(NOTE: This blog post was originally published on March 1, 2015. On April 20, 2016, the Eagles traded several draft picks, including their first picks in 2016 and 2017, to move from eighth to second in the first round of the NFL draft.)
Howie Roseman said that the history of trading up for one player in the NFL Draft is not favorable for the team that must give up significant resources, which was one of the many topics the Eagles executive vice president of football operations addressed while speaking on a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Saturday.
The debate about the price associated with trading up for one player has been a popular one in Philadelphia in recent weeks because the Eagles would likely need to surrender valuable picks and/or players if they want to acquire Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota this spring.
Roseman was not discussing Mariota or any specific player, but rather the topic of draft-day trades.
"When you're looking at trading up, at some point, your board drops off so dramatically in terms of how you evaluate that player," Roseman said, as heard on the conference's webcast. "But the history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn't good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it.
"Because the guys who are really good at the draft, if you're hitting on 60 percent of your first-round picks, that's a pretty good track record. And then it's dropping as you go through the rounds. So really, the more chances you get, the more tickets to the lottery you get, the better you should be doing."
Roseman shared a panel with New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio and Brian Burke, the founder of the Advanced Analytics Website.
When Roseman was general manager, he was aggressive trying to accumulate picks. The Eagles had 48 draft picks during Roseman's five years as general manager. Coach Chip Kelly now has control over all football decisions.
"At the end of the day, it's about the player you picked," Roseman said. "You can go through each round of the draft on players on your team and see you have guys who are really good players from the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh round. …There's always value. You can kind of convince yourself of, 'Who am I really going to get in the fifth or sixth round? I'm willing to give up that pick, because I really want this player in the second or third round.' But it's all about the evaluations and getting the right players into your building."
Earlier in the conference, Roseman explained the process of trading up in the 2012 draft to acquire Fletcher Cox. He mentioned how that trade was essentially agreed upon the night before the draft.
Some other highlights from Roseman's time on the panel…
ON FREE AGENCY…
Roseman was a strong advocate for re-signing a player rather than spending on a free agent from elsewhere because of the known vs. the unknown and not competing in the open market. This is something to think about with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin set to become a free agent.
"You have a number of buyers for the same players, whereas [when] you're extending guys on your own team, you know the player, you've lived with the player, you know what they're doing in your scheme," Roseman said. "So when you go back and look at the history of free agency vs. extending your own players, you have a lot more success extending your own players."
Roseman also said decision-makers must fight the "recency bias" and not just go off what the player just did in the past season, but also consider what the player could do in a difference scheme or different environment. And he made clear that a team must know its priorities entering the free-agent market.
"You've got to make choices, because we have a salary cap," Roseman said. "We have to make choices of what we have to have, what we need, and what we'd like to have. You have to have young players coming through the system filling roles, because you can't pay everyone.
"And we also always overestimate our ability to pick great players. That's what we do – we have confidence in our ability to pick players and get them to come. But the reality of it is the known factor of having a great player on your team is substantial."
Adding to the risk of the unknown in both the free agency and the draft, Roseman discussed the challenge of learning about a player simply by talking to him in the pre-draft process or when free agency opens.
"The draft process and free agency, you're basically getting married after the first date," Roseman said. "…When you're going through the draft process, these guys have been coached up so well that when you're interviewing and talking to them, they know the plays they're going to get quizzed on. They know their weaknesses. So their agent, the people who are going through the process, are preparing them for that. So that's why you get so much information when you go through the school in the fall and able to see them in their own environment and talk to the people around them.
"The same thing in free agency – you're talking to them when you're able to when the free agency process starts about their role and how it's going to work, but you don't know them as well as you know the players in your building. You don't know how they are day-to-day, how they're going to react with their coaches and the rest of the people in the building."
ON THE VALUE OF ANALYTICS…
The use of analytics is a major discussion point throughout the conference, and it was discussed on Roseman's panel, too. Here is what he said about how he values analytics:
"The most important thing for all of us is not getting graphs and charts, but we want to understand what the conclusions are. So kind of bullet points about what you're telling us, because I'm not an expert in analyzing the data. I want to figure out what you learn from it. And that goes back to having people in your organization telling you what it means."
ON THE COMBINE…
When asked what part of the combine might get more attention than it deserves, Roseman mentioned how there are metrics specific to positions that are not uniform among all players:
"When you're watching the combine and NFL network, it's all about the 40. But when you look at each position, there are position-specific stats that correlate to success in the National Football League by position. So if you have an offensive lineman, the 40 time is not the most important stat. And we've gone and researched successful people in the NFL and found out, by position, what you're looking for.
"And those are things that when you're making decisions, if we go back and we're looking at a player in the first round and we see that his number in that category is a number no starter has had in the last 15 years, that's going to pause us to select that player. And that may be a case where we say we really like this player on tape, but the chances of him being a successful NFL player are really low, so we're going to watch another team select him and we'll follow his career and learn from it, as opposed to maybe a player at his position who checks all the boxes."
ON PLAYER EVALUATION…
As Roseman has discussed in the past leading up to drafts, he emphasized the importance in considering competition when evaluating a player:
"It's about the quality of competition when you're evaluating someone. So if you're evaluating a pass rusher and he's going up against a low level of competition, and he has three sacks against an offensive tackle who's going to be on Wall Street three months after the season ends, that's not the same as seeing him go up against a future first-round pick.
"So when we're looking at players, we're trying to make sure – it's like these guys in the preseason who do great in the fourth quarter against guys who are going to be out of football two weeks later. So part of it is who they're going up against, the quality of competition."
Roseman made clear that there are parts of evaluation that cannot be measured:
"The other part of this that we're not talking about is intangibles, determination, drive, in any walk of life, are so important. Because you are giving this person some amount of money, so for them to get over the hump and compete at the highest level, they have to have the ability to work really hard and have the determination and passion for the game. That's part of the equation as well."