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Trading down from high draft spot is risky

Eagles have the fourth pick in the NFL draft, but they could face trouble if they drop too far.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. (Matt Rourke/AP)Read more

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SO, WHAT HAPPENS when a team selecting in the top 5 of the NFL draft trades down?

A relevant question, with the Eagles scheduled to draft fourth tonight, and widely expected to try to add to their cache of nine picks (four of them in the seventh round) by trying to trade out of that spot.

The Daily News looked at trades involving the top 5 spots in the draft over the previous 15 drafts. As you might expect, results were kind of all over the map. Sometimes you give up the chance to draft Robert Griffin III, as the Rams did last year, trading down from second to sixth and then from sixth to 14th, taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers and pocketing two future first-rounders, plus a second-rounder.

Sometimes you give up the chance to draft Ryan Leaf, as the Cardinals did in 1998, trading down from second to third with the Chargers. The Cardinals got running back Eric Metcalf, linebacker Patrick Sapp, the third overall pick, which they used on defensive end Andre Wadsworth, plus the eighth overall pick in 1999, used on wide receiver David Boston, and a second-rounder in '98 (safety Corey Chavous). All for moving one little spot.

Teams that trade into the top 5 generally are looking for quarterbacks - five of the nine trades in the top 5 in the last 15 years involved QBs. It's really unclear, with an unheralded 2013 QB class whether anyone will be nervous enough about the availability of Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib or E.J. Manuel to trade up for the Eagles' pick.

Charley Casserly was the Redskins' general manager when they made one of the most memorable trades in draft history, trading the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft for all six Saints picks, plus the Saints' first- and third-rounders the next year. Saints coach Mike Ditka, like many WIP listeners, was intent on getting running back Ricky Williams.

I had a chance to talk with Casserly about this recently. One of the things I wanted to know was whether he'd had any trepidation - sure, an entire draft is quite a haul, but if Williams had turned out to be the Jim Brown-type figure Ditka thought he was going to be, Casserly would have been forever marked, just as Rams GM Les Snead is going to be marked if RGIII turns out to be as good as he looked last season, and the Rams don't get anything comparable out of the picks they acquired.

"You evaluate the players, you line 'em up, you make your decision and you go," Casserly said. "You don't worry about what anybody says. You don't worry about the players you don't get. The only thing you can worry about is the players you do get."

In St. Louis, Snead has said he feels the haul from the RGIII trade was essential to his building process, regardless of what happens in Washington.

"When we made the trade last year and we got a second-rounder last year, the extra first-rounder this year and the extra first-rounder next year, that trade was a big rock for this organization," Snead recently told the NFL Network's Rich Eisen. "And that rock is very important to the future of the organization."

The Redskins didn't end up getting as much out of the Williams trade as their fans might have hoped. Casserly wanted corner Champ Bailey and he wasn't comfortable drafting 12th, with the Saints' pick, so he packaged some of his largesse and moved back up to seventh, trading with the Bears. Bailey and linebacker LaVar Arrington, taken with the Saints' pick the next year (second overall) were the most notable assets the Redskins ended up with, along with steady offensive tackle Jon Jansen, whom they took with a second-round pick acquired from the Bears as part of the wheeling and dealing.

"Champ Bailey obviously turned into a tremendous player," Casserly said. "We got three good players out of it, which obviously was helpful to us." Casserly pointed out that he had been fired by the time Washington drafted Arrington in 2000.

Back when the Redskins and Saints made the Williams deal, trades involving picks in the top 5 were common. They happened in '98, '99, 2000, and '01, then in '03 and '04. But there were none in 2005 through 2008. If the Jets hadn't traded up to draft Mark Sanchez in 2009, that tradeless string would have continued through 2011.

The reason was simple - rookie salaries at the top of the draft got out of whack. A top-5 pick, especially a bad top-5 pick, could hamstring you financially for years, put you in big salary-cap trouble. But the collective bargaining agreement signed after the 2011 lockout instituted a rookie salary cap, and suddenly last year, the top 5 was crazy. Only the Colts, who took Andrew Luck first overall, stayed in their assigned seat.

This year figures to be at least a little less crazy, because the top 5 picks just aren't considered as golden, especially with the QBs so much less ballyhooed.

"I don't see quarterback movement in the first half of the first round," said Casserly, now an NFL Network analyst.

"I don't know," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said when asked if he envisioned lots of activity up top this year. "If we were sitting here last year and you would have said to me that [four of] the first five picks get moved, I would have said that's pretty aggressive. So I think once you get into the moment and teams understand what they need to get out of the draft or what they want to get out of the draft, I think things change."

Last year the Eagles worked out a conditional trade with Seattle the night before the draft, positioning themselves to move up from 15 to 12 to draft Fletcher Cox. This time they might want to wait and see how those first three picks unfold. There's a lot of chatter that the two much-coveted offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, could go 1-2. That might increase the trade-down activity for the Eagles; if they're interested in the next OT, Lane Johnson, they probably don't have to take him at 4. But if they want a defensive difference-maker, such as DE Dion Jordan, homegrown DT Sharrif Floyd, or BYU DE Ziggy Ansah, they might want to stay at, or close, to 4.

One thing to keep in mind: The Eagles stayed where they were scheduled to draft in the first round once in the previous 6 years, in 2011, the year they took guard Danny Watkins at 23.