I've said it before but Ryan Leaf is probably a good contender for the "Worst NFL Starting Quarterback" of all-time. Now, don't get me wrong, I saw Joe Webb play that game against the Green Bay Packers, but the reason we hold Leaf to a higher standard -- or at least the reason that he's memorable at all -- is what his draft status was as a prospect in 1998.
The Chargers used the second overall pick on Leaf, and did so in a draft where Peyton Manning had gone first. Since Manning was arguably the best prospect ever, it's not hard to imagine that Leaf is the first overall pick in most drafts, especially since at least a few people thought he was going to be better than Manning. In the end, Leaf barely fell short of besting Manning (say what you want about him, but Leaf has only played in 231 fewer games than Manning and only thrown 516 fewer touchdowns) and today we call him things like "bust" or "buster" or "bustah crimes" because of how much he sucked (and because of crimes) and because of how good he was supposed to be based on his draft day value.
But what most people forget is that Leaf didn't cost a second overall pick. He actually cost much, much more than that.
San Diego was originally slated to pick third that year and it was the Arizona Cardinals picking second. It just so happened that the Cardinals had drafted a quarterback in the second round just a year earlier (Jake Plummer) and were happy with his rookie season, so right away they knew that the value in their pick would be the pick itself. Sometimes the course of NFL history can indirectly change on something as simple as a team taking Jake Plummer in the second round.
The Chargers didn't know what quarterback they were going to get when they swapped places with Arizona on March 16, 1998, but they knew they'd get one of them. Former San Diego GM Bobby Beathard insists they wanted Manning more than Leaf, but he can't deny that they were more than fine with Leaf.
Much, much, much more than fine.
Beathard sent the Cardinals the third overall pick (pretty much a dream scenario for them, as they'd still have the pick of any player in the draft that they would've taken anyway), the 33rd overall pick, a 1999 first round pick, and two players: Eric Metcalf (for his part, an All-Pro punt returner at the time) and Patrick Sapp (a second round pick in 1996, albeit a busted one.)
The 1999 first round pick ended up as eighth overall, which Arizona used on David Boston. It was a high draft pick because Leaf was bad and the Chargers were bad. Which is another reason why it's not a good idea for bad teams to trade future first round picks: You suck and you're not getting that much better right away. Not only that but you think Leaf is more valuable than what you would have gotten at three and at 33, even though you also knew that as a rookie he probably wouldn't start for the whole season, if you can help it. So by potentially making yourself worse in 1998, you're only making the draft pick you gave up that much better in 1999. We see it all the time:
The Washington Redskins traded two future first round picks for Robert Griffin III, and while the first of those picks wasn't as hurtful because they made the playoffs in 2012, the 2014 pick was second overall.
The Buffalo Bills moved up five spots in 2014 to draft Sammy Watkins and used their 2015 first round pick to get there. Watkins is impressive, but is he better than Odell Beckham Jr and being able to pick on day one this year?
The New Orleans Saints didn't just trade "an entire draft" for Ricky Williams, they also sent the Redskins their first rounder for the next year too. It was second overall, and used on LaVar Arrington.
I have less of an issue with teams that use their second round pick as leverage to move up, but that doesn't change the fact that we still don't see it work to an advantage very often.
The Cleveland Browns sent the Minnesota Vikings a first, fourth, fifth, and seventh to move up one spot for Trent Richardson in 2012. (Hey Browns ... Hey, guy ... you listening? The Vikings have Adrian Peterson. If someone else wants to move ahead of you for Trent fucking Richardson ... let 'em!)
These are the other players that teams traded up for into the top five in the last 20 years: Justin Blackmon, Mark Sanchez, Dewayne Robertson, Michael Vick, Chris Samuels, Orlando Pace, Darrell Russell, Shawn Springs, and Ki-Jana Carter.
When including Richardson, Jordan, Leaf, and even Ricky Williams, it's positively a pretty piss-poor pack of players. That's only one (future) Hall of Famer in Pace, but if the St. Louis Rams hadn't traded up with the New York Jets for Pace, they could have still drafted ... (current fucking) Hall of Famer Walter Jones.
