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Player Trade Value in 2017

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Imagine that Pace wanted to make a trade to improve the roster or to clear away unnecessary talent. What do recent trades tell us is a fair value for players?

Chicago Bears v St Louis Rams Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Since Ryan Pace took over as general manager of the Chicago Bears in 2015, there have been 88 player trades that were “one-sided”, meaning that there was only an actual player on one side of the trade. Because of this one-sidedness, it is possible to use these trades to figure out roughly what a player is “valued at” in the NFL. The short answer is “not a lot.”

Before digging into any great detail, I’ll explain my methodology. I went through every player transaction listed on Spotrac and eliminated every trade that had multiple players. I then accounted for each draft pick that was traded and matched it to the value offered by Rich Hill’s revised trade chart (which I have found to be slightly more accurate than the old Jimmy Johnson chart). In the case of trades with picks on each side, discounts were applied and the ultimate value was then sorted out.

In the event that future draft picks were traded, I applied the typical “one round” discount, but I defaulted to moving the pick in value toward the middle of a “32-pick” round. This means that I slightly over-valued future picks because this method does not take into account the way compensatory selections tend to inflate the later rounds. This means that in some trades, the players were actually valued less than what I report here, but not by a major amount.

Overall, players are not typically traded for high-value picks. Only two of the 88 players merited 1st-round selections, and only five of the 88 players merited anything above a 5th-round selection. Only one player contract had negative trade value.

Quarterbacks

There were nine qualifying trades for quarterbacks. Once you get past the massive trade for Sam Bradford (for what was, in essence, the value of the #14 pick in the draft) and the contract dump of Brock Osweiler (which, past the various distractions, functionally cost the same as #88 in the draft, a later third-rounder), the net value of a quarterback up for trade was pretty consistent. Matt Cassel was worth a fifth-rounder or a sixth-rounder depending on which time he was traded for, and Matt Barkley netted a sixth-rounder before he proved his true value at Soldier Field. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Mark Sanchez, and Cardale Jones were all valued as some form of 7th-round pick. The mean value was around the same as a high fourth-rounder (that Bradford trade), whereas by most other measures you’re lucky to earn a 6th-rounder for a recycled signal-caller.

As I have mentioned before, if someone offers a fifth-rounder for Glennon, Pace should do a happy dance and make the transaction before the other team has a chance to reconsider. It would potentially make Glennon the second-most valued quarterback traded since in over two years.

Tight Ends

How about tight end? With the Bears seemingly stocked at the position, could Pace earn back some draft capital by flipping one of those players? Maybe if he desperately wanted a 6th-rounder. The best deal for the team offering a tight end remains Pace’s swap of Martellus Bennett for the value of a late fourth-rounder (#136, actually). The other eleven tight ends who were traded all commanded less, though Vance McDonald (#142) earned almost as much for the 49ers. Two-time Pro Bowler Vernon Davis earned either a 5th-round or 6th-round pick, depending on how the year breaks (he was valued as #185, which was the very top of the sixth in 2017). Five of the seven tight ends traded went for a 7th-rounder, making it unlikely that there is draft gold hiding on the Bears’ roster this year.

Wide Receivers

The Bears are kind of thin at wide receiver. Maybe Pace could get a bargain? Well, a lot depends on what kind of receiver he is looking for. The eleven receivers include Brandon Marshall and Mike Wallace as well as Brandin Cooks. Cooks is one of only two players to earn a 1st-round pick, and he is receiver who had multiple 1000-yard seasons still on part of his rookie contract. Marshall was the second highest-yielding receiver traded, earning the value of a 5th-round pick. However, this doesn’t mean that Pace could pry free Larry Fitzgerald with a fourth-rounder. Instead, it reflects the fact that receivers who are on the trading block are normally players who are likely to be cut or who otherwise represent a burden of some kind.

Other Positions of Note

The defensive line has a little bit more value than others. Haloti Ngata and Timmy Jernigan were both moved for 4th-rounders, and the Panthers earned the equivalent of a high 5th-round pick for the Patriots getting a summer rental out of Kony Ealy. That Ealy trade is interesting because even though the defensive end was included as part of a pick swap and therefore only rated as eight draft spots, those draft spots were (in general terms) precious enough to represent the 10th or 12th-highest value player trade of the 88 trades in consideration (the ambiguity comes from the different number of compensatory picks in later rounds and how you want to value future picks before or after their value is actually determined). Jamie Collins was the only other player to earn at least a 4th-rounder.

That’s it. Otherwise, a player who is actually available for trade will typically earn a 7th- or 6th-rounder most of the time. Or, more precisely, a player who is available for a trade of picks only will be valued that way. Cornerbacks Safeties Special teamers rated about the same. There was a bit more variety to some other positions, but not a lot. It’s telling that DeMarco Murray, Zac Stacy, and the rights to Marshawn Lynch all went for a 6th to 7th-rounder.

Four of six guards traded were at least valued as fifth-rounders, but the rest of the offensive line fell into the category of “if he’s available at all, he’s probably only costs the draft equivalent of pocket change.”

Conclusions

In the abstract, it makes perfect sense that draft picks are valued more heavily than players. While a draft pick is inherently a risky proposition compared to an established player, such a pick is also a) the chance to control a player’s salary under the CBA, b) a chance to remake the roster in a specific image, and c) an accepted risk. What I mean by saying that a draft pick is an accepted risk is that most fan bases accept in the abstract the idea that not all draft picks are hits and that even good draftees sometimes need a bit of time for development. By contrast, trading for a player means that player’s immediate failures and successes are open to judgment. Teams with a tradition of success can be a little riskier, because they have greater security and confidence overall.

A team is not likely to “flip” players for bounties of draft picks. In only six cases were multiple picks offered for a player, and in four of those the player being traded was also traded along with “discount” picks. Under the conditions that actually apply to the NFL of the last few years, Pace has traded well. However, it is not a way to build a roster or to recoup major value. It’s (at best) a means to gain maneuvering room.