The War Room: Part III

Most of the trading during the draft -- and there’s plenty of it -- involves picks rather than players. Occasionally, players are traded, but the vast majority of exchanges are made so that teams that covet certain players can move up. This is where draft value charts come into play. There is a basic version, first developed by Jimmy Johnson in the early 1990s and tweaked and re-cast by several different teams. When trades are proposed, they are couched in terms of the overall number of the pick, such as No. 52 and No. 127, rather than offering a second and a fourth.

Trades are proposed throughout the days, with the calculator drumming out which team comes out ahead in the proposed trades. Teams will move up, move back and, as the draft moves into its later stages, trade out of this year’s draft entirely, giving up low-round picks for picks in next year’s draft. The basic value of future picks a year away appears to be a round earlier – thus trading away a 2010 sixth rounder now is like trading away a 2009 seventh rounder. There are scenarios in which that valuation is flawed, in my opinion, especially in higher rounds, but it seems to be the one that’s used. Trades often happen fast and furious, as team personnel is ready at the call with sheets detailing the terms set to run them by Joel Bussert and his staff at the league office. Once approved, the trading team takes over the slotted selection.

After the two-day marathon, the action really starts to heat up. It’s now time for teams to sign the hundreds of players – some teams will sign close to 20 -- they have scouted who were not drafted over the seven rounds. Team personnel begin calling players and agents as early as the week before the draft, putting their names in to let them know they have a strong interest if the player isn’t drafted. At that point, every agent says the same thing: “If you’re interested, draft him!” The standard response from team personnel is that their picks are targeting other positions, but they have the player as a priority undrafted free agent. Some of these players do get selected, primarily in the seventh round – which has more picks than any other round due to compensatory picks – but most do not, setting off the feeding frenzy immediately following the draft.</p>

I’ve always said there must be a better way for undrafted free agents to sign with their new employers. The way it is now, players and agents are called by teams needing to know if they’re signing up while they have other players on hold. Players – at least the ones in demand – may have up to five or six teams on hold waiting for an answer while they have to decide in minutes on their future employer. Teams may drop off as other players need to make decisions while on hold. Teams need answers; players need answers; somehow, this jumble of decisions produces from 6-12 players per team with signing bonuses from zero up to $35,000 for the players most in demand.

As for a better way, perhaps there could be the introduction of a system similar to the way I understand medical residents are matched with their future employer hospitals. In this system, players would submit their top five desired teams (just as medical students submit their top resident hospital venues), while teams would submit their top five undrafted free agents (as hospitals submit their medical resident choices), and a computer could match up teams and players in a high-tech version of the dating game. It sounds novel but could probably work better than the current Wild West system we now have.

Making the signing of these players even more chaotic is the fact that people who don’t negotiate contracts for teams throughout the year are now set loose to bring in these players, using the recruiting tools of past undrafted players who made the roster and some signing bonus money. Like any negotiation or decision, agents and players who have prepared are best served, although their preparation may not have included the depth chart created by players the team has just drafted.

When the undrafted free agent frenzy ends, the draft is over. The phones keep ringing with agents begging and asking to bring in players not signed, but at this point, a team’s staff can finally breathe. The war of attrition has ended, and team officials are still standing. The draft class will be analyzed from every angle over the next 24 hours, with the opinion of their peers mattering the most. Draft weekend is over -- time to get some food and a drink and start preparing for the incoming class’ arrival for mini-camp in a few days. It never ends.

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