One of the great unknowns in the NFL comes when teams make draft-day trades. One team is positive they are getting the better end, trading up to select the guy they want. The other team absolutely knows it made a smart move by trading back and loading up on picks.
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this weekend, “Each one is kind of its own independent decision.” So, it’s tough to compare trades in a vacuum. But we’d still like to know who got the better of each deal.
With that said, let’s look back at the biggest deal of the 2011 NFL Draft, since the loose ends were tied up this weekend. The Falcons traded up 21 spots, sending three picks from last year and two picks from this year to the Browns, to select Alabama WR Julio Jones at No. 6.
Jones is the player the Falcons think will put them over the edge, and he battled injuries to have 54 catches for 959 yards with eight touchdowns in 13 games. The Falcons lost an ugly playoff game to the Giants to end their season. There is still the future, though. Meanwhile, the Browns received the 27th pick, the 59th pick, and the 124th pick in last year’s draft. They also got the 22nd pick this year, and then the 118th pick this year.
So, now that all those picks have been made… who won the deal?
First, let’s break it down. What the Falcons got and gave up was simple. They got Jones, a dynamic receiver who excels catching the ball and is a fantastic downfield blocker. He hasn’t been the missing piece yet, but there is still time. But because of the pick, they lost out on making four other picks, perhaps hurting depth. And they didn’t have a first-rounder this year. They did, however, benefit from the play of Jones last year, whereas the Browns had no contribution from a Top 10 play as the Falcons did.
As for the Browns… what they received is complicated. Ready for this?
Here is a breakdown of each pick the Browns received from the Falcons:
27th pick, 2011 — It gets murky immediately. The Browns moved up from 27, trading a third-round pick to select NT Phil Taylor 21st overall. With 59 tackles and four sacks, Taylor emerged as a future key cog of this defense and the kind of player you build around. A potential star. Yet to move up, Cleveland sent a third-round to the Chiefs, who used the 70th pick to grab Georgia LB Justin Houston. With 56 tackles and five sacks, Houston looks like a keeper for the Chiefs. There’s no indication the Browns would have picked him, but when considering the value of the first-round pick they got from the Falcons, keep in mind the value of the third they lost and what it turned into.
59th pick, 2011 — The Browns drafted North Carolina receiver Greg Little, a 6-foot-2 receiver with some upside who contributed 61 catches for 709 yards and two TDs. Not Jones numbers, obviously, and he may never be Jones. But a player who they will use on offense.
124th pick, 2011 — This one went to fullback Owen Marecic, a Stanford grad who was a national media darling in college for playing both ways. He was a fullback and a linebacker, but he played mostly fullback [Ed. note: Error fixed.] with the Browns. He had just four carries, served as a blocker and replaced franchise stalwart Lawrence Vickers. Not easy. He contributed on special teams, too, but the jury is out whether he’ll have the desired impact blocking for Trent Richardson this year.
22nd pick, 2012 — With their second pick in the first round, the Browns took a chance on 28-year-old Oklahoma St. QB Brandon Weeden. This may be the wildcard in this whole deal. I have no idea what Weeden will become, though I’m skeptical because of the recent history of super-spread quarterbacks in similar systems who had gaudy numbers in college. Even Sam Bradford still needs to rid himself of that rep. But if Weeden replaces Colt McCoy (still technically on the roster, as of now) and shines, they will have done themselves quite well in this trade. If Weeden becomes a starter and a winner, even for five years or so, that’s a big victory. If McCoy beats him out or Weeden becomes an embattled starter fending off the ire of fans, this will not have worked out well. Duh.
118th pick, 2012 — This pick was traded to the Vikings, part of a throw-in to help the Browns move up and get Richardson at No. 3. And it worked. They grabbed him. Nevermind that they would’ve gotten him anyway, it still helped Cleveland make sure. So, this late-round pick played a part in a guy they think is going to turn around their franchise. That’s something. Better, I guess, than camp fodder.
What does all this mean?
Unfortunately, we still don’t know. Sigh. If the Falcons make a Super Bowl run this year or next year or next year, and Jones plays a big part, that’s a win. If the Browns put their franchise back together with this haul, using Richardson and Weeden as key parts, that’s a win. Actually, I guess both can claim victory. A year later, both teams think that’s the case.