Everybody slow down

March 20, 2018 - 9:52 am

I hereby declare the debate about whether the Buffalo Bills should trade up for a quarterback in next month's NFL Draft officially raging.

Saturday's Jets-Colts trade, in which the Jets traded four good draft picks to move up three spots, was the rumble of thunder Bills fans needed to hear in order to know of the storm. They needed to hear the thunder because, by all appearances, their collective research department is boarded up, and the Wi-Fi's down.

Indianapolis seemed just right for a trade down -- with a quarterback already in Andrew Luck, without a solid roster overall. Well I guess they saw it the same way, and the Colts get potentially three good players plus, at sixth overall, quite possibly the same player they would have wanted to take with the third pick. Great move for them.

But what about us?

In situations like these, I want to be the Colts, not the Jets. I want four times better odds at a good player, which is about what the Colts accomplished. In general, I want to trade down, not up. I want a good team and I want to smart about how to build it.

I think fans are decidedly in favor of the Bills trading with the Giants for the second pick, and it doesn't take long to find one who'll say "no matter what it costs".

I think it matters what it costs. I want my sports teams to matter what things cost. I want them to break what for the most part has defined the Pegula Era of sports ownership, which is that it doesn't matter what things cost. The naked streets are littered with Marcell Dareus' guaranteed money even in case of suspension, of Cody Hodgson's video announcing he'll be a Sabre for six more years, of Cordy Glenn's contract, of Ville Leino's entire existence. In recent years, the Bills and Sabres both have signed players to contracts that make it almost unbelievable to think the players ever asked for anything more than what they got. Do the Bills and Sabres negotiate, or do they just say yes?

This, of course, would be a trade, not a signing, but the same principles can apply. "Just go do it", another common fan comment of late, is not good business.

If it's anything to say, Terry Pegula is relevant in this. I don't know his feelings on trading up, but I'd bet they're like most of yours, which is that the great quarterback is the thing the Bills have been missing, just as the thing the Sabres had been missing when he bought them was to spend on free agents.

How's that gone?

There's no doubt having a great quarterback is super important. This is not an argument against that obvious reality. It is, however, an argument against thinking any amount of scouting acumen will tell you which one(s) will be great.

Because we know that's a myth.

It's pretty plain that trading up in the draft is usually a bad plan. It tends to reek of desperation and, more importantly, shun what history tells us. No amount of failed trades seems enough to scare off teams that have to get "their guy". You'd think for what NFL teams are worth maybe more of them by now would have figured out this basic thing.

Sure, it can work. Anything can work. Teams make quantifiably bad decisions in games all the time, and win. I'm not out to prove that trading up wouldn't work. Sometimes it does.

Not only is trading up generally bad strategy, the mere selection of a quarterback in Round 1 of the draft is a risky bet too. Chase Stuart of footballperspective.com looked through the quarterbacks picked third overall since 1970 and noticed that the median player is Blake Bortles. Put one way, that's to say that if you draft a quarterback at No. 3, getting the equivalent of Bortles is not a below-average result. I think it's fairly safe to say that if the team drafting a quarterback at three gets the next Blake Bortles they'd be described as having blown the pick.

But to say it's risky, well, everyone knows that. Most things worth doing come with risk. The Bills not trading up and drafting a quarterback at 12, well, that's risky too. Drafting anyone is risky.

I'm not risk-averse. I'm stupid-averse.

Giving the Giants 4-5 premium draft picks so that you choose which quarterback, with the possible exception of one, you go with, to me would be stupid. It ignores the dozens of times teams scouted like hell and landed on "their guy", only for him to flop. It treats the draft as something we know it isn't, an exact science.

Let's take some time to breathe, and remember another team that did well to accumulate lots of draft picks only to later get jumpy and spend many of them on veteran players. That would be the Sabres. The Sabres turned that pamphlet they made bragging about all their picks into a fire-starter by trading them away for Robin Lehner et al.

I want to see the Bills use their draft picks, so that in two or three years they're close to having a roster any team would be proud of. 

I want to see the Bills use their draft picks this way, but I don't think they will.

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