Take it a bit outside of the top five and it doesn't get much better.
In 2013, the Rams traded up from 16 to eight in order to select Tavon Austin. It cost them their second round pick, swapping thirds, and a seventh. St. Louis did it all for Austin, who a very kind man might say is "simply not very good," when they could have stayed right where they originally were and drafted ... well, anyone else. The Bills were the recipient of that trade and while E.J. Manuel may have been a mistake, that extra second rounder? Kiko Alonso.
(And the Bills learned so much from this trade that they still pulled that Watkins deal last year.)
In 2012, the Dallas Cowboys traded their first (14th overall) and second round picks to move up to six for Morris Claiborne. In return, the Rams (who had already taken advantage of Washington's dumb trade up that year for RGIII) got Micheal Brockers and re-gifted the second, which turned out to be Alshon Jeffery.
The 2011 trade between the Atlanta Falcons and the Browns for Julio Jones is a good example of "well, neither of you was going to use the picks in the right away anyway." Cleveland received two firsts, a second, and two fourths in order to move down 20 spots that year. They could have drafted Jones and probably been better off, because instead they drafted Brandon Weeden with the future first, plus Greg Little, Owen Marecic, and dealing away the other fourth as well. Cleveland then moved up from 26 to 21 so they could draft Phil Taylor, but they had to give up a third rounder to go up five spots.
That third rounder ended up as Justin Houston.
You want more? You're sick.
The Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to 10 for Blaine Gabbert.
Three years earlier, the Jags traded up to eight for Derrick Harvey.
The Saints traded up to seven for Sedrick Ellis.
The Falcons traded up to eight for Jamaal Anderson.
The Browns traded up one spot to six for Kellen Winslow.
The Saints traded two firsts and a second to the Cardinals for Johnathan Sullivan at six, a second rounder, and a fourth. Arizona drafted Bryant Johnson, Calvin Pace, and Anquan Boldin. Sullivan was in the NFL for three years.
The Chiefs traded up to six for Ryan Sims.
(Oh, you think I'm cherry picking all the bad deals? These are ALL of the deals of a team trading for picks in the 6-10 range. ALL of them dating back to Sims. See successes? See ANY successes?) Let's keep going back.
The 49ers traded up to seven for Andre Carter.
The Packers sent the Seahawks Matt Hasselbeck but also moved up in the first round from 17 to 10 and got an additional third rounder. Green Bay picked Jamal Reynolds, Seattle picked Steve Hutchinson.
The Ravens traded up to 10 for Travis Taylor.
I'm as stunned as you are. Why are they all bad players? Okay, they aren't all bad. Jones is great. Carter and Winslow had their moments. But you don't give up additional draft capital for a player who has some moments. You trade up for players you have to have. You trade up for stars that other teams must be stupid for not realizing they're future stars.
Unless ... maybe you're stupid, Stupid.
I did stop at Taylor for a reason, because there was a time it paid off. In 1999, the Redskins traded a first, two thirds, a fourth, and a fifth so they could move up five spots to seventh overall. The Chicago Bears blew literally all five of those picks. Washington picked arguably the best corner of all-time, Champ Bailey.
In 1997, the Seahawks sent the Buccaneers a first and a third to move up only six spots ... for Walter Jones.
The four previous trades into the top 10 were for Rickey Dudley, Lawrence Philips, Mike Mamula, and J.J. Stokes.
I have no idea why there are so many bad players listed in this article. There is not enough research to understand the psychology behind so many failures -- and I do believe that there is a psychological or at least philosophical reason for this happening, I just don't claim to understand it --but I will tell you this:
If a team trades up for Marcus Mariota, it will be the very definition of insanity.
There is a lot of talk about the Tennessee Titans not being a great fit for Mariota, and that they're comfortable with Zach Mettenberger for now, and that actually does seem sensible to me. The Titans are terrible, and Mariota isn't going to make them better. Not next year, at least. And they certainly don't have the offensive line or weapons to help make him successful before he's ultimately thrown in the fire of an offensive system he wouldn't be familiar with, way too early, because Ken Whisenhunt feels his seat warmer kick in.
