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Big Deals: Draft Trades That Should Get Done

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Of all the draft trade rumors flying around, the one that makes the most sense would be having Atlanta trade up to take Jadeveon Clowney. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images.
Of all the draft trade rumors flying around, the one that makes the most sense would be having Atlanta trade up to take Jadeveon Clowney. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images.

Peyton Manning had two choices: Return to Tennessee for his senior season and make a run at the Heisman Trophy or become the quarterback of the New York Jets.

Manning chose Rocky Top over a rocky situation. The Jets had followed up a 3-13 season in 1996 with a 1-15 disaster in 1997. That led the Jets to hire Bill Parcells away from New England, a move which would eventually cost them their No. 1 pick in 1998. 

But in 1997, the first pick of the draft belong to the Jets. And they had every intent of spending it on Manning . . . had he elected to come out. 

Without Manning, the best prospect in the draft was left tackle Orlando Pace. Parcells decided he'd rather have a bevy of picks than one impact player (albeit a future Hall of Famer), so the Jets traded the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft. He was looking for "volume," as he called it, and volume he got: the No. 1 overall pick brought back the sixth pick in that draft, plus the Rams' picks in the third, fourth and sevenths rounds. 

Parcells then took No. 6 and sent it to Tampa Bay, in exchange for No. 8 and a fourth-rounder. He followed that move by trading the Rams' third-round pick to Denver, getting in return the Broncos' third-round pick, plus their sixth and seventh.

Instead of the chance to take a player like Pace first overall, the Jets turned that single pick into seven, which they used on players like James Farrior, Jason Ferguson, Leon Johnson and Dedric Ward.

The No. 1 overall pick doesn't get traded often, but when it does, it's a big deal. It happened 30 years ago, when the Bucs traded the top pick to the Patriots, who took Irving Fryar. And it's happened five times since then, including the Pace deal and the 2001 trade when the Chargers sent No. 1 to Atlanta, which wound up drafting Michael Vick.

Not only is there a decent chance the first pick in this year's draft could be traded, No. 2 may be even more likely to be moved. In the deepest draft in recent memory, we should see a lot of teams willing to move down, and a few poised to jump up for the right prospect.

Draft rumors are rampant in the closing days of the countdown, most of which are pure speculation. But here are three draft deals that really make sense.

Atlanta acquires the No. 1 pick from Houston.

The Falcons have said that they are not switching to a 3-4 defense. Their offseason moves suggest otherwise. Still, if Mike Smith's recent claims are true, that they intend to be more of a hybrid defense, able to shift schemes from game to game, maybe even possession to possession, then trading up to No. 1 makes sense. 

Jadeveon Clowney is a perfect fit as a 4-3 defensive end. He's such a superior athlete, he could make the move to outside linebacker if need be. Wherever he lines up, he'll be a force, and the Falcons need the kind of edge rusher that opposing offenses must scheme to stop.

It probably would cost Atlanta more than the Rams gave up to get Pace 17 years ago (a 1st, 3rd, 4th and 7th). But the Texans might be persuaded by an offer of the Falcons' 1st (No. 6), 2nd (No. 37), 4th (No. 103) and 5th (No. 147) this year, and their second round pick in the 2015 draft.

The Falcons would still have a 4th, a 6th and three sevens this year, and they will have secured the top defensive prospect in a generation. And the Texans would have the opportunity to add pieces -- perhaps even a QB at No. 6. 

San Francisco acquires No. 3 from Jacksonville.

The 49ers' window isn't closing, but they've been so close the past two seasons, it's impossible to think they don't feel pressure to win now. And with 11 draft picks -- a league-high six in the top 100 -- San Francisco has the wherewithal to go get the one piece it feels it needs to finish the deal.

If there is such a singular need, it would be a true home run threat at receiver. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are two of the top possession receivers in the game. What the Niners' offense lacks is a guy who truly threatens the defense, someone who can beat an opponent deep or make turn catches in space into huge gains. 

Someone like Sammy Watkins.

