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With No. 3 overall draft pick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers know trades of top choices are rare

Gathering around the watercooler with colleagues to talk hypothetically about wheeling and dealing high picks in the NFL draft is a breeze.

Don't like your options with that top 10 spot? Trade down and score an extra pick or two. In love with a hot prospect who is sure to be a top five pick? Trade up and grab him.

If only it were that easy.

"It might seem like fantasy football," Browns president Mike Holmgren said of trading up or down near the top of the draft, "but let me tell you, it's not. You have to be very committed to (trade) either way."

In reality, pulling off trades with high first-round picks is rare, meaning it's more than likely the Bucs will be making a selection with their third overall pick.

Take it from someone who has been in their shoes. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who two years ago had the first overall pick, once told NFL.com, "You can call around and try to trade it, but at the end of the day, you usually don't get a phone call back."

In the past 10 drafts, there have been five trades involving top 10 picks, two of which involved swaps between teams that were picking in the top five.

Obstacle No. 1 to such trades is money. Contracts for top prospects have ballooned in recent years. In 1999, Penn State's Courtney Brown was the top overall pick and signed a contract that included around $10 million in guarantees from the Browns. In 2009, Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford was the top overall pick and inked a deal with more than $40 million in guarantees.

"It's the money," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "I think it's almost a punishment for the teams drafting in the top three or four spots."

Then there is the non-monetary cost associated with top-end trades. For any team with a high pick interested in making a deal, you can be sure the asking price isn't going to be a pitcher of beer.

The Jets traded up to the No. 4 spot last year and chose USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. The deal with the Browns included a swap of first-round picks, a second-round pick and three players for the Jets to move a whopping 12 spots.

Not everyone is willing to pay a price like that.

"If there's a player there that you really covet and you've got to have," Holmgren said, "then you have to be willing to sacrifice a little bit of your draft, which is sacred. That's a huge judgment call."

That call is easier if a player a team has long coveted is available. Former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt recalled Dallas deciding it would move heaven and earth in 1977 to get a certain University of Pittsburgh running back.

"We traded up to get Tony Dorsett," Brandt said. "We thought we were a pretty good team and he would help us. So, we won that one."

That was a case in which Dallas had a willing partner (Seattle) and thought it was worth giving up four picks (its first-round pick at No. 24 and three second-round choices) to advance to No. 2. But when you're the team trying to sell a high pick and move down, you had better hope a pretty appealing player is on the board.

"The trigger that usually makes these trades happen is a quarterback," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "When you look back at trade history — especially in the top 10 or top five — generally it's been (to get) a quarterback. … At the end of the day, if you feel the guy is a franchise type of player, then it's worth it because they're so hard to find."

Three of the five top 10 trades in the past decade involved quarterbacks: for Michael Vick, the Eli Manning-for-Philip Rivers deal and the Sanchez trade. If Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford goes No. 1 overall next week, as many expect, there likely won't be another quarterback coveted enough for a team to make a blockbuster deal with the Bucs for the No. 3 pick.

At that point, Tampa Bay will do what most teams drafting in the top 10 wind up doing: make the pick and hope for the best.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

With No. 3 overall draft pick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers know trades of top choices are rare 04/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:47pm]
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