Heading into the 2011 NFL draft, there are new, and possibly temporary, rules in place with respect to trading draft picks. With time running short on the possibility of a free agent period prior to the draft for teams to address positional needs, NFL clubs are faced with fewer options to improve the quality of their rosters. Come draft time teams could be all the more eager to swing trade deals to land the prospects they covet in this year's draft pool.
Absent free agency before the draft, Bills GM Buddy Nix believes there's a strong likelihood that NFL clubs will be making a lot of phone calls during the three days of the draft to position themselves where they want to on the draft board.
"It will certainly cause more movement," he said.
With respect to trading draft choices NFL clubs can only trade them in exchange for other draft choices. Trading players for picks is not an option. Last year 14 NFL players were moved in trades involving draft picks.
Even trading a player that was just selected with a pick, in exchange for a pick that's yet to be used is not permitted.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes the current dynamics could prompt more trades between teams, but he sees most of the movement coming from where it has always been.
"Movement to me is going to be in that 10-25 range in terms of picks in round one," said Kiper. "That's just the way it is every year no matter what. Between 10 and 25 you get a lot of activity and teams that could be hot buttons there are Minnesota at 12 could move down and look at (Jake) Locker. Detroit could move down if the right corner is not there at 13. I could see New England at 17 either moving up or moving down. That's what they like to do. I think there could be a ton of activity."
The lack of movement in the top 10 the last five years can mainly be tied to the enormous financial investment players taken that high command. In recent years it has acted as a deterrent. The Jets are the only team to move into the top five over the last five years.
"In 2010 the first trade was at number 11," said Kiper. "In 2009 the only trade in the top 16 was at number five (Sanchez). In 2008 not a trade until number seven. In 2007 not a trade there until pick 14. In 2006, nothing until 11. In 2005 it was the same thing."
However, with the anticipation of a new financial structure for draft choices, Kiper believes there's a good chance trades could be on the rise even at the top of the draft board.
"The new CBA is likely going to be different from what it has been in terms of money paid so that might open up more opportunities to get up in the top five if teams feel like they can get out of there," said Kiper. "If Arizona at five felt like the quarterbacks were gone they might want to move out or if Tennessee (at 8) felt like the guy they want isn't there anymore they could move, so I think there could be more opportunities in the top 10.
"So if there is going to be more activity than there has been in the last five to seven years it's going to be in the top five to 10 and that's potentially where you could have it. You could even have it with the number one pick overall which you haven't had in a long time."
Of course a willingness to trade draft choices goes along with being armed with enough of them to make a deal happen. San Francisco and Philadelphia have the most with 12 and 10 respectively, but half of the 49ers choices are in the sixth and seventh rounds. Seven of the Eagles' choices are in the fourth round or higher.
The teams that have the choices with the most trading power are New England and San Diego. Of the Patriots' nine picks, six of them are in the first three rounds. The Chargers have two each in rounds two and three.
Of course teams without enough trading power with their picks this year can always offer 2012 draft choices, but teams would be doing so at their own risk. Absent a new labor agreement no one can say for sure what the future holds for the draft in terms of how many rounds there might be.
Either way Kiper has never been a proponent of teams forfeiting future choices to make a deal in the present.
"Armanti Edwards was picked in the late third round last year, a wide receiver for Carolina," he said. "That was the 89th pick, a late third-round pick last year. The Panthers gave up a second-round pick in 2011 to New England to acquire it. That pick right now is the first pick in the second round. You picked at 89 last year to give up the 33rd this year? You want to talk about value. That is amazing. New England is going to get a heck of a player at 33.
"I was never a fan of teams in the second round giving up first round picks the next year. Carolina did it with Everette Brown last year and Denver did it with Alphonso Smith a corner who is not even there right now. I'm not a fan of that, but teams do it."
And finding a team this year that's willing to sacrifice a choice in 2012 may be even easier with the uncertainty that surrounds the other means by which teams fortify their roster. Add in the fact that there is almost half a day between rounds one and two for deals to be discussed and the likelihood of trades being consummated only improves.
"With the way the thing is set up now, the first round you've got all night and the next day before you go again so something could happen then," said Nix. "It's a lot easier to do it with all that time than it used to be."