Draft-Day Trading a Straightforward Process, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS – If the NFL Draft is a mysterious process, Bill Polian said there's at least one area that's often not complex at all.
The area: draft day trades.
Polian, currently preparing for his 12th draft as the Colts' president, said while the perception of draft-day trades may have something of a back-room, wheeler-dealer feel, the reality in the NFL Draft often is significantly less exciting.
Recently, he recalled a story:
"This goes all the way back to the 1980s," Polian said recently as he prepared for the 2009 NFL Draft, which will be held April 25-26 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. "It was a first-round trade I was involved in.
"It was pretty clear that both parties were willing to do the trade."
The deal, Polian recalled, was fairly routine in NFL terms. A team wanted to move up in that year's draft. Polian was willing to trade first-round selections – in exchange for a lower-round selection.
Polian, then the general manager of the Buffalo Bills, said he then received a phone call.
"The other party got back to us," Polian said. "They said, 'Ah, give us a sweetener. We have a couple of people after the pick.' "
The ensuing conversation went as follows:
Polian: "How about a seventh?"
Reply: "Ah, how about a fifth?"
Polian: "Let's settle on a sixth."
Reply: "OK, fine."
"So everybody's happy," Polian recalled, laughing. "How long did that take? Thirty seconds."
That, Polian said, is pretty much the norm for draft-day trades. Because time is limited, particularly in later rounds, and because most people making the deals have been around NFL circles – and in draft rooms – for many, many seasons, extensive draft-day negotiations are rare.
"People understand what the definition of a sweetener is," Polian said. "You don't have to spend a lot of time discussing that."
The Colts during Polian's tenure have made 13 draft-day trades, deals that have involved selections in every round:
• In 2007, they traded a 2008 first-round selection and a 2007 fourth-round selection to San Francisco for a 2007 second-round selection they used to select offensive tackle Tony Ugoh.
• In 2006, they traded a 2007 sixth-round selection for a 2006 seventh-round selection they used to select cornerback T.J. Rushing.
• In 2005, they traded a 2006 fourth-round selection for a 2005 fifth-round selection they used to select defensive end Jonathan Welsh.
• In 2004, they traded a 2004 second-round selection and a 2004 fifth-round selection to Cleveland for a 2004 third-round selection they used to select tight end Ben Hartsock, a 2004 fifth-round selection they used to select offensive guard Jake Scott and a 2004 sixth-round selection they used to select cornerback Von Hutchins.
• Also in 2004, they traded a 2004 second-round selection to Pittsburgh for a 2004 second-round selection they used to select safety Bob Sanders and a 2004 fourth-round selection they used to select linebacker Kendyll Pope.
• Also in 2004, they traded a 2004 first-round selection and a 2004 third-round selection to Atlanta for a 2004 second-round selection they sent to Pittsburgh in the Sanders trade, as well as a 2004 third-round selection they used to select linebacker Gilbert Gardner and a 2004 fourth-round selection they used to select cornerback Jason David.
• In 2003, they traded a 2004 fourth-round selection to Houston for a 2003 fifth-round selection they used to select defensive end Robert Mathis.
• In 2001, they traded a 2001 first-round selection to the New York Giants for a 2001 first-round selection they used to select wide receiver Reggie Wayne, a 2001 third-round selection they used to select safety Cory Bird and 2001 sixth-round selection they used to select safety Jason Doering.
• Also in 2001, they traded a 2001 second-round selection and a third-round selection to Dallas for a second-2001 second-round selection they used to select safety Idrees Bashir.
• In 2000, they traded a 2000 fifth-round selection and a 2000 sixth-round selection to New Orleans for a 2000 fifth-round selection they used to select guard Matt Johnson.
• Also in 2000, they traded a 2001 sixth-round selection to Oakland for a 2000 seventh-round selection they used to select defensive back Rodregis Brooks.
• In 1999, they traded a 1999 fourth-round selection and a 1999 sixth-round selection to San Francisco for a 1999 fourth-round selection they used to select defensive back Paul Miranda.
• And in 1998, they traded a 1998 fourth-round selection, a 1998 fifth-round selection and a 1998 sixth-round selection to Baltimore for a 1998 fourth-round selection they used to select guard Steve McKinney.
Among the Colts players for whom the Colts traded are three Pro Bowl selections – Wayne, Sanders and Mathis – as well as five others who became starters for at least two years: Ugoh, Scott, David, Bashir and McKinney.
But when it comes time to make those trades, Polian said there's a thought-out system in place.
"We have a formula," Polian said. "Long before that became famous, we had a formula. We just didn't talk about it. The people who are actually doing the trading all know what the process is. There aren't any surprises.
"There may be multiple discussions going on, and people (fans) might be surprised, but people are quite honest. You might call and says, 'Are you interested in our 67th pick for thus and so.' Most times the other party will say, 'Yeah, but we have a deal that's a little better,' or they'll say, 'No, no. We have a guy here we really want to pick. If he's not there, we'll call you back.'
"The calls are made beforehand. The trade is made before you ever get on the clock. You have to move fast."