Ted Thompson Vs. The NFL Trade Chart: Who’s More Obfuscated?
“I’m convinced the articles I’ve seen like this are written by guys who have no actually gone through the trade value charts. The Packers are going to be in a tough spot trying to trade up and will have to really overpay in number of selections to do it.”
- Would you believe me that overall, Ted Thompson isn’t very good at trading draft picks?
- Would you believe that Ted Thompson has been suckered in by other teams that have called and accepted less than he originally had?
- Would you believe that the single biggest mistake Ted Thompson has made on draft day was trading up for Clay Matthews III?
You’d think I was full of it, but its all true.
In reality, the trade value chart has become a staple of NFL draft fandom. Some people swear by it while other people think its stupid to put a number on talent or potential. But should we trust the chart and perhaps more importantly, does the chart make any sense in the modern era of football?
But first off a brief overview of the trade value chart. The chart was purportedly invented by Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson (or an assistant under Johnson) in the 1990’s and was supposedly one of the reasons why the Cowboys were such a dominant team during the period. During the NFL draft (which was a lot less sophisticated back in the 90’s) many teams didn’t actually know if a trade was good value or not; can you say (without looking) if the 38th pick is worth the 45th and 87th pick? Even if you could work it out in your head, could you do it in the 15 minutes you had on the clock? What the trade value chart allowed the Cowboys to do was roughly assess the value of a trade and see it was a good deal in a very short period of time.
However, many aspects of the trade chart are completely arbitrary. There is no particular reason why the 1st overall draft choice is 3,000 points nor why the very last pick is only worth 2. There is also no particular reason why the 1st overall pick is 400 points more than the 2nd overall pick, other than the fact that the value chart decays in a roughly logarithmically fashion (nor is there any real reason to believe that this is the best decay to use). Furthermore it doesn’t take into account perhaps the most important aspect of the draft, which is the players themselves. Obviously some years are better than others in terms of talent/potential/numbers and that affects how teams are going to trade picks. A number of really talented quarterbacks would raise the value of draft picks while a number of really talented kickers isn’t likely to change it at all.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, the NFL draft value chart has remained unchanged (as far as I can tell), but the NFL has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The old CBA made top tier draft picks prohibitively expensive while the new CBA probably has done the exact opposite. Running backs are now less valuable while quarterbacks are players you mortgage your future on (see Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins etc.) Kickers are…well maybe some things don’t change after all.
Going back to the Packers, and specifically general manager Ted Thompson, how well does Thompson fare in regards to draft pick trades? Below is every draft pick trade that Ted Thompson has made during his tenure with the Packers. Trades involving picks in future years have been omitted since no one knows at that moment what the actual value of a future pick will be (for instance, no one knows what value the Packers 1st round pick will be in 2013 since it’s dependent on how well the team does in 2012). Trades also involving players has also been omitted for the same reason that only the front offices of the respective teams knows what value has been assigned to those players.
Panthers trade 2005 fourth round picks (#110-Marviel Underwood), (#121-Todd Herremans) to Packers for 2005 third round pick (#89-Atiyyah Ellison): -19
Packers trade 2005 fourth round pick (#121-Todd Herremans) to Eagles for 2005 fifth round pick (#159-Mike Hawkins), 2005 sixth round pick (#161-Anttaj Hawthorne), 2005 seventh round pick (#223-Kurt Campbell): +5.1
Patriots trade 2005 sixth round pick (#181-Craig Bragg), 2005 seventh round pick (#224-William Whitticker) to Packers for 2005 sixth round pick (#161-Anttaj Hawthorne): -6
Patriots trade 2006 second round pick (#52-Greg Jennings), 2006 third round pick (#75-Jason Spitz) to Packers for 2006 second round pick (#36-Chad Jackson): +55
Falcons trade 2006 second round pick (#47-Daryn Colledge), 2006 third round pick (#93-Dominique Byrd), 2006 fifth round pick (#143-Ingle Martin) to Packers for 2006 second round pick (#37-Jimmy Williams), 2006 fifth round pick (#134-Quinn Ojinnaka): +23.5
Rams trade 2006 fourth round pick (#108-Jason Avant), 2006 sixth round pick (#174-Johnny Jolly) to Packers for 2006 third round pick (#93-Dominique Byrd): -28.2
Eagles trade 2006 fourth round pick (#114-Will Blackmon), 2006 sixth round pick (#176-Tyrone Culver) to Packers for 2006 fourth round pick (#108-Jason Avant): +9
Jets trade 2007 second round pick (#63-Brandon Jackson), 2007 third round pick (#89-Aaron Rouse), 2007 sixth round pick (#177-Korey Hall) to Packers for 2007 second round pick (#47-David Harris), 2007 seventh round pick (#217-Chansi Stuckey): +7
