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Bad Idea Time: Auction Off the Top Five Draft Spots

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It’s for charity, so you can’t get mad

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap recently shared this statistical observation regarding quarterbacks taken early in the NFL Draft:

Schaap concluded that teams with early picks would be better off avoiding the risk and taking an offensive lineman or linebacker early instead. If we expand his range slightly and focus on quarterbacks taken with a top-five pick, we get 50 draftees and only one additional name (Jim McMahon) added to Schaap’s list. As a purely statistical matter, Schaap is right: an NFL team who takes a quarterback early is highly unlikely to see that QB lift a Lombardi Trophy on their behalf.

Granted, there are some problems with that logic. There are only 33 quarterbacks ever who’ve won a Super Bowl, with the team who brought them into the league or otherwise. And if you include top-five quarterbacks who took their franchise to the Super Bowl but didn’t win it, five more players get added to the list. That’s right: I am the only man on the internet brave enough to suggest that winning a Super Bowl is hard.

There is, however, another line of argument worth considering from Schaap’s numbers. Most teams picking early in the Draft are there because they stunk. Stinking can sometimes be a one year blip, like the 2011 Colts losing Peyton Manning for a season and going 2-14, but it’s usually the result of chronic mismanagement. (It’s not an accident that the Jaguars have had a top-ten pick in 11 of the last 12 Drafts.) And talented quarterbacks drafted by perpetually lost franchises have no real chance of winning a Super Bowl.

How do we give these passers the chance to get drafted early and succeed without destroying competitive balance? We have the NFL take the first five picks of each Draft and auction them off. Here’s how it would work:

1. Take the current order and move everyone down five spots

This is the 2021 selection order for the first round as it presently stands:

1) Jacksonville Jaguars

2) New York Jets

3) San Francisco 49ers (from Houston Texans through Miami Dolphins)

4) Atlanta Falcons

5) Cincinnati Bengals

6) Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)

7) Detroit Lions

8) Carolina Panthers

9) Denver Broncos

10) Dallas Cowboys

11) New York Giants

12) Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco 49ers through Miami Dolphins)

13) Los Angeles Chargers

14) Minnesota Vikings

15) New England Patriots

16) Arizona Cardinals

17) Las Vegas Raiders

18) Miami Dolphins

19) Washington Football Team

20) Chicago Bears

21) Indianapolis Colts

22) Tennessee Titans

23) New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)

24) Pittsburgh Steelers

25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)

26) Cleveland Browns

27) Baltimore Ravens

28) New Orleans Saints

29) Green Bay Packers

30) Buffalo Bills

31) Kansas City Chiefs

32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

And this is how it would look under the Top Five Auction:

1) To the highest bidder

2) To the highest bidder

3) To the highest bidder

4) To the highest bidder

5) To the highest bidder

6) Jacksonville Jaguars

7) New York Jets

8) San Francisco 49ers (from Houston Texans through Miami Dolphins)

9) Atlanta Falcons

10) Cincinnati Bengals

11) Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)

12) Detroit Lions

13) Carolina Panthers

14) Denver Broncos

15) Dallas Cowboys

16) New York Giants

17) Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco 49ers through Miami Dolphins)

18) Los Angeles Chargers

19) Minnesota Vikings

20) New England Patriots

21) Arizona Cardinals

22) Las Vegas Raiders

23) Miami Dolphins

24) Washington Football Team

25) Chicago Bears

26) Indianapolis Colts

27) Tennessee Titans

28) New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)

29) Pittsburgh Steelers

30) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)

31) Cleveland Browns

32) Baltimore Ravens

33) New Orleans Saints

34) Green Bay Packers

35) Buffalo Bills

36) Kansas City Chiefs

37) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bad teams still get rewarded in this system; the Jaguars and Jets have the highest guaranteed picks, in range to pick extremely talented players like Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase or Rashawn Slater. But the first five picks receive special treatment.

2. The night before the first round, auction the top five draft positions off

First, these picks are incredibly valuable; that’s why teams give up lots of future draft capital just to move up into the earliest spots. Second, the owners of those teams generally have more money than they know what to do with. We can combine those two truths into one ego-fueled auction, with football’s superrich pushing each other into increasingly outlandish bids.

This opens up so many new possibilities. A team that’s a piece or two away but without draft assets can plunk down cash to grab a promising rookie. A champion can decide to invest for the future rather than sit at the bottom of the first round. A struggling team with an early pick can go even further and try to pay for more selections at the top.

Naturally, all of this takes place on television for our collective entertainment and the NFL’s further broadcast enrichment. Millions of people watch the NBA Lottery. I can guarantee you this will have an audience that dwarfs that.

3. The money’s all separate and goes to charity

Forget about the salary cap. Owners bring their own money to this auction, and there is no ceiling on what they can spend. (Well, there probably is for the Chargers. Sorry.) If Jerry Jones wants to shell out $68 million dollars to make sure the Cowboys get picks 1, 2, and 4, who are we to stop him? That’s what the market demanded, and the market is never wrong.

Some owners will participate just to drive the prices up and screw their counterparts, not because they’re trying to acquire picks. This is both acceptable and encouraged.

At the end of the night, the NFL donates all the money it’s acquired in this auction to a worthy charity, because that’s exactly the kind of showy corporate image management the Shield craves.

4. Life’s a little better for the first five Draft picks

They’re either going to a good team that wouldn’t be in the position to take them if not for the auction or to a bad team that has other valuable draft picks to get them some help. They also get a ton of negotiation leverage. No owner wants to spend heavily to win a draft selection only to see the player used with that pick hold out.

Most importantly, they don’t have to spend months pretending to be excited about the teams that stumbled their way to the top of the Draft. How do you feel about playing for Crappy Team, Star Quarterback? Well, we’re just going to wait and see what happens at the auction, NFL Writer.