Russell Wilson trade speculation took a major hit this week. Reports emerged on Tuesday that the Seattle Seahawks informed the Chicago Bears that they will not be trading their star quarterback at this point. The following day, Willie Keeler detailed the clandestine meeting between John Schneider and Bears GM Ryan Pace in Fargo. It is now the weekend, and we all know how these talks concluded: Russell Wilson is still in Seattle and Andy Dalton is researching real estate in Illinois. But how valuable was the trade package that Chicago was offering?
The Bears were so invested in trading for Wilson that the offer reportedly included three first round picks, a 2021 third rounder, and two “starters” (air quotes around starters, as one of the apparent players involved has since been released). At face value, three first round picks sounds like a massive offer. But any team with Russell Wilson at quarterback would instantly become a playoff contender, and teams playing in January don’t typically end up with high first rounders in April. So how valuable do late first round picks really end up being?
Due to the expanded format, the Bears were able to sneak into a wild card spot last season with an 8-8 record. As a result, their first round selection in 2021 will be 20th overall. Since the Houston Texans joined the NFL in 2002, teams that made the playoffs would be assigned selections 21-32. However, with the expanded playoffs, teams who exit in the wild card round may pick as early as 19th overall. In April, the Washington Football Team holds the distinction of being the first team to do so — one spot ahead of the Bears.
If a Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles squad could make the playoffs, a Russell Wilson led Bears team could be perennial Super Bowl favorites. The two future first round picks would very likely continue to land somewhere between 19 and 32 in the ensuing years. I want to look at a couple ways of valuing these picks. First, I want to look at players actually selected in this range in previous years. Because the Bears offered three picks, I will be looking at the three most recent drafts. Second, I will look at draft pick value using a value chart to see what Seattle could get if they used Chicago’s package as leverage on draft day.
Looking at value based on previous player selections
Since the 2018 draft, teams picking between 19 and 32 have selected 42 players overall, and only six have garnered at least one Pro Bowl nod or All-Pro selection (1st or 2nd team). Below is the breakdown.
5 players selected between 19-32 since 2018 have made at least one Pro Bowl
- Dallas 1.19 (2018) – Leighton Vander Esch, LB
- Detroit 1.20 (2018) – Frank Ragnow, C
- Baltimore 1.32 (2018) – Lamar Jackson, QB
- Oakland/LV 1.24 (2019) – Josh Jacobs, RB
- Minnesota 1.22 (2020) – Justin Jefferson, WR
5 players have been selected as either first or second team All Pros
- Frank Ragnow (2020)
- Lamar Jackson (2019)
- Leighton Vander Esch (2nd team, 2018)
- Calvin Ridley (2nd team, 2020) — selected at 1.26 by Atlanta in 2018
- Justin Jefferson (2nd team, 2020)
In addition to these names, there have been some other players selected who will likely be pro bowlers or at least long-term starters in the NFL — players like Montez Sweat, Noah Fant, Kenneth Murray, and Jordyn Brooks — but none of these players would replace a franchise quarterback like Russell Wilson. While I personally love watching Lamar Jackson play, the All-Pro and 2019 MVP is nearing a payday himself and has the same playoff record as Wilson over the last three seasons (1-3). The possibility that a quarterback would fall to 19 or later who could replace or even approximate Russ is highly unlikely in most drafts, and seems especially unlikely in 2021 where many mock drafts have five QBs gone in the first fifteen picks.
Looking at draft pick value using the Rich Hill chart
If Seattle were to try to package Chicago’s picks together in an effort to trade up in the draft, how much leverage would they have? Rich Hill of Pat’s Pulpit created an updated Draft Pick Value Chart in 2017 based on actual trades that have happened since the 2011 CBA. According to Davis Hsu, this chart is much closer to the methods used by the Seahawks than the traditional Jimmy Johnson chart.
Here is the “New” Rich Hill Draft value chart that aligns more w what Seahawks use https://t.co/svEzRXSMIC
— DAVIS HSU (@DavisHsuSeattle) March 29, 2018
According to the most recently updated version of this chart at Draftek, Chicago’s 2021 first round pick is valued at 269. Rationale for evaluating future picks varies depending on team and projected strength of draft class, among other factors (Chicago’s acquisition of Russell Wilson would likely factor in as well), but a common method is to grade a future pick as one round later for each year into the future. That is, the Bears 2022 and 2023 first-rounders would be graded the same as their 2021 second and third round picks.
Using this formula, the Bears trade package has a cumulative value of 482. Looking at the above chart, this would be enough, theoretically to move up to Bengal’s the fifth overall selection in 2021, and within reaching distance of the Falcons’ pick at fourth. But this all hinges on whether Cincinnati or Atlanta would have any interest in shopping their picks. And even if Seattle could work a deal to move up, PFF’s latest mock draft has three QBs coming off the board in the first three picks. I find it hard to imagine that Carroll and Schneider would feel comfortable giving up their franchise quarterback just to have an opportunity to draft Trey Lance.
At this point, it is pretty clear why Pete Carroll did his part in ensuring this trade didn’t go down. Quite simply, as Mookie pointed out recently, if Seattle traded Russell Wilson, they would be willingly initiating a full scale rebuild. Loading up on first rounders sounds intriguing; young, talented players with 5th-year options can be paramount to building a competitive roster. But using this method to replace a franchise quarterback is not a sustainable model for success. Now, excuse me while I kick back and bask in the knowledge that Chicago went for broke on Russell Wilson and all they ended up with was a shipment of Andy Dalton jerseys for their pro shop.