The Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams should have plenty of company sitting out the first round of the NFL draft next week.
The franchise that hasn’t made a selection in round one since taking Jared Goff in 2016 and doesn’t currently have another first-round pick until 2024, is set to be joined by a record seven other teams that have traded away their first-round picks in what has become a growing trend in recent years.
Whether it’s teams emulating the Rams’ model of flipping uncertain picks for cost-controlled rookies for more proven veterans with more lucrative contracts or others that followed the path Kansas City and Buffalo used by trading future first-round picks to move up to take a future franchise quarterback, teams are opting out of the first round of the draft at a furious pace.
This will mark the third time in four years that at least seven teams won’t make a pick in the first round barring one of those teams trading back up, something that happened just twice in the first 52 years of the common draft.
Former Tampa Bay general manager and SiriusXM analyst Mark Dominik said the increased salary cap, more power for players and GMs willing to take more risks have led to the change.
“I think that’s the unique thing is because players are actually getting a little bit more aggressive in their stance and clubs are willing to do that,” Dominik said. “Twenty years ago, if you tried to cross (former Chiefs GM) Carl Peterson you’d never play football again. … That mentality has kind of gone in the league. That’s why you’ve seen more first-round draft picks moved and traded because clubs are willing to do that.
“Therefore, having a known commodity, especially because some of these guys are elite, is better than having that first-round pick that you’re hoping is what you can be.”
No one has been as aggressive as the Rams. GM Les Snead traded two first-round picks to move up to take quarterback Jared Goff in 2016, another first for receiver Brandin Cooks in 2018, traded out of the first round in 2019 for more picks, dealt two more first-rounders to acquire All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and two more for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It added up to a Super Bowl-winning roster last season.
“The model is working,” Snead said. “It’s allowing us to consistently win games, consistently contend for the NFC West. We’ll try to use our picks in an innovative, creative way, and sometimes it will be picking players in the draft and sometimes it will be using them to go acquire players.”
The aggressiveness by the Rams has rubbed off on other teams, looking to match the success Los Angeles has had in recent years.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said there’s never “too high of a price on anybody that’s great” — especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Denver had been dealing with a revolving door of mediocrity at the most important position ever since Peyton Manning retired seven years ago but now has Russell Wilson in place.
“You can ask all these guys around here. You have to have a quarterback to have a chance,” Hackett said at the owners meetings last month. “It’s whatever it takes to get a quarterback.”
Of the eight teams that have given away their first-round picks this year, the Broncos were one of six who did it in trades for quarterbacks along with the Rams, Cleveland (Deshaun Watson), San Francisco (Trey Lance), Indianapolis (Carson Wentz) and Chicago (Justin Fields).
The other teams to do it were Las Vegas and Miami, who both traded top picks away to add game-breaking receivers they hope can get more out of their existing quarterbacks with the Raiders getting Davante Adams from Green Bay and the Dolphins getting Tyreek Hill from Kansas City.
After making 11 picks in the top 100 of the past two drafts to rebuild the roster, Miami now is not scheduled to pick until No. 102 after using those picks to move up in the draft last year to take receiver Jaylen Waddle and tackle Liam Eichenberg and then the deal for Hill.
“We’ve been building here for the last few years,” general manager Chris Grier said. “The chance to get aggressive and adding a talented top player at a position is something we just felt was too good to pass up.”
There are already five teams that have traded away their 2023 first-round picks, with the Rams and 49ers dealing away those picks last year when they got their quarterbacks, the Browns trading three years of first-round picks for Watson, the Seahawks giving up a second first-round pick for Wilson and the Saints trading their 2023 first-rounder for an extra 2022 first-rounder.
The trend shows little sign of easing.
“Any team that has success you become inquisitive and you want to know the why and you kind of dig into ‘OK. They did this and what opportunities is that they made the most of it,’” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said. “So again there’s a lot of different ways to skin a cat in terms of roster building. It’s just what your core philosophy is at the end of the day.”
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