If you want proof the NFL's "slotting" system for rookie contracts is already having an effect on trades, look no farther than Bruce Allen.
Allen's Washington Redskins have already traded up to the No. 2 spot in the draft and are expected to take quarterback Robert Griffin III. That deal is the first time since 2004 that one of the top four picks has been traded.
Washington paid a king's ransom to the St. Louis Rams: the No. 6 overall pick and a second-rounder this year (No. 39 overall) and first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.
Allen, Washington's general manager, smiled recently when asked about the deal.
"Sometimes the things you want are expensive," he said.
Funny how times and rules change attitudes. Only five years ago, Allen was preaching restraint. Allen, then GM of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could have paid much less in picks to the Detroit Lions for a chance to move from No. 4 to No. 2 weeks prior to the 2007 draft.
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At the time, Allen was scared off by the guaranteed money projected for the second selection (more than $27 million). So Allen and the Bucs stayed put. Detroit took wide receiver Calvin Johnson at No. 2. Tampa Bay took defensive end Gaines Adams at No. 4. Johnson is perhaps the best receiver in football. Adams, sadly, was a bust in Tampa Bay before being traded to the Chicago Bears. He then died of a heart condition in 2010.
If Allen had made the trade for Johnson, there's a good chance he and coach Jon Gruden might still be in Tampa Bay.
The more important issue to consider is that trading at the top of the draft is no longer cost prohibitive. Because of the slotting system devised by the league and the NFL Players Association, teams are locked into only four-year deals with the draft's top picks.
Moreover, those deals feature far less guaranteed money. For instance, Cam Newton received a four-year, $22 million contract as the No. 1 overall pick last year. In 2010, under the previous collective bargaining agreement, No. 1 pick Sam Bradford received a six-year, $78 million deal that included $50 million guaranteed.
Contracts like that made a trade for a top pick almost impossible. For all the great players selected at the top of the draft, the risk of getting a flop like Adams, JaMarcus Russell, Jason Smith or Vernon Gholston was chilling for the trade market.
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"There's no question that the cost of the contract was a major factor in considering trades before this," said Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who aggressively traded up to the No. 6 spot last year to nab wide receiver Julio Jones. At the time, it wasn't known if the slotting system would be in place for 2011, but part of the reason Dimitroff moved up was the perception that it would be there.
"You weren't just trading for a player, you were trading for a contract that might include $20 or $30 million guaranteed," Dimitroff said. "That made a lot of people think twice."
That's why trades at the top of the draft, more than at any time since the 2004 deal that featured No. 1 pick Eli Manning going from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants, are now much more doable.
And much more discussed.
In fact, shortly after making the deal in March with Washington to move from No. 2 to No. 6, St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher publicly said his team would be willing to move again. The Rams have talked about moving down some more and have had talks with Cleveland about moving up to No. 4.
Multiple sources said teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 11 and Philadelphia Eagles at No. 15 have talked about moving up into the top eight selections.
"I don't know if you're actually going to have more trades, but you're certainly going to have more talk about it, especially up high in the draft," Kansas City GM Scott Pioli said. "In the past, somebody might say, 'Man, I'd really like to move up to No. 4, but …' Now, it's purely a football discussion about the value of the picks and what kind of player you think you're going to get."
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