It’s almost as obvious as saying the Mariners are doing OK right now.
The Seahawks are going to trade down in this month’s NFL draft.
They always do.
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have made 23 draft trades over their first nine years leading Seattle. They’ve made a trade involving a first-round draft choice in seven consecutive drafts. Five of those deals have been trading down to gain more choices later in that same draft. The other two trades were to get wide receiver Percy Harvin from Minnesota in 2013 and tight end Jimmy Graham from New Orleans in 2015.
In 2017, the Seahawks traded down not once, not twice, but three times in round one. The first two deals on day one got them completely out of the first round. The third trade moved Seattle down one spot at the top of the second round. They gained for additional choices through those moves.
As we’ve been pointing out for months, trading down isn’t just a preference for Seattle in this draft. It’s a Seahawks imperative.
Seattle has just four picks in the draft, including the 21st-overall choice in the first round April 25. That’s the fewest selections in the NFL. It would be the fewest in team history. Such is the result of trading a second-round pick for veteran left tackle Duane Brown, a sixth-round choice for now-gone backup quarterback Brett Hundley and a seventh-round pick for safety Shalom Luani.
Schneider is so bummed at not having a second-round pick this month, he told the team’s flagship radio station KIRO AM he has put a tag with Brown’s name on it in the otherwise empty, second-round spot on the Seahawks’ draft board at team headquarters.
Asked at the league’s scouting combine in late February what the likelihood is the Seahawks will end up having made only four choices when the draft ends April 27, Schneider grinned and said: “I hope it’s slim, yeah.”
Everyone in Seattle and the NFL back to Dan Doornink knows these Seahawks are going to trade down again. But here’s the thing: it’s not as easy as Schenider and Carroll snapping their fingers.
It takes two teams to make any deal, and if the other one knows Seattle almost has to trade down the foe should hold the leverage in shaping the quality of the deal. Plus, draft deals usually don’t happen ahead of the event but on the fly, in the 10- or 5-minute span—or less—teams have between picks as the draft proceeds and teams seek to jump up and take guys they want before they are gone.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Well, they always like to go back.’ You have to find a partner,” Schneider said last week on KIRO-AM radio. “You have to negotiate within a specific amount of time.
“So it’s not like an easy thing just to move back.”
It’s not always successful, either.
After the Seahawks gained those four picks in their three trade downs and out of round one in 201 they drafted Malik McDowell with their top choice that year. McDowell never played a down nor had a practice for the team because of an ATV accident that summer. It is the worst top pick in team history.
Then again, the four extra choices they got in the trades that draft became safety Delano Hill, whom Carroll has been touting this offseason as a reserve on the rise, plus current starting free safety Tedric Thompson, since-released cornerback Mike Tyson and best of all Chris Carson, 2018’s breakout, 1,100-yard rusher. Seattle drafted Carson in the seventh round two years ago, after he was not even the lead back at Oklahoma State.
That’s the kind of haul the Seahawks are seeking this month, to add to the selections they own in rounds one, three, four and five.
Who are their likeliest trading partners?
Oakland, Philadelphia, New England in the early and mid rounds. In the late rounds: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh—and the Patriots, again.
The Raiders are everybody’s potential trading partner in round one. They own three picks at the top of this draft. Two of those selections are after the Seahawks’ current choice at 21st overall. But because the Raiders don’t own multiple picks again until the seventh round, the Seahawks would need to entice the Raiders to deal their only choice in round two, at 35th overall, to replenish Seattle’s missing second-round pick that way.
Heck, the NFL has already announced former Seahawks’ Super Bowl running back Shaun Alexander is going to announce Seattle’s second-round choice in this draft. So the team must get one, right?
The Raiders’ needs in this draft include edge rushers (after last year’s trade of All-Pro Khalil Mack), cornerback, running backs (especially if Marshawn Lynch doesn’t come back in 2019), linebackers and offensive linemen, as the Seahawks saw while running over the Raiders in London in October. If they see any of the prospects they covet most at those positions available when it’s the Seahawks’ turn at 21, the Raiders have the chips to make an attractive offer to Seattle.
How do the Seahawks know what is an appropriate, comparable value for trading down?
They and pretty much every other team use an updated variation of the old “Jimmy Johnson” draft-pick value chart, so named after the former Cowboys and Dolphins coach and executive first credited with using one. The chart assigns a maximum value to the first overall pick (Johnson’s was 3,000 points) then incrementally decreasing values for each of the other 253 other selections through the seventh and final round (Johnson’s value for the final pick of the draft was three points).
“It’s based off of that (Johnson chart), but now being able to trade compensatory picks, Matt Thomas and a bunch of guys got together from different teams and put a new chart together,” Schneider said in 2017, “so we’re following that now. But it’s based off the same principle. It’s a scale.”
Thomas is the Seahawks’ vice president for football administration. He’s Schneider’s right-hand man for all contracts, salary-cap calculations and deals.
In general, the upshot of the draft value chart is trades down in a round equate to a pick near the top of the next round plus another choice a couple rounds later.
Seattle could trade down with Oakland this month, stay in the first round, then trade down again to get more picks from the stacked Patriots. In another case of the rich getting richer, the Super Bowl champions have a league-high 12 choices in this draft. Two of the Patriots’ selections are in the second round, at 56th and 64th overall.
New England is still searching for a long-term replacement for recently retired Rob Gronkowski at tight end. That’s even after signing free agent Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the University of Washington and Gig Harbor High School to a one-year contract on Thursday. The Patriots also have needs at edge rusher, defensive line and wide receiver—though Bill Belichick always seems to get what he needs while taking from everyone else, doesn’t he?
The Eagles are scheduled to pick behind Seattle’s choice in the the first round, at 25. They have two picks in the second round, at 53rd and 57th overall. Philadelphia needs offensive linemen, in particular tackles with Jason Peters now 37 years old. Offensive tackles tend to go in bunches in round one. If the one the Eagles love is still on the board when it’s Seattle’s turn at 21, Schneider could call Philadelphia.
How would the Seahawks know that? They, like many NFL teams, spend as much or more winter and spring time digging for intel on what other teams want and may draft where than one their own draft board. Schneider takes annual pride in how close Seattle’s overall draft board for the league often mirrors what actually happens in each round.
The Seahawks have pulled off their biggest draft coups in rounds three, four and five: Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright, to name some of the best. The most likely places for Seattle to get additional picks in those rounds this year are New England, Cleveland, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh, Schneider’s pals in his hometown of Green Bay—and absolutely Cincinnati.
The Patriots own three selections in round three, including a compensatory one at the end of the round that teams can now trade by recent NFL rule change. New England has four picks in the seventh round, when the Seahawks have none.
The Packers, Giants and Eagles are among eight teams that have two picks in the fourth round. The Browns and Giants each own three selections in round five. New York’s are the fourth and fifth choices at the top of the fifth round.
Cleveland needs defensive backs, defensive tackles, linebackers and offensive linemen.
New York is in need of a future quarterback to replace Eli Manning, plus offensive tackles, cornerbacks and, like most of the league, edge rushers.
For the Seahawks to add a sixth-round pick they currently lack, they need to call the AFC North. The Steelers have three selections in that round. The Bengals have a whopping five, including compensatory picks at the end of that round. Cincinnati’s five are the most picks any team has in a single round this year.
Arizona owns two of the first six choices in round six. The Cardinals have three selections in the seventh round, too. But teams rarely choose to give division rivals extra draft picks.
Of the 23 draft deals Schneider and Carroll have made since 2010, only one was with an NFC West team. In 2017 when the Seahawks traded out of round one it was with San Francisco, for the 49ers’ pick early in round two plus a fourth-round choice of San Francisco’s.
The team holding the most last-round picks to deal this year? Yes, New England. Belichick owns four choices in round seven.
That as many picks as Seattle currently has in this entire draft.
But that’s about to change.
“It’s a challenge,” Schneider said of having just the four picks. “It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting. It’s what we do. Our guys do a great job on draft of working our relationships around the league, and then we’re trying to navigate where we’re going throughout the draft and targeting players and moving along.
“We don’t necessarily have to go (trade) down all the time. But it’s kind of fun.”