2012 draft picks: A pot of gold, or a lump of coal?

As we all know, the status of the 2011 NFL season is a giant pile of whatsit right now.  No one knows whether we'll be playing football in 2011, and both sides of the labor dispute are headed off to court.  The only thing that we know for a concrete fact at this point is that the 2011 NFL draft will still take place, as the 2011 draft was included in the now-expired CBA.  The fact that the players have sued the NFL, arguing that their limitations of player movement are in violation of U.S. anti-trust regulations, means that not only could the concept of a salary cap and salary floor be out the window, but so could the concept of an NFL draft.  You heard me right:  there's a chance that the 2011 NFL draft will be the FINAL NFL draft for the foreseeable future.  The question is...what does this mean for the present?

With free agency and player trading on hold until some sort of agreement is hammered out (or until the case is settled in court), the only way for teams to acquire new talent for this upcoming season at this point is through the 2011 NFL draft.  This means a couple of things:
  1. The value of a 2011 draft pick is inflated
  2. The price in trade for a 2011 draft pick is inflated, meaning instead of trading a 2012 1st-rounder for a 2011 2nd-rounder, teams may now have to include an additional pick to get a deal done (for example:  a 2011 2nd-rounder for a 2011 4th-rounder and a 2012 1st-rounder).

This is true no matter what happens in the future; 2011 picks are definitely inflated in value due to the fact that they are the only means of adding players to a team's roster right now.  As for 2012...

Some teams operate more safely, and others are willing to take more risks.  The Jaguars don't distinctly fall into either category at this point to our knowledge in spite of what Matt Bitonti would say.  The uncertain existence of a 2012 NFL draft could separate the risk-takers from the safety-first crowd. Since it is uncertain whether or not there will be a 2012 NFL draft, this means a couple of things as well:

  1. Due to the increased risk involved in accepting 2012 draft picks in trade, the value of 2012 draft picks is deflated
  2. The price in trade for a 2012 draft pick is also deflated, meaning the price is even LOWER than the scenario detailed above (for example:  a 2011 2nd-rounder for a 2011 3rd-rounder and a 2012 1st-rounder, or a 2011 2nd-rounder for a 2012 1st-rounder and 2nd-rounder).

Both sets of points work in conjunction with each other to drive up the price of 2011 draft picks and drive down the price of 2012 draft picks.  In essence, one 2011 draft pick is worth quite a bit more than a 2012 draft pick on top of the value difference that usually exists.

The fact is that the uncertain status of the 2012 NFL draft could cause some teams to panic and try to parlay those 2012 picks into 2011 picks before they end up with nothing to show for them.  Will this happen?  Who knows?  Probably not.  The "union" and the NFL will probably hammer out some sort of agreement at some point that allows for the existence of a draft, and all will be normal in the world.  However, for a risk-averse team, the uncertain status of the 2012 draft means the best course of action is to either completely stand pat and hope for the best, or to try to trade your 2012 draft picks to get more 2011 draft picks in the event that the draft becomes extinct in 2012, rendering those 2012 draft picks useless.  For a risk-taking team, this is the opportunity to hit the mega-jackpot.  Imagine turning half of your 2011 draft into a Patriots-style 2012 draft WHILE STILL GETTING 2011 PICKS IN RETURN?  The risk is that, if a 2012 draft does not happen, you've spent all your 2011 picks for literally nothing.  If a 2012 draft does happen, though, you're walkin' on sunshine.

I think it's likely that teams will not overreact to the 2012 draft's uncertain status and trade their picks for pennies on the dollar.  But it's not impossible, and it only takes one team to feel that way to make a deal.  Always remember that.

Picture this:
  • Round one:  The Jaguars, not finding the player they want immediately available, swap their first-round pick with a team desperate to move up to grab the player they want.  Let's say it's the Seahawks pursuing Ryan Mallett.  The Seahawks swap 1st-round picks with the Jaguars, and of course must include extra picks as well.  Usually, the price of such a swap would be something like their 2nd-round pick in 2011 or their 1st-round pick in 2012.  Due to the decrease in value from 2012 draft picks, however, the price is more like a 2012 1st-rounder and a 2012 3rd-rounder.  The Seahawks pull the trigger, move up and grab Mallett.  The Jaguars move back to 25, add the two 2012 picks, and draft the highest player left on their board.  Let's call him Christian Ponder.
  • Round two:  The Jaguars are approached by the Dallas Cowboys.  The player the Cowboys want the most, Rahim Moore, is still on the board at pick 49.  Dallas wants Moore, but they've already used their second-round pick on a great value that slipped to them and wanted to jump back up for Moore.  The Jaguars would usually demand Dallas' 2012 1st-round pick in exchange for their 2011 2nd-rounder; however, due to the inflated price of 2011 picks (especially the earlier picks), the Jaguars are able to get Dallas' 2012 1st-rounder AND their 2011 4th-round pick.  Dallas picks Moore, and the Jaguars sit and wait.
  • Round three:  The Jaguars stay put and select the player they want.  Let's call him Kelvin Sheppard.
  • Round four:  The Jaguars, having three picks, are approached by San Francisco as the clock ticks on the selection they received from Dallas.  The 49ers want Andy Dalton, the only quarterback worth his salt left on the board.  The Jaguars have already drafted their quarterback; they have no need for Dalton.  Usually, a 2011 4th-rounder would cost San Francisco their 2012 3rd-rounder; however, with the inflated price of 2011 picks the 49ers cough up their 2012 2nd-rounder AND their 2011 6th-rounder in exchange to move up for Dalton.
  • Round four:  The Jaguars make two picks.  Let's call them Jalil Brown and Ricky Elmore.
  • Round five:  The Jaguars make their pick.  Let's call him Greg Salas.
  • Round six:  The Jaguars make two picks.  Let's call them Mark LeGree and Daniel Kilgore.

In my fantasy-world scenario here, the Jaguars go into the 2011 draft with seven draft pics.  They exit the draft with seven 2011 draft picks:

Christian Ponder
Kelvin Sheppard
Jalil Brown
Ricky Elmore
Greg Salas
Mark LeGree
Daniel Kilgore

In my fantasy-world scenario here, the Jaguars enter the 2011 draft with their seven original selections in the 2012 draft intact.  They exit the 2011 draft with the following 2012 draft picks:

1st (Jaguars)
1st (Seahawks)
1st (Cowboys)
2nd (Jaguars)
2nd (49ers)
3rd (Jaguars)
3rd (Seahawks)
4th (Jaguars)
5th (Jaguars)
6th (Jaguars)
7th (Jaguars)

Now, this is by no means a concrete proposal; this is completely whimsical and has been provided for nothing more than food for thought. 

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