One of the many things an NFL team arms itself with before heading into its draft room for those three fateful evenings in April is a very long list of phone numbers. There's contact information at a general manager's fingertips for every player (and their agents) available in the draft, and the number that connects the control room at team headquarters with their representatives at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Just as importantly, there are numbers for the other 31 draft rooms around the league, so opposing G.M.'s can be reached quickly for some mid-draft trade talk.
Working in opposition to that useful tool is the clock. The draft moves quickly, and once a team is "on the clock" it has 10 minutes – in the first round, at least – to either pick or trade down, lest it risks being skipped. That time limit drops to seven minutes in the second round and five for every subsequent rounds. Trade conversations are sometimes unavoidably tense, with the clock ticking in the background.
That's why the astute G.M. will lay the groundwork for potential draft-day trades well before there is any dwindling time limit. That kind of preparation is one of the many things that goes on behind the scenes every year at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, while most observers are focused on 40-yard-dash times and which prospects are skipping their workouts.
"This week I'll spend time with the other general managers around the league," said the Buccaneers' own G.M., Mark Dominik. "You go from room to room or spot to spot and sit down and talk to them a little bit about your interest in moving up or down. Those things actually start already, now. If you're not already trying to start to maneuver around the draft and let people know your fluidity and what you want to do, then you might not be able to pull the trigger when it comes time in April. So that's what we try to do now."
Clearly, when time is running short on draft day, it helps to know which potential trade partners will be most receptive to a call, whether you're trying to move up or down. Last year, the Bucs found willing partners for deals in the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans…and that was just during the first two rounds.
Dominik, in fact, was hugely successful in moving up and down the board last April. The Bucs moved down two spots from #5 to #7 in the first round, correctly believing they could still land their targeted player, Mark Barron, at #7. That netted the team an extra fourth-round pick and an extra-seventh-round pick from the Jaguars. Later on the first night of the draft, Dominik used that extra fourth to help him move back up into the bottom of the opening round to grab Doug Martin at #31. Dominik flipped that high fourth-round pick to Denver for a low fourth-rounder, and then later used that Bronco fourth-rounder to move up from the third to the second round to snare Lavonte David. All three players were full-time starters as rookies and look like long-term core players for the franchise.
The Buccaneers are slated to pick 13th in the first round this year, and 12th in the second round. They may very well stay put and make those exact picks, but Dominik is keeping all his options open. In fact, he's actively scouting those options this week in Indianapolis.
"I like to keep the draft board very open, to be able to move around and maximize the talent on the board with what you're getting or giving to do so," said Dominik. "We did have great success maneuvering around the draft board last year, and it certainly paid off for our team. And if that's something that's going to continue to happen this year, I'm looking forward to it. As we get further into this whole process, we'll learn more."