In terms of trying to retain as many of their pending free agents as possible, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a good amount of salary cap flexibility, according to General Manager Jason Licht. And, as Licht also noted, if the Buccaneers can keep their championship core intact, that could lead to a different kind of flexibility on draft weekend.
"We haven't been in that position for a long time since I've been here, where if we are able to keep our core together, there is no immediate need that we're going to be [addressing]," he said. "The picks that Bruce and I, and our staff, could either affect future needs or just be luxury picks that could help us. It leaves us in a position to take really good football players and not just direct our attention to one or two particular positions."
Licht is talking about the flexibility to pick from just about anywhere on their draft board when the Bucs are on the clock. But it also stands to reason that if you aren't tied to one or two particular players or positions, you also shouldn't be tied to a specific draft spot. The Buccaneers are currently slated to pick 32nd and last in the first round of the 2021 draft, but they appear to have the freedom to explore moves up or down, plus a general manager who has proven adapt at the art of swapping picks.
There are arguments to be made for the greater likelihood of either sort of trade, up or down. A team with a loaded roster and few glaring needs might be more inclined to use several picks to get one very coveted player with a move up the board. On the other hand, that aforementioned lack of need could mean many more attractive candidates are still on the board at 32, making a move down for extra assets appealing.
A trade out of the first round means giving up the fifth-year team option on the rookie contract for the player(s) eventually selected. However, assuming it leads to extra picks, it also gives the team more chances to hit on a player they will want to keep around for more than four seasons.
So what would a move from the last pick in the first round look like?
The draft expanded to its current state of 32 picks per round in 2002 when the expansion Houston Texans joined the league. That very first year, the team holding the last pick in the round, the New England Patriots, traded out of that spot. The 32nd pick of the 2003 draft was actually dealt before the Patriots made that deal during the '02 draft; the Buccaneers had already shipped their first-rounders in 2002 and 2003 to Oakland for the rights to Head Coach Jon Gruden. When the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2003 season, it meant they – or in this case the Raiders – were holding the final selection of the first round.
Super Bowl-winning teams have mostly stayed put in the 19 drafts since the expansion to 32 teams. The last pick of the first round has been dealt seven times in that span, though four of those have come in the last seven years. The Bucs trade for Gruden doesn't really fit into the category we're discussing here, nor does New England's shipping of the 32nd pick to New Orleans for wide receiver Brandin Cooks in 2017.
That leaves five instances in which the defending champs have moved either up or down from their first-round spot. Before we examine those deals, let's look at what kind of draft capital the team already has.
Currently, the Buccaneers hold their own picks in each of the first five rounds and round seven, plus an extra seventh that they got in the 2019 trade with Pittsburgh for tackle Jerald Hawkins. That trade sent the team's 2021 sixth-rounder to the Steelers. The Bucs first two picks are numbers 32 and 64 overall. They actually pick 31st in Round Three because New England forfeited its third-round pick as the result of illegal sideline filming in 2019, so that is pick 95 overall.
However, the Saints have been awarded an extra pick at the end of that round as a result of the Falcons signing their former personnel executive, Terry Fontenot, to be their new general manager. There will also be additional compensatory picks at the end of each round from three through seven, so the Bucs' current selections at 128, 160, 215 and 222 will eventually slide down somewhat. However, the Buccaneers may also gain one more pick, possibly in the fifth round, from that compensatory system.
The fact that the Bucs still have their first five picks is a good start, but their respective values are obviously dampened somewhat by coming at the end of each round. Licht could significantly add to that overall draft capital with a trade down out of number 32. Of those five comparable trades noted above, two were of this variety, one by the Eagles in 2018 and one by the Seahawks in 2014. Fortunately, the two swaps featured significantly different pick drops, so we have two different ideas of what could happen.
In 2018, the Eagles made a deal with the Ravens, who had already traded down twice in the first round before selecting tight end Hayden Hurst. When Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was still available with the night drawing to a close, Baltimore traded back up to the last pick to nab him. Good move!
Here are the particulars of that deal:
Eagles Get: 2nd-round pick (#52), 4th-round pick (#125) and a 2019 second-round pick
Ravens Get: 1st-round pick (#32), 4th-round pick (#132)
When examining a trade up or down on draft weekend, the best way to see the value gained by the team moving down is to first remove the original picks that were swapped. In other words, the Eagles didn't gain two second-round picks in this deal. They turned their first-rounder into a second-rounder 20 spots down the board and what they acquired to do so was a second-round pick in the following year's draft plus a small positive swap of fourth-rounders.
There are two "draft value" charts commonly referenced to assess these trades, the Jimmy Johnson chart that sees draft values drop steeply from the top picks in the first round and the Stuart Chase chart that shows a more gradual decline in value. Essentially, the Johnson chart emphasizes the value of high picks while the Chase chart goes along with the theory that it's more important to have more picks.
