We all know the story goes that in the 1990's, Jimmy Johnson devised a value chart for each pick in the draft so that teams could work from a common ground to decipher the perceived "value" of each pick. We