Monday, April 21, 2014

How realistic are the trades in 'Draft Day'?

If you are a regular reader of the site, you probably know that the answer is likely to be ‘very bad’ but thanks for stopping by to find out.

In the smash hit movie Draft Day the Cleveland Browns, with Kevin Costner as GM, make a bunch of trades to ‘win’ on the titular day. The dubious honor of winning on draft day is usually bestowed on the team that makes bold (read: expensive) moves to trade up and pick a player.

For those of you who don’t want to see any spoilers you should probably stop here as I will be dissecting the trades that are the main source of excitement in the movie (I’m not an expert in film production, but a movie in which a GM plods through 7 picks only at the assigned times across three days might not get people fired up). Check out this draft trade machine I built to follow along with the calculations and see the impact of assumptions.


Going into the draft the fictional Browns hold the 7th pick. They and others are intrigued by a can’t-miss QB prospect sure to go first overall. In what the movie portrays as a reasonable deal the Browns trade their existing first round pick (7th) and their first round picks for the next two years to the Seahawks for the first overall pick.

I’m going to be honest here: I don’t love this trade[1].

The writers of the movie were clearly inspired by the RGIII trade in which Washington traded a first and second round pick in 2012 along with their 2013 and 2014 first round picks to get the 2012 2nd overall pick from St. Louis. The charts – both old and new – thought St. Louis got the better of this trade and it certainly looks that way these days.

I can construct a way in which it makes sense by going with the insane discount rate that NFL teams appear to use – to receive a given pick using picks from a future draft, teams generally have to pay with a pick one round higher (e.g., next year’s third round pick gets you this year’s fourth round pick). This calculates out to something like a discount rate of 130+%.

If we take the discount rate down to a still-eye watering 20%, more than most credit cards and a number at which I would start to have second thoughts about the strategy of accepting a trade for a one round better future year pick for one this year[2], the old-school chart shows a surprisingly narrow win for the Seahawks as the Browns get 1 and give 1.06 number one pick equivalents.

Switch to the draft value chart I developed and things look even worse as the Browns spend 1.39 number one pick equivalents to get back 1.

Verdict: Cleveland paid too much to move up, not a good deal. For the more outcome-based among us, the fact that they subsequently selected a defensive player rather than a QB is just icing on the cake.

Of course it was Jacksonville

Not content with bucking common sense and taking the guy first overall he could’ve had 15 picks later, Sonny Weaver sees the can’t-miss QB slipping and convinces the Jaguars to send him the 6th pick – just ahead of the Seahawks – for three of Cleveland’s second round picks.

According to the old school chart Cleveland fleeces the Jags, receiving 35% more value back than they sent out.

My newer chart is more friendly to middle round picks and so is much more enthusiastic about the Jacksonville side of the deal. The trade actually looks fairly even with Cleveland paying a small premium to move up to #6. If we are supposed to assume the huge premium they paid for #1 overall was for this specific player, the fact that he’s still available at #6 means we should pay a premium again, right?

Verdict: This one seems like it could actually happen (although old-school columnists working from a 25 year old chart would hate it). Good work screenwriters!

Now this just seems unlikely

Ok – so Cleveland has traded the 7th pick and a bunch of future first rounders to Seattle to get the 1st overall, then traded a bunch of second rounders to Jacksonville to get the 6th pick. What else would they do but hold Seattle hostage for a massive haul of picks?

The Browns take advantage of the fact that this is a movie and their team has Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner to entice Seattle to give back everything they got from Cleveland in the earlier trade. The result is that the Seahawks trade the 7th pick this year and two future first rounders to get the 6th pick this year.

Both charts hate this trade, mine slightly more than the old school one, with the Browns absolutely stealing from Seattle getting either 100% more than they sent (old chart) or 112% (new chart).

Verdict: Maybe if they set it in the past and replaced the Seahawks with ‘90s Mike Ditka coaching the craziest of the crazy-era Al Davis Raiders – otherwise no.

[1] This is a recurring theme.

[2] The fact that the effective discount rate really is around 130% in practice is one of the biggest inefficiencies in the NFL and a massive opportunity where a leadership team can convince their owner to delay gratification. Good luck Bruce Allen.


  1. Thanks for the great breakdown - the final trade in the movie could only happen in Hollywood. Thanks for fleshing that out!

  2. This is pretty good, although the fact that you didn't mention Putney in the 6/7 deal is egregious. After all, he was the third impact player Sonny was able to acquire on what was considered "a good day".

  3. Just watched this movie. I don't think the last trade was as bad as you make it out, because there are two other factors. The Seahawks, by moving down, got the guy they wanted anyway, and saved 6-7 million dollars. Plus the positive PR they got, by getting the Heisman winner, is certainly worth something as well. So at the end of the day, prior to where they sat the day before, they got the guy they wanted, for $7 million less, minus the Special Teams guy. So not bad.

    At the end of the day, the Browns got the D guy they wanted, the O guy they wanted, and a ST guy for the price of three #2 picks. That isn't bad either.

    At the end of the day, The Jags gave up their #1 (at #6) for three #2s. Considering their draft board was screwed up by the Browns and had a lack of prep for where they were sitting, probably not a bad deal either.

    So at the end of the day, pretty decent trades for everybody involved. Of course, time would tell who ultimately got the bad deal out of it. Did the QB pan out? Did the Browns guys become winners and did they screw their future by losing three #2s? Did the Jags take advantage in the future with some high end picks?

  4. At the end of the day it works out, however none of it would have taken place.
    1. If Seattle wanted Bo so bad to trade back for him at the 6th pick, they would have just drafted him at the #1 spot. Also if the Seattle GM was smart he would have realized that Cleveland didn't want Bo or they would have taken him first overall.
    2. Cleveland makes a horrible trade to get rid of all those first round picks to draft the guy that he could have gotten at 7. He didn't know when he made the trade that Jacksonville would have no clue who they wanted to draft even though they had months to prepare. Costner wrote on the paper to take Mack no matter what, why not draft him at 7.
    3. Why is Jacksonville relying on Cleveland to decide for them whether Bo is a good pick or not, rookie GM or not, he would at least do his own scouting report on Bo.
    4. Lucky for Costner that his employee comes in and tells him that things are shaking up at the draft, because he made his pick and then left the room. When he comes back he has to ask who's picking 4th, who's picking 5th, because he doesn't know. Only then does he have the brilliant idea of taking advantage of Jacksonville. Until that moment he has only traded away the future for a guy he could've gotten at his original spot. Blind luck and retarded GMs, not brilliance, rules the day.

  5. All great points Gary. While the film was okay, these all made me kind've ill as to how unrealistic it was on so many levels. I'll add:
    5) NO WAY does Seattle actually believe Costner that he wanted Bo since he's yelling at him to make the trade up one spot. I'd call that bluff all damn day for nothing, much less trade all those #1s and a player away just to move up 1 spot!?? Too many stupid trades for the film to be palatable.

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