Tennessee doesn't need a quarterback, they need a whole team.
The rest of the top 10 draft prospects are mostly defensive lineman and wide receivers, both of which are high-priority for the Titans who didn't have a guy with seven sacks last year or a guy with 900 receiving yards. No offense to whoever this ultimately becomes but ...
If they're not gonna draft Mariota, then Tennessee is now just sitting back and waiting for a dumb-dumb to come along.
The first candidate is Washington at five, but I mean, come on ... seriously? Of all the teams to draft up for a quarterback right now, the Redskins would be the most comical to do so. They've got a number of "maybe" options at the position and an otherwise-shitty team. No way.
The Jets are at six and currently feel like contenders after adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall, but still need competent quarterback play to truly compete. However, that's probably not Mariota. Not yet. You don't compare what we know about Ryan Fitzpatrick to what we think the future of Mariota is, we compare 2015 Fitzpatrick to 2015 Mariota. Coming into a brand new system, you can't expect Mariota to suddenly be an answer and New York's window right now is only so big -- you can't honestly expect Revis to be happy with his contract in 2017.
If Mariota fell to them, maybe. But this is not gonna be the first draft move by a new GM.
At seven things get really interesting. The Bears probably want to find a place to unload Jay Cutler. New head coach John Fox straight killed it in 2011 with Tim Tebow in Denver. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase was Tebow's QB coach. Chicago's new QB coach is Dowell Loggains, who was Johnny Manziel's QB coach in Cleveland last year. New general manager Ryan Pace is the youngest GM in the NFL ("young guns" and "hot shot" and all that) and his whole background is in helping build the Saints into an offensive juggernaut surrounded by an elite QB. If they feel that Mariota is going to be an elite QB, it might be too hard to resist. But the cost?
According to the standard trade value chart (which is only a jumping off point that ultimately doesn't fucking matter) it would take the Bears at least their seventh overall pick, 39th overall pick, and 2016 first round pick to move up. It's entirely possible that if there are a number of other suitors, that deal wouldn't even be enough, especially because it's a quarterback that a team is trading up for. Always, always remember that:
Teams trade for players, not for picks.
When the player is a potential franchise quarterback, teams tend to pump up the value of that pick, even if they have no intention of drafting him. So should Chicago trade two firsts and a second (or more) for Mariota?
The Bears got uneven, mostly bad play at quarterback in 2014, but even taking that into consideration Lance Zierlein didn't put QB in their top 5 draft needs on NFL.com. The reasoning behind them having five bigger needs than replacing Cutler is probably somewhere along the lines of "because they fucking suck?" Chicago had a bottom-three defense in 2014. Their number two receiver is Eddie Royal. And finding a franchise left tackle could fuck their whole shit up ... in a good way. They need that shit fucked up.
The Bears could literally draft two starters with their current picks, or risk drafting one backup (for next year) if they move up, in which case, they'll probably still suck and then end up having sent a top 10 pick for the 2016 draft to Tennessee.
This is a good explanation of why trading up for one player is stupid and will probably make you look stupid, Stupid.
Still, I think there might be at least one sensible trade involving Mariota. Maybe more, depending on circumstance. (And no, I don't have the slightest fucking clue how Chip Kelly plans to pull one off unless Mariota slips past the Bears, so I'm not even entertaining it.)
The Browns are always gearin' up to do sumthin' stupid on draft day, but maybe stupidity would actually work in their favor this time. Frankly, I can't fucking sit back and watch them use two draft picks on two bad players again. I can't. I'm so done with that. I can't just sit back and allow them to use one of those picks on a guy that they're just dying to get rid of by next year. No matter who Cleveland takes it's going to be a risk because it's the Browns, so that risk might as well have a high reward.
Cleveland could send Tennessee picks 12, 19, and 43 and I think that might be enough. It's better than my proposed offer by Chicago and it gives the Titans four of the top 43 picks this year, which for a team as bad as them could mean four potential starters.
