By: Eric Thomas
Please oh please don’t trade up to get Sammy Watkins. There have been reports out of Allen Park, by way of outward appearances, answered questions, and Twitter posts by beat writers that the Lions would consider trading up in the Draft to acquire the epic WR from Clemson, Sammy Watkins. This is a terrible idea. Please oh please. No.
Let’s not take anything away from Watkins; he’s a mega-beast. He has that elusive special mix of size and speed, the innate ability to “go get” a ball, elusiveness in space, field vision, blocking ability and better than average instinct to run routes. He’s also smart, openly campaigning for a spot in the Lions offense. The Lions are a rookie receiver’s dream. You can line up alongside Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, thereby not immediately assuming the added pressure of being a lousy team’s #1 WR spot, a fate where many rookie WRs have found themselves stapled with the “bust” tag early.
Watkins is awesome, but he’s a luxury the Lions can ill afford. Trading up is a bad, bad, bad idea. It fails far more often than it succeeds, and that was BEFORE the current CBA.
The first round of the NFL Draft was probably overrated before the rookie salary cap. It was a fun distraction for Lions fans, mired for decades amid the acrid aroma of mismanagement and poor decisions, where those of us dressed in Honolulu blue could lie to ourselves with quixotic delusions of a better tomorrow, before that familiar slap of reality could crack us across the face around the end of October—but the truth was the first round was where bad teams were forced to sink millions into a player who hadn’t yet taken a single snap professionally. Teams in those days flipped a coin between the edge of glory and importing cancer.
The first round is probably underrated now. Teams bring in players who’ve been installed with a chip on their shoulder; they have to play for the big bucks. They get a relatively cheap college star, and if it doesn’t work out, the franchise is no worse for the wear. You can acquire a star player and retain the means to build a team around him. The teams ahead of the Lions in this year’s draft know that. They will not part with their picks lightly. The Lions will have to trade away many of this year’s and next year’s picks to get Watkins. If you’re a really bad team, you want Sammy Watkins in your uniform, and the Lions are going to have pony up a king’s ransom for them to pass on him.
Those in favor of trading up point out that the Atlanta Falcons did the same to get Julio Jones, and experienced immediate returns. That’s true, on the surface, but look closer: the Falcons were contenders when they moved up to get Jones. They finished first in the NFC South in the previous year before they lost to the Packers in the playoffs, who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Falcons, aping the Pack as many did in that year, over-extended their resources to improve the passing game, because the prevailing wisdom at the time was defense had been rendered irrelevant in the NFL (before the Ravens and Seahawks won the next two Super Bowls). In the following year the Falcons finished second in the NFC South and got bounced by the Giants in the playoffs. They sat out the next year of the draft, unable to improve their defense, and spent the next year getting gashed defensively. They scored a lot of points and won a lot of games, but their porous defense kept them on the razor’s edge. They tried to solve the problem by selecting CBs in the first and second round in the 2013 Draft—started one of them—but the damage was done. They finished a pathetic 4-12 last year, with teams scoring on them seemingly at will. They surrendered 41 to the Tampa Bay Bucs. They pick ahead of the Lions in this year’s draft.
The Redskins traded up for RG3, and it paid early dividends until it collapsed the next year when the Skins had no ability to surround Griffin with talent. St Louis will pick second this year because of that decision. The Browns traded up for Trent Richardson. He plays for the Colts now. The Jaguars traded up for Blaine Gabbert. He plays for the 49ers now, traded for a 6th round pick.
The only time it’s justifiable to trade up is when you’re a current contender with a single hole. The Lions have gaping holes, many of them. In the past two years, they’ve been gutted by lack of depth. The shadows only get longer in later years, with Ndamukong Suh looking like he will leave Detroit, Stephen Tulloch not getting any younger, a secondary hastily taped together with hope and the laughter of children, Reggie Bush older, and Calvin Johnson entering his 8th year in the NFL.
Swapping up seems great in the short term, but the Lions shouldn’t do it. Please oh please. Don’t trade up. It never works.