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Draft-day trades are all about value

Posted Apr 18, 2013

Packers GM Ted Thompson will put his draft board 'to bed' soon

GREEN BAY—As unpredictable as the draft is, it’s practically a given that Packers General Manager Ted Thompson will make at least one trade during next week’s three-day selection extravaganza. He always has.

But back to that unpredictable part – the question is, will he trade up or back?

A few years ago, the answer was always back. From 2005 through 2008, Thompson ended each draft with more players than the number of picks he started with. He even traded out of the first round in ’08, selecting receiver Jordy Nelson with his first pick that year, high in the second round.

Then in 2009, Thompson broke the mold, making the bold move to trade up for an additional first-round pick and getting linebacker Clay Matthews. Thompson traded up again the following year for safety Morgan Burnett in the third round, and then did so a personal record three times a year ago.

This year? With only eight picks – one in each round plus a compensatory pick in the fifth round – and a draft that’s reportedly deep in the middle rounds, trading back would seem more likely. But Thompson, as usual, wasn’t hinting either way when he met with the media on Thursday, other than to explain the philosophy behind making draft-day trades.

“I think it’s when you see value,” he said, referring to the trade up for a player like Matthews, though the same idea applies in the other direction.

“That’s the reason sometimes we’ll go backwards, when we see value later in the draft. It’s a trade-off. You know that you’re giving up something (extra picks) if you trade up, and you know that you’re giving up something in terms of an opportunity to take a particular player if you go backwards.”

Thompson spoke of the constant risk-reward ratio that’s weighed throughout the draft. Will a targeted player be available later, or is a move needed to get him now? Is a talented player with perhaps a checkered past – Thompson used the word “knucklehead” – worth the risk in a given round?

A Ron Wolf disciple, Thompson doesn’t focus on making sure he drafts a certain number of players every year, but finding the right balance between quality and quantity in pondering trades is tricky business.

“It’s like Ron always said, it’s like baseball, you’re not going to get a hit every time you go to the plate, but if you have more swings, you have a better chance of getting a hit,” Thompson said. “I think in a general philosophy, I’d rather have more than less, yes, but at the end of the day I’d rather have more quality than anything. Quality and quantity both is a nice thing.”

It’s vital to the Packers, who rely on draft-and-develop as their team-building process over the long haul.

Thompson talked about how extensive the pre-draft process is, from scouting players on college campuses throughout the fall to reviewing game tapes over the winter to evaluating workouts at the combine and pro days over the last two months.

Interestingly, he said the ranking of players on the draft board often shifts around but then ultimately returns to a close approximation of where it was after the initial campus visits and game-film reviews.

“The study of the game tape and being able to watch them practice and see how they look in uniform and move around in person, I think that’s more valuable,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t try to gain some knowledge from that process of the pro day or the Indianapolis combine, but I think the closer you get to the draft, the closer you get to the football thing, because that’s home.”

The number of people involved is substantial. Over the past few years, Thompson has lost to other GM jobs some of his longest-tenured and most-trusted advisers in John Schneider (Seahawks), Reggie McKenzie (Raiders) and most recently John Dorsey (Chiefs), but Thompson has structured the process to assure he still hears perspectives that differ from his own.

“We’ve always had that, and we always will,” he said. “People that we put in those positions are mandated to question and to challenge from time to time, not for the sake or argument, but to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the organization. Those three guys did that a lot, and we have other people here who are doing that as we speak.”

Thompson said the personnel staff met at length with the offensive coaches on Wednesday and would do the same with the defensive coaches on Thursday. In a few more days, the all-important board will be finalized, well in advance of next Thursday’s opening round.

“At some point, you have to put it to bed, because you have to trust the work that you’ve done, and live with it the way it is,” Thompson said.

“It’s not a democracy. We don’t vote. We have discussions, and everybody’s opinions are heard. At the end of the day, ultimately it’s my call, and we try to take the best player. I’m not saying that to say I’m some sort of almighty decision-maker, it’s just, that’s my job and my responsibility.”

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