Trading Down Right Move for Dallas

As the NFL Draft approaches later this month, conversation is heating up among fans of all teams. Because they have two selections in the first round, the Dallas Cowboys -- and their options in the Draft -- are at the center of many such discussions. <BR>

The Cowboys have their own choice -- No. 11 overall -- as well as the No. 20 pick they acquired in last year's draft from the Buffalo Bills (Dallas acquired the No. 20 pick in this year's draft, as well as second- and fifth-round selections in last year's draft for their own first-round choice in 2004). Because they have two first-round picks, the Cowboys often are mentioned as possible trade partners for teams hoping to trade down from one of the top spots.

But there's a problem with that theory: nobody wants to move up to the top spots in this year's draft, which is considered by many to be very weak, at least in the first rounds.

There is no Michael Vick, no John Elway -- a player deemed so talented that teams will offer a king's ransom for the chance to move up to select him.

Of course, there are players who are expected to go at or near the top of the draft -- Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Utah quarterback Alex Smith, Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, etc. -- all of whom are expected to make good, if not great, professional players, making this draft similar to the year Atlanta begrudgingly took Auburn linebacker Aundray Bruce with the top pick.

There are others with extraordinary physical features (such as former USC wide receiver Mike Williams) or athletic ability (like Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson who just might become game-changing players. But each has his flaws, and neither is expected to get chosen among the top few selections.

In fact, the teams holding the top two selections -- San Francisco and Miami -- are widely reported to be attempting to trade down. Personnel officials with teams bad enough to earn the highest draft choices often are in a bit of a quandry: on one hand, they desperately want the best available players.

But those players also carry top pricetags, and will demand (and get) contracts that teams don't want to shell out for a player who's not an absolute top-shelf talent. On the other hand, general managers and coaches often look at a draft like this years -- a draft expected to be weak in the first round, but strong in the middle rounds -- and try to trade down for multiple choices in lower rounds. If those teams can evaluate talent effectively, they ideally can hope to sign multiple contributing players for the cost of one higher choice.

Therein lies the problem: most (if not all) teams seem to want to vacate the top choices and collect multiple picks later on. But this can't be done without a willing trade partner.

Dallas head coach Bill Parcells is among the most ardent supporters of this practice, having traded down at Dallas last year (and seemingly coming up big with running back Julius Jones), as well as with the Jets, Patriots and Giants.

As of now, the Cowboys have eight draft choices: the two first-rounders, one in the second, fourth and fifth, two compensatory picks in the sixth round and one in the seventh.

If the cost is right -- in terms of trade compensation and financial considerations -- should the Cowboys trade up? Down?

Trading up is not the answer this year.

Teams should trade up if there is a franchise-quality player available at the top of the draft, or if the team's braintrust determines that a single player could help push that team to the next level -- into the playoffs, or from a playoff team to a Super Bowl contender. And even then, it only should be done if that team has an excess of tradable assets (either players or draft choices).

That is not the case for Dallas, which has many holes to fill after last year's down season.

The 2005 draft is one in which the Cowboys should try to stockpile as many picks as possible, because theirs is a team with multiple needs. This is the year to go for quantity, and hope that it includes some quality.

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