For the Browns, it would mean they have found their best QB prospect since Tim Couch in 1999. Okay, Tim Couch was terrible, but he was a great prospect! But Cleveland has known Couch sucks since, like, 2001. The highest they've drafted a QB since Couch is 22nd (which they did three fucking times) and obviously that's not getting it done.
I don't know if Cleveland could entice Tennessee with any of that sweet Johnny Manziel action, or if they can salvage a third round pick for him with someone else, but with Josh McCown set to start, Mariota shouldn't be under a ton of pressure to carry them right away. (Not until Week 3, that is.) It's a deal that makes sense to me, but there is one more sensible trade that's still very, very stupid.
As Danny Kelly of FoiledGills.com pointed out, there are a number of sensible reasons to connect Philip Rivers to the Titans, and Mariota to the Chargers.
San Diego apparently wants Marcus Marc to be part of their funky bunch, however they sit way back at 17th overall. If the Eagles are having a devil of a time moving up from 20, I can't imagine that it's a lot easier at 17 ... But there is a monumental fucking difference between Sam Bradford and Philip Rivers.
While Bradford is a "Heyyyyyy, this might be a thing. Huh? Huuhhhh?" Rivers is a nearly-elite quarterback who should have 4-5 more good years left.
No team should be thinking about a Super Bowl window that is more than 4-5 years down the line.
Rivers gives Tennessee instant credibility, though I doubt they would do the deal for only him and the 17th pick. Even getting a great QB, they are also adding a huge (presumably new) contract, and forgoing a cheap, young, potential franchise pick. They might be getting a whole hell of a lot better at quarterback, and that's great, but at the end of the day they're still like a street walker who hits up a new truck stop every night:
They suck in a lot of places.
In this case, San Diego could include the 48th overall pick. Is it too high of a price to pay? I don't really think so, and the reason for that is the same as why this is a sensible (but still really stupid) deal for the Chargers:
They kind of have to pretend like Rivers isn't theirs anymore.
Going into the final year of his contract, with no extension in sight, San Diego might feel like this Rivers run it's course (sorry) er, that they've had their Phil (ugh) that it's over. They do not seem all the worried about re-investing in a player who will be 34 next year, and that they have now seen go 42-38 over the last five seasons as a starter. That's hardly Rivers' fault, but it seems like as a partnership they peaked in 2008. Right now, they are what they are.
Name one thing that the Chargers did this year to get better. Why is this going to be the season they aren't 9-7?
Their two leading receivers from 2014 are going to turn 35 and 34 this year and they lost Royal, replacing him with Stevie Johnson. Their offensive line has played poorly and may continue to do so. Basically, if the barn around your prize pig is crumbling, sell that hog at the next county fair before gramma see she's beginning to marble. San Diego doesn't need to blow shit up and start from scratch, but it seems like there's a decent chance Rivers is nearing his end with the Chargers and maybe it's the right time for that.
I always say teams never let franchise quarterbacks go, but everybody's time comes, especially if you think you got the next one in waiting.
It's the reason that San Diego was able to let Drew Brees walk in 2006. They felt ready to transition to Rivers (especially because of Brees's shoulder "issue"), who is yet another player who was involved in a major draft day trade back when the Chargers could not get Eli Manning to agree to terms there, and sent him to the Giants for Rivers.
Brees was not directly involved in a draft day trade, but eerily similar circumstances changed his whole career forever.
In 2001, San Diego held the number one pick and had a franchise quarterback in waiting, but could not agree to terms with Michael Vick. So they dealt the pick to the Falcons, moved down to number five, picked LaDanian Tomlinson instead, and were better off for it. Without Vick, they could still go QB, which is what they did in the second round when they picked Drew Brees.
Of course, the only reason that they were even considering drafting a quarterback at all was because of the guy they released just one month prior to the 2001 NFL Draft. The guy who they traded a bounty for just three years earlier. The guy who set in motion the very possibility of Marcus Mariota being a San Diego Charger in 2015 ...
And all because those god damn Cardinals picked Jake Plummer in the second round.