Jacksonville's spot at No. 3 makes sense, though the Niners wouldn't pull the trigger on such a deal until Clowney and someone else -- either a quarterback, one of the top tackles or Khalil Mack -- were already selected. If the Rams stay at No. 2, they're a candidate to take Watkins.

The third pick isn't inexpensive. Using the long-standing Trade Value Chart only as a guideline (which is the only way anyone employs it these days), the value of No. 3 exceeds the value of the 49ers' first five picks. I couldn't see San Fran giving up a first, two seconds and the two thirds it can move (No. 100 is a compensation pick and cannot be traded). But I couldn't see Jacksonville turning down four picks in the top 100 to go with the three it already has. 

An offer of San Franciso's first, two seconds and a third -- maybe a token Day Two pick in 2015 -- would be an offer the Jags can't refuse. A team in such desperate need to rebuild its roster would have eight picks of the top 105 prospects in the deepest draft in years.

Of course, there's always the chance that if the Niners wait until draft day, the deal won't happen. If they want to ensure that they get their man, they can throw a similar offer at Houston and make absolutely certain they get their man. Traditionally, receivers don't warrant such a king's ransom. And that might seem an excessive price to pay, especially when the Niners could keep all their picks and still have a shot at talented receivers in the first, second and even third round. 

But they are in a unique position of having more draft picks than holes to fill, and the opportunity to overspend to get the one player who might translate into a Super Bowl season might not be as unreasonable as it sounds.

St. Louis trades No. 2 to  . . . 

We've rehashed the haul that the Rams extricated from Washington in the Robert Griffin III trade, so there's no need to tally the ledger again. Suffice it to say that the Rams have one last move left in their fleecing of the Skins, and I expect they will attempt to wring whatever they can out of that second pick. 

There's no reason the Rams should feel compelled to trade this pick. They could take Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack, and call it a successful day. But I think St. Louis recognizes the value of moving that pick to another team as desperate as Washington was.

The question is, Who is that team?

Well, there are four categories of potential buyers:

* A team that wants Jadeveon Clowney. The Falcons would be atop that list. And if Houston were to hold onto No. 1 and take Mack or a quarterback, or if it were to move the pick to someone who will spend it on Blake Bortles, then the Rams would have something the Falcons surely would overspend to acquire.

* A team that wants the top tackle in the draft. Miami's need to rebuild its offensive line is no secret, and if the Dolphins feel that Matthews or Robinson are worth the price (now that it appears Zack Martin might not fall to them at No. 19), they could jump up that high. 

* A team that wants Sammy Watkins. San Francisco could be that team, but I doubt two division rivals would strike a deal that might make the other one stronger. But maybe Cleveland wants Watkins enough to move up two spots. Would the Browns' first pick (No. 4) and two thirds be enough to entice the Rams to slide ever so slightly down the draft board? A half-hour longer on the clock for two more picks in the top 83? 

* A team that wants a quarterback. This is the richest potential pool of buyers. Houston is the only one of the five most QB-needy teams that controls its draft board; if the Texans want someone bad enough, they can take him No. 1. Jacksonville is likey fine, sitting at No. 3. If the Jags covet someone and fear another team might jump up and snag him one pick in front of them, they could swap picks with the Rams, throwing in a third and early fourth for the accommodation. The Browns could offer the same slate of picks suggested above. That really leaves the Raiders (picking 5th), Buccaneers (7th) and Vikings (8th). Oakland might not feel the need to overspend to find someone to back up Matt Schaub. And Tampa Bay seems content with the prospect of Josh McCown starting the season. 

Which brings us to Minnesota. Of all the teams picking in the top 10, I think the Vikings are most likely to take a quarterback. If their draft board identifies a huge gap between, say, Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr, they might be tempted to move up from No. 8 to get their quarterback of the future. If there's little difference perceived between the top two or three QB prospects, then they're likely to stay put and happily select whomever falls to them.

Interestingly, the Rams might find that their own first-round pick (No. 13) generates more interest from quarterback shoppers than No. 2 does. There's a decent chance the second- or third-best quarterback will still be available at No. 13; that's when you might see a spike in demand.