Steelers trade 2007 fourth round pick (#116-Allen Barbre), 2007 sixth round pick (#178-Desmond Bishop) to Packers for 2007 fourth round pick (#109-Daniel Sepulveda): +6.2
Jets trade 2008 second round pick (#36-Jordy Nelson), 2008 fourth round pick (#110-Dwight Lowery) to Packers for 2008 first round pick (#30-Dustin Keller): -6
Packers trade 2008 fourth round pick (#110-Dwight Lowery), 2008 fifth round pick (#157-Erik Ainge) to Jets for 2008 fourth round pick (#99-Jeremy Thompson): +1.4
Rams trade 2008 fifth round pick (#130-John David Booty), 2008 seventh round pick (#202-Brett Swain) to Packers for 2008 fourth round pick (#126-Keenan Burton): +6.6
Vikings trade 2008 fifth round pick (#145-Breno Giacomini), 2008 seventh round pick (#194-Matt Flynn) to Packers for 2008 fifth round pick (#130-John David Booty): +5.3
Packers trade 2009 second round pick (#41-Darius Butler), 2009 third round pick (#73-Derek Cox), 2009 third round pick (#83-Brandon Tate) to Patriots for 2009 first round pick (#26-Clay Matthews), 2009 fifth round pick (#154-Jamon Meredith): -160.2
Packers trade 2010 third round pick (#86-Daniel Te’o-Nesheim), 2010 fourth round pick (#120-Mike Kafka) to Eagles for 2010 third round pick (#71-Morgan Burnett): +21
Broncos trade 2011 fifth round pick (#138-D.J. Williams), 2011 sixth round pick (#181-D.J. Smith) to Packers for 2011 fourth round pick (#128-Julius Thomas), 2011 seventh round pick (#193-Virgil Green): -2.2
49ers trade 2011 sixth round pick (#169-Charles Clay), 2011 seventh round pick (#222-Frank Kearse) to Packers for 2011 fifth round pick (#160-Daniel Kilgore): -1
Dolphins trade 2011 sixth round pick (#174-Caleb Schlauderaff), 2011 seventh round pick (#208-Ryan Taylor) to Packers for 2011 sixth round pick (#169-Charles Clay), 2011 seventh round pick (#222-Frank Kearse): +3.6
Overall the data is quite interesting:
- Overall, Ted Thompson isn’t very good at trading draft picks: Thompson has an average trade value of -4.83, meaning he’s on the losing end of a trade on average. Even more interesting is that Thompson is very consistent at getting below average value during trades. Below is a scatter plot comparing the value that Ted Thompson has gotten versus the value that the other GM has gotten in a trade:
As you can see, with a R2 value of .975, it can be said that Thompson is very consistent with his trades, but consistently poor from a draft trade value perspective.
- When another teams calls about a trade, sometimes Ted Thompson ends up with less than he started with: One of the principle tenants of trading in the NFL is that the “buyer” gives up more than expected in terms of value or else there’s no incentive for the “seller” to agree. The prime example of this is when a team will trade a pick for future pick one round higher the next year (such as trading for a 2nd round pick this year for a 1st round pick next year). However, Thompson has agreed to 7 trades where a team offered him less from a trade value perspective.
- The worst trade Thompson has ever made was to trade up for Clay Matthews: This actually shocked me so much that I rechecked my math 3 times. The Patriots got away with grand larceny by gaining an additional 160 points, which is equivalent to 3rd round pick in itself. So another way of saying it is that the Packers actually gave up a 2nd rounder and 3 3rd rounder’s to get back into the first round and select Clay Matthews.
Ok, so I wrote the results with a hint of biased sarcasm, so from these results I’ve come up with conclusions
- Ted Thompson isn’t following the trade chart: Or perhaps more realistically Thompson isn’t following the publically available trade chart. Considering that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business with millions of dollars being spent on scouts, combines, pro-days, private workouts, interviews, film analysis, background and personality evaluation etc. you’d think that every team would have hired a statistician by now to go over the trade chart and see if it makes any sense. In fact I would argue that every team probably has a statistician rework the trade chart every year to factor in new data.
- You have to be really sure about a player to move up and draft them: Moving back into the 1st round and drafting Clay Matthews III was probably the biggest risk that Ted Thompson has ever made as the GM of the Packers (outside of the whole Brett Favre thing maybe). Obviously in hindsight Matthews was worth it and more, but in 2009 that was a really ballsy move. Looking at it from another way, if Thompson thought that Matthews was worth more than 160 points over what he traded to the Patriots, he must have thought that Matthews was going to go somewhere around 15-20 based on the trade chart.
So there you go, trade chart analyzed. I think the main point to take is that it’s a potentially career ending risk to trade up back into the 1st round or really trade up in the 1st round in general. However, if you presume that Ted Thompson is a good GM (which a Super Bowl win and a 15-1 team would likely attest to), then the draft chart isn’t the draft bible; it’s a good place to start, but a lot more goes into a trade than just value. Just look at Clay Matthews III, the worst draft trade of the Thompson era.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.