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New Seahawks corner C.J. Smith and the lowest trade compensation ever

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Unlocking the mystery behind the unknown defensive back prospect, and whether any NFL player has ever been swapped for less

When the Seattle Seahawks traded a 2020 seventh round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for cornerback C.J. Smith Monday afternoon, you could be forgiven for believing the news meant nothing, or that it didn’t even happen. After all, no one seemed to know who Smith was—the name sounds super anonymous and he played at North Dakota State, so no one had ever seen him play—maybe he didn’t really exist. The Browns are basically a nothing football organization. And the compensation agreed to is next to nothing: a conditional pick in the lowest draft round in the latest possible draft the NFL allows you to trade at this point (future picks, like deferred money, are considered less valuable the deeper into the future they are).

The degree this transaction moved the needle on the seismograph outside the Seahawks’ stadium could perhaps be called the “least quake”. But as Billy Preston once said, you’ve got to put something into it if you want to get something out of it. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

You gotta have something, and what C.J. Smith has is 32 1/8 inch arms, which as we all know rings the bell on Pete Carroll’s scale for defensive back prospects. But we’ve also all seen players ride the long arm excitement to offseason expectations before only to have no influence on the regular season. So is Smith just another Stanley Jean-Baptiste or Pierre Desir, only without the French name? For that matter, how do we even know C.J. doesn’t stand for something French? I determined to give Smith the Stacy Jo Rost treatment (she solved J.D. McKissic for us), but nearly everywhere official I looked online, including the normally-incisive Pro-Football-Reference, only listed Smith as C.J.

I learned Smith’s high school team in Burnsville, Minnesota, is called the Blaze. Burnsville changed the name from “Braves” in 1994 around the time Smith was born, to avoid denigrating Native Americans. But the new pun on the town’s name had other unfortunate connotations after a number of nearby schools were burned down by a local arsonist that same year and their students got temporarily re-enrolled at Burnsville. Yikes. Way back in the ’50s the school’s teams were called the “Black Dogs” which if you ask me is a better nickname than either Blaze or Braves, but doesn’t offer any clues into Smith’s full name.

However I was finally able to confirm Smith’s initials are short for Charles, Jr., which sounds more delicious than In-N-Out. Charles is technically a French name too, but I don’t think that’s the direct source material here. Instead C.J. is named after Smith’s father, although since the cornerback goes by C.J. Smith III that means his father is also Charles, Jr.

Anyway, what about that draft compensation? Since the trade is a conditional pick, there’s a chance Seattle doesn’t have to exchange the selection should Smith not meet some required threshold like making the 53-man roster. And as we said above, the cost to the Seahawks is very little even for a player Cleveland was likely to cut, who the Philadelphia Eagles had found in undrafted free agency in 2016 out of the Missouri Valley Conference. But, as our friend Chris of 30 Acre Fortress wonders, is it the least value ever traded?

To answer this I used Pro-Football-Reference’s trade finder to examine every final round selection ever dealt since the league reduced the draft to seven rounds in 1994.

As you might expect, most trades occur either during the draft in question or in the draft upcoming in the same year or the following year. In very few cases have teams reached way down into their inventory of picks and offered a choice as many as three drafts out: For example, in 2003, just a few days before that year’s draft, the Green Bay Packers traded their seventh in the 2005 draft to the Kansas City Chiefs for kick returner Derek Combs. That seventh rounder eventually became the 238th overall selection.

A similar instance happened 10 years later, when the Atlanta Falcons wanted to move up from the 30th overall choice in 2013 to seize Desmond Trufant. The then-St. Louis Rams were in 22nd position and willing to gather picks, so Atlanta bundled in a third and a sixth in 2013, and then to balance out the scale the Rams tossed in a 2015 seventh round selection that ended up being the 249th pick, the very last tradeable selection in that year’s draft. However, since the 2013 draft was already underway at the time of the trade, this added consideration technically isn’t as far into the future as the 2003 Packers-Chiefs exchange. But the reason St. Louis had the pick at all was because it originally belonged to the New England Patriots (that’s why it was the last non-compensatory pick), who gave it to the Rams for Greg Salas, a very Patriots wide receiver who later played for the Jets and Bills, on September 1, 2012.

So that pick, a 2015 seventh rounder first traded in 2012 almost seven months before the 2013 draft, with three drafts and another full season in between, is the lowest compensation given up in the current draft configuration. Congratulations Greg Salas! And what became of the future pick? Well, he’s now a Seahawk. After trading up for Trufant, the Falcons bookended the deal two years later with another defensive back, Akeem King. King played in five games in 2015 with Atlanta before ending up on injured reserve in 2016. Last September the Falcons waived him as part of their final roster cutdown, and Seattle added King to its practice squad two weeks later.

Last week, the Seahawks again signed King, where he will compete with C.J. Smith III as well as 2017 draft pick Mike Tyson and likely one or more 2018 selections for a chance to join the newly remodeled Seattle defensive back group, and maybe one day take Richard Sherman’s place opposite Shaquill Griffin. I’m not sure King’s arm length, but he was profiled in these pages as a Seahawky corner prospect back in ’15.