do WE want them?). But not trading up still gave us two franchise prospects. Can't complain.

  5. Lobos - honestly, Matt is sufficiently bad to where I think drafting Locker would be at least a wash in his rookie year.