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A look at draft trade mechanics


Kevin Zeitler

The Bengals haven't made a trade yet in Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft and if they do it typically won't happen until the pick or two before they go at No. 21.

But that doesn't mean they haven't already talked about it internally or even kicked tires with some interested clubs.

That's pretty much what went down last year when the Bengals traded back in the first round from No. 21 to No. 27 with the Patriots and picked up an extra third-round pick in addition to All-Rookie team right guard Kevin Zeitler with that second first-round pick.

(Forget a trade up. The Bengals have done that only twice in their history and they like where they stand this year with four picks in the first 84 selections.)

Those familiar with how the trade went down last year say it's pretty typical of how deals in the first round, and sometimes even in the second round, get done. There is usually some contact a few days before the draft where the sides don't express exact or definite terms, but they're both left with the sense there is interest.

Q: "Would you possibly be interested in maybe trading backing potentially?"

A: "We might be interested in possibly exploring a potential trade if the moon is in the seventh house."

Yet nothing happens until a pick or two before the target, in this case the 21st selection held by the Bengals. And then it gets executed only if the player the other team wants is there.

What helped here is the Bengals were dealing with a familiar trading partner in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick and Bengals president Mike Brown worked a deal a few days before the 2004 draft that sent Bengals all-time leading rusher Corey Dillon to the Patriots for the second-round pick that turned out to be safety Madieu Williams.

Then in the hours after the 2011 lockout ended, New England swung a trade for Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson in exchange for a fifth-round pick last year that netted Cincinnati Cal wide receiver Marvin Jones and a sixth-rounder this year.

So when the Patriots and Bengals checked pulses early in draft week last year, there were apparently enough maybes to indicate movement.

The Bengals don't broadcast intentions league-wide, but they must have sent out enough feelers so that when Belichick called head coach Marvin Lewis in the draft room sometime after the Bengals picked Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17, the Bengals knew they were interested in a deal.

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin is used to dealing with all kinds of titles around the league, but he knows who holds the juice in every organization. So he can tell who is fishing and who is dealing and when Lewis said Belichick was on the horn trying to deal up, there was no fishing.

The week of the draft, teams send the numbers of direct draft room phone lines of their various officials into the league office, where it is compiled and sent to every team.

In Cincinnati, Brown, Lewis and Tobin have lines. Brown has his own phone while in his corner Lewis shares a phone with club vice presidents Katie and Troy Blackburn, and Tobin has his phone among the scouts in his corner. But since everybody knows everybody, anybody can get anybody on the horn. Belichick, who also has a good relationship with Lewis, knew the Bengals decision-makers were in the same room.

By the time Belichick called, the Bengals had already discussed a potential trade down because they liked the universe of players that were developing beyond No. 21. There were two top guards in Zeitler and David DeCastro, as well as linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, and running backs Doug Martin and David Wilson.

Although the Bengals thought there was a good chance the guy they coveted, Zeitler, would still be there at 27, the first principle of a trade down was in place. Make sure you have a group you like because it's dangerous to focus on just one guy.

Lewis conveyed the terms. If New England's target was still there at No. 21, the Pats would swap with the Bengals in the first round as well as give Cincinnati a third-round pick, No. 93. On the trade value chart, that favored the Bengals by a slight eight points. Not a big edge, but it shows that when a team wants a player, it will give up a little more to the other team.

Brown signed off enough on the deal that Lewis told Belichick the Bengals would be willing.

Therein is another trade-down principle. If you're looking to trade back, canvassing the teams behind you isn't a great way to do it because you've tipped your hand, foot and everything else.

The team trading up can do the focusing on the one player and typically it won't tell the other team who it has targeted. Belichick hung up to see if what he wanted was going to be there or else it wouldn't happen.

After the Titans took Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright at No. 20, the Bengals got their answer quickly enough. Belichick said it was a go and went with Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, another guy the Bengals had rated highly.

But two phone calls still had to be made in the 15-minute window the pick must be selected. Tobin called an NFL hotline while the Pats did the same thing. While Tobin told someone the terms of the deal, the Pats were telling someone else the terms of the deal. The two league officials conferred and when the terms matched, the trade was approved. Both clubs still had to fill out paperwork, but not until later.

The calls only take two to three minutes, but it's an important 180 seconds or so. Remember 2011 when former Bears GM Jerry Angelo tried to move up in the first round from No. 29 to No. 26 by dealing Baltimore a fourth-round pick?

According to, the Ravens called in the trade and Angelo told two staffers to make the call for the Bears. But each staffer thought the other did it, and the call was never made, a source said.

But both Jones and Zeitler safely ended up in New England and Cincinnati, respectively, and the Bengals got one of those big, run-stopping defensive tackles in Clemson's Brandon Thompson at No. 93.

But don't look for lightning to strike twice two years in a row. The Bengals have only one first-round pick and while the players may be comparable, the premium positions aren't.

Trades in the later rounds, when there is just five minutes between picks, happen a lot differently. The conversations are more direct and happen about eight to six picks or so ahead of time.

Q: "Can we trade you one of our sixths and a seventh so we can get up in the fifth round?"

A: "No."


A: "Yes."

The Bengals just don't do a lot of moving around with trades, early or late, and Tobin has said in the past that's because they are prepared and know what options they have with each pick. Giving up picks to go up and target specific players doesn't lend for flexibility, he believes.

On the debate of giving up picks to get higher in the draft, Tobin always throws out a couple of names.

"Geno Atkins. Michael Johnson. Mohamed Sanu. Carlos Dunlap. That's why you don't move around."

All those guys went in rounds two to four, the prime fodder needed for moving up.

But as for a trade this year?

Maybe. Could. Potentially. Never say never.

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