The year: 1989. These little shiny things called CD's had just been introduced, but were still rare and expensive. Cassette Tapes were all the norm. 8 tracks were hanging around still, but already relegated to the discount bin. Finally, Jimmy Johnson and his staff devised a tool that is now deader that Disco and Elvis -- though many people still deny all three.
This article is a couple years old, but illustrates at least the edges of what I am getting at, as well as the origins and value of the chart -- at the time.
The problems with the value chart doesn't lie in the numbers, but in how the NFL has changed in the last 20 years. In the late 80's, teams chose the best player available or at a position of need irregardless of where they were picking. This is because there was no salary cap, so teams weren't limited in payroll options. Also, the "first pick of the NFL Draft" also was not even close to it's current days usage as a synonym for "you just won the Lottery!"
Because of the high salaries of the first few draft picks, they become among the highest paid players in the NFL. There could be a pro-bowl, super OG available -- but at #1, if the Lions picked him he would end up with a contract guaranteed at over twice what the highest paid OG in the NFL right now makes. This limits the positions that are available with the first pick to those that warrant the salary.
That limitation alone would be enough to justify some changes to the NFL Draft system. Back in the 8-track days, the first pick in the draft was a reward to the worst teams -- the ability to pick the best college player coming out, or trade away the right to choose that player for some additional picks.
Not so now.
In addition to the limitation on position, there is the other side of the cap implication -- failure. There are so many cap dollars wrapped up in the first pick that a miss there can cripple a franchise's cap situation. You can't choose at 10 year starter at OG, you have to try to swing for the next Larry Fitzgerald or Jared Allen. Unfortunately, this leads teams to take on even more risk. The positions with the highest pay are such because they are harder to find a pro-bowl level player to man them. Conversely, this also means choosing one leads to a higher frequency of failure as well.
According to NetRat, the positions that can justify #1 overall money are QB, WR, DE, LT, RB. Even RB is iffy, as teams have been able to find great backs in rounds 2-3 that have as much, or more, impact than the first round backs. DT is borderline due to their inflating salaries -- would have to be a pro-bowl player to justify it. Is there one in this draft? Lions don't need a WR#1, they need a WR#2. They don't need a RB#1, they need a RB#2...
That leaves DE, LT, QB. Lions could go LT, but that would be upgrading someone who is a reasonable starter, highly paid, and still won't fix the big problem on the line --- the OG positions. As for DE -- is there a Mario Williams in this draft? Besides, White has done decent, and Avril was really coming on last year once he got on the field. So that leaves QB.
Remember, this is just from a cap perspective.
See how easily the salary process of elimination pigeon-holes teams in the #1 spot?
Now, I want to get back to value. It irritates me no end how the same fans who say "we can't trade out of #1, no one wants it." then turn right around and say "but we can't do that trade -- the #1 pick is worth more than that!" -- so which is it?? Not worth anything, or only worth giving up for a couple firsts and seconds??
I have an answer: My House. It has three different values right now -- State Equalized Value, Market Value, and Personal Value.
1. State Equalized value is what the state uses to tax my house each year. It is dependent on a formula of current markets, what past sale values have been, past sales in the area, etc. In other words, it is an abstract value for tax purposes that may or may not have anything to do with the current real value of the home.
I liken this valuation to the draft chart. Back when it was relevant, and still is for later rounds, it allowed a value to be put on the valueless -- a standardized "what if" price that made for a common starting point, but could be altered based on leverage.
2. Market Value: Market Price, simply defined, is the price an individual is willing to pay another for a good or service. In this example, what will someone else be willing to pay me for my house? It doesn't take into account, in reality, what I paid for it. It doesn't matter what I think it's worth. The only thing that matters is how much someone else wants it. What are they willing to pay to take it off my hands? I may make money, or I may take a loss, but the market determines that based on factors such as available comparable housing, the pricing of such, their need, time-frames, etc.
This is the true value of picks traded (and players, for that matter). You can only get rid of a pick for what another team is willing to pay. If my SEV value is your entire draft, but market price is an extra 3rd rounder -- that is it. The pick is worth a 3rd rounder unless some other team decides it is worth more to them. You can point at the chart til you are bluer than the Cadillac Grannie's tuft of hair sticking over the steering wheel and it won't matter.
A draft pick is only worth what another team is willing to give you for it.
3. Personal Value: This is the compliment to market value -- what your house it worth to you. Maybe I can sell my house and break even on what I owe -- but then I would be out my down payment. Or maybe I can sell it for what I bought it for. But do I want to sell? Do I have to sell? Can I afford to sell? Those factors all play in to what my house is worth to me. If I am forced to do something, that will intrinsically lower the value -- I have to get rid of it. If I want to get rid of it, but don't have to, the value will still be low for me (I don't want it) but I won't take a big loss just to be out of here. Finally, if I am happy with my house and don't want to move, then someone will need to offer me a premium. If that premium is high enough, I will take their offer because it benefits me, not because I am unhappy.
The Roy Williams trade is a perfect example of the last line. Jerry Jones really wanted RW. Detroit was fine keeping him, but since they were offered a high enough premium -- they sold. The "personal value" for the first draft pick needs to be dealt with the exact same way.
If the Lions have a couple of guys they like, and are comfortable with what contract they will take, then by all means --- hold out for a great deal and if it doesn't come along use the pick. On the other hand, if they aren't thrilled with the prospect, but will use the pick if they have to -- then try and get what you feel is a remotely reasonable offer, and get out of it. Finally, if they absolutely do not want that #1 overall, get the hell out of dodge. Fire-sale it and do anything but give up your own picks to get out of there. No sense using it for the sake of using it if you don't like any of your options at #1!
This means that what you feel the Lions should get for the first pick is directly related to how you feel the Lions view their options. If you think Stafford is the man (Tomorrow I'll show you that Stafford is already on the roster) then you will only trade out for a big offer (multiple 1's, or 1-2-3 kind of deal). If you like Stafford, but a couple other guys catch your eye. You'd be happy with any number of players in the top ten, then you trade it for a top-ten #1 and a their 2nd or 3rd. If you feel fine being in the teens, do the same thing -- 1 & 2 or 3 for #1 overall.
Finally, if you just hate the #1 spot, and feel it will set the Lions back another 3 years then fire sale out of it. Take #anything in the first and an additional pick to not have to use it. Or move to #2 - 10 for a 1 and a 4,5 or 6. You're still getting something, but avoiding that super-huge payout.
So as we get into the FA and draft talk, keep the different valuations in mind -- especially market and personal value -- as they are what dictates the signings and movings and trades.
As Elvis would sing on his 8-track, "A little less conversation, a little more action..."