By either chart, the Eagles made a killing here. The difference in value between the 32nd and 52nd picks is 210 on the Johnson chart and 3.1 on the Chase chart. The second-round pick is for the following year's draft so it's value wasn't completely known at the time, but if we put it right in the middle of the round it's worth 415 and 9.85 points on the two charts, respectively. Even if we reduce the value of that second-rounder because the Eagles had to wait a year for it, it's still well over the value they gave up. The seven-pick swap in Round Four is worth an additional seven and 0.4 points, respectively.
The Seahawks, who are practically synonymous with trading down in the first round, moved right out of it in 2014, swapping eight spots with the Vikings. Minnesota's motives were exactly the same as the Ravens' in 2018: Nab a quarterback they were surprised was still available. Here are the details of that trade:
Seahawks Get: 2nd-round pick (#40), 4th-round pick (#108)
Vikings Get: 1st-round pick (#32)
This is a smaller move down and a less impressive haul. Not surprisingly, the Chase chart likes it better given its emphasis on quantity over how high the picks are.
The difference between the 32nd and 40th picks is 90 points on the Johnson chart and 1.4 points on the Chase chart. The value of the fourth-round pick the Seahawks obtained was 78 and 4.8 points respectively. So even though Seattle didn't quite recoup total draft value they got close and probably didn't miss out on any must-have prospect over the space of eight picks.
Judging from those two deals, the Buccaneers could reasonably expect to pick up an extra fourth-rounder by trading down five or 10 spots, and maybe a third or even a second by trading down to the middle of the round.
Alternatively, would the Bucs consider trading up from 32? Though he has more commonly made lucrative downward deals in the first round, Licht did move up one spot just last year to make absolutely sure Tampa Bay didn't miss out on Tristan Wirfs. After the rookie season that Wirfs just turned in, you can bet Licht has absolutely no regret about that decision, which came at the cost of a fourth-round pick. If the Buccaneers manage to keep most of their free agents around but lose one key one – such as Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin or Ndamukong Suh – they might have one void they are most intent on filling.
We have three upward trades by Super Bowl champions to examine in the 32-team era. The most recent one was made by Denver in the 2016 draft. Here are the details:
Broncos Get: 1st-round pick (#26)
Seahawks Get: 1st-round pick (31*), 3rd-round pick (#94)
(* New England had forfeited its first-round pick, making #31 the last one in the round.)
Once again, a coveted quarterback was at the center of this move. Denver had won Super Bowl 50 with Peyton Manning under center, but Manning retired after that season and the Broncos were seeking their next franchise quarterback. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz had gone first and second in the 2016 draft but no other passer had come off the board for the rest of the night. Denver chose to move up five spots to make sure they could grab Memphis' Paxton Lynch.
This one is pretty straightforward on the Johnson chart. The difference between the 26th and 31st picks is 100 points, equivalent to the fourth pick of the fourth round. The Seahawks got a late third that was valued at 124 points. Again the Chase chart views it more favorable, with a difference in the swap of just 1.2 points and the pick gained worth 5.7.
The Steelers give us our first example not involving a trade up for a quarterback with this seven-spot jump upward in the 2006 draft:
Steelers Get: 1st-round pick (#25)
Giants Get: 1st-round pick (#32), third-round pick (#96), fourth-round pick (#129)
Pittsburgh was after Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who a few years later would make the game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLII in Tampa. This is very similar to the trade above and the haul is pretty close, too.
The Steelers moved up two more spots than did the Broncos, at a draft-value difference of 130 points (Johnson) and 1.6 points (Chase). The Giants got a late third and a late fourth, two picks that added up to 159 and 9.2 points on the respective charts. They got a little more than the capital they gave up while the Broncos got a little less, but both are close enough to seem fair and instructive. The Giants were big winners (9.2 points) on the Chase chart.
And finally we have the Patriots making the biggest move upward in this analysis. In the 2002 draft, the defending champion Patriots moved up 11 spots to grab Colorado tight end Daniel Graham. Here's how that deal with Washington went down:
Patriots Get: 1st-round pick (#21)
Washington Gets: 1st-round pick (#32), 3rd-round pick (#96), seventh-round pick (#234)
All of those trades are returning pretty similar value. In this case, though, the team moving up seemed to have won the deal.
The 21st pick is worth 800 points on the Johnson chart and 15.2 points on the Chase chart. That's a gain of 210 and 2.7 points, respectively, on those two charts from the 32nd pick, which is equivalent to a pick about a third of the way into the third round on the Johnson chart. Washington did get a third-rounder but it was much later in the round and only worht 116 and 5.5 points, respectively. That's a pretty clear loss on the Johnson chart, which was the only one available in 2002. The Patriots also threw in a late seventh-rounder, the value of which is negligible enough to not even be included on either chart.
Put it all together and it looks like the Bucs could be able to make a move up five to 10 spots from the last pick in the first round, and the cost would likely be a third-round pick.