A look at potential trade-down options for the Lions in the NFL Draft

Detroit News

Even if you haven’t seen the rumors and speculation the Detroit Lions are interested in trading down from the No. 7 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, you probably could have reached the conclusion by following common sense.

The Lions don’t want to acknowledge they’re rebuilding, given the negative connotation to the term, but it’s happening. It was clear the moment Matthew Stafford’s trade request became public, and all the more apparent through an offseason built around trimming unproductive fat from the salary cap and filling out the roster with a slew of short-term deals.

That doesn’t mean the Lions are tanking in 2021. It just means a return to playoff contention, assuming things go according to plan, is likely two, potentially three years away.

So yeah, while there’s an opportunity to get a valuable, foundational piece at No. 7, the possibility of acquiring multiple draft assets in exchange for one definitely carries appeal.

The difference between the Lions, sitting at No. 7, and the Dolphins, who were able to ship their No. 3 pick to the 49ers for a bounty that included three first-round selections is uncertainty. Everyone has a pretty good idea what’s going to happen with the first two picks, so the 49ers are confident they’re going to get their guy, presumably Mac Jones or Justin Fields, at that spot.

If the Lions are going to make a trade, it likely won’t occur until they’re on the clock, when potential dance partners know exactly who is available. With that in mind, let’s consider what Detroit’s pick is worth and likely matches for a swap.

The value of pick No. 7 

The worth of a selection will always be relative to what another team is willing to pay, but perception is the ability to draft a quarterback drives up the cost. One of the go-to tools, particularly for fans and media members, is a pick value chart created by former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

It’s a useful tool, but it’s also outdated. Since it was designed in the early 1990’s, the league’s financial structure, particularly when it comes to draft picks, has changed significantly. No longer are the top choices entering the league and getting handed top-dollar deals. Earnings and contract length were capped as part of the 2012 collective bargaining agreement, with first-rounders getting four-year deals with a fifth-year team option.

If anything, it’s made it easier to trade top-10 draft picks.

But since that change, the No. 7 pick only has been traded once, in 2018. It netted a solid return when Buffalo sent Tampa Bay the No. 12 selection and a pair of second-round choices No. 53 and 56.

Other trades around the No. 7 pick have brought back big hauls, including one from this year, where Miami flipped the No. 12 pick they got from San Francisco and paired it with a future first to move back up to No. 6.

Other return packages have been more modest. In 2014, the Vikings accepted a fifth-rounder to move back one spot, from eight to nine. A year earlier, the Bills sent the No. 8 pick along with a third-round (No. 71) to the Rams for picks 16, 46, 78 and 222.

It’s easy to imagine Lions fans being disappointed with a similar deal, especially after seeing what the Dolphins paid for the No. 6 pick. But again, each trade is about demand. It takes two teams to tango.

Potential partners

Scanning the teams below the Lions in the draft order, and focusing on their roster needs, it’s possible to project trade partners. If we’re being realistic, most of the conversations are going to start with franchises in need of a quarterback. If Fields, Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance are on the board at No. 7, it could enhance interest in Detroit’s pick.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are sitting two spots behind the Lions and have been exploring quarterback upgrades all offseason. That included an offer for Stafford that reportedly  would have sent the No. 9 pick to Detroit earlier this offseason.

The Broncos also have reportedly had conversations with the Atlanta Falcons about moving up to No. 4. If those offers are rebuffed, and their target lingers a few more picks, it makes them a nice match with the Lions.

What would it take: If the Broncos are eyeing a quarterback, the asking price should start with the Broncos’ No. 9, as well as the team’s second-round pick (No. 40). A future second-rounder or a pair of third-rounders are reasonable alternatives.

New England Patriots

For the second consecutive season, the Patriots will head into the season with Cam Newton as their stopgap solution. During their dynasty run, the franchise was known far more for trading back and accumulating picks, but we’ve also never seen the Patriots spend so aggressively in free agency. There’s urgency to get back to the top after missing the playoffs last year.

What would it take: In addition to the Patriots No. 15 pick this year, the Lions should absolutely ask for New England’s first-rounder next year. Yes, it’s a steep request, but a worthy demand if a potential franchise QB is in play. Heck, asking for another mid-rounder on top of that isn’t unreasonable. The No. 15, a pair of seconds and a fourth also could do the trick.

Washington Football Team

Washington re-signed Taylor Heinicke this offseason and added journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, setting up a healthy competition for their starting job. But neither one appears to be the franchise’s future.

What would it take: After winning the NFC East last season, Washington holds the No. 19 pick. The cost to move up to No. 7 would be similar to what it would take New England, where Detroit should initially seek a second first-rounder. They’d also need to add a Day-2 asset to the pot.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have been spinning their wheels at quarterback for, well, what seems like forever. Mitchell Trubisky was a bust and departed this offseason, last year’s trade for Nick Foles didn’t pan out and 2021 will be the Andy Dalton show. Therefore, it’s no surprise Chicago is reportedly desperate to add a quarterback in the early rounds of this draft.

What would it take: A lot. Not only would it require premium assets to move up from pick No. 20, but there should be a tax for making a move within the division. If it’s for Fields or Lance, it wouldn’t be wrong for the Lions to ask for two future firsts — or at the very least a first and a second — in addition to the No. 20 this year.

► Pittsburgh Steelers 

Ben Roethlisberger restructured his contract in order to play an 18th season, and between Mason Rudolph and the recently signed Dwayne Haskins, it’s unlikely the heir to the starting job is on the roster.

What would it take: It’s a long way from from No. 7 to No. 24.  It’s reminiscent of a 2011 trade that saw the Browns send the No. 6 choice to the Falcons for a first (No. 27), second (No. 59) and fourth-rounder (No. 124) that year, as well as a future first and fourth.

► Dallas Cowboys

Dallas isn’t in the market for a quarterback, having just signed Dak Prescott to a massive extension, but owner (and GM) Jerry Jones is said to be infatuated with Kyle Pitts. If the Florida tight end makes it to the Lions — which admittedly seems unlikely — you might as well see what kind of offer Jones’ obsession generates.

What would it take: A second-rounder (No. 44) and fifth, in addition to Dallas’ No. 10 pick should do the trick.

Los Angeles Chargers

Offensive tackle is one of the positions, beyond quarterback, that can be worth trading up to address. The Chargers could obviously stand pat at No. 13 and potentially score Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, but if quarterback Justin Herbert’s college teammate, Penei Sewell makes it to No. 7, why not call Detroit and check the price tag.

What would it take: The No. 13, the Chargers’ second-rounder (No. 47), plus a future Day 2 selection.

► Arizona Cardinals

After an aggressive start to the offseason, NFL Network host Peter Schrager has suggested, on multiple occasions, that the Cardinals push their chips all in on acquiring a premium pass-catcher for third-year quarterback Kyler Murray.

Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t told the franchise his plans, but the expectation remains the future Hall of Famer is going to retire. That could leave a need for an upgrade at slot receiver, depending how the team views Andy Isabella. He’s averaged just 14.8 receiving yards per game as a backup first first two seasons.

What would it take: The Cardinals’ No. 16 pick, plus a future first and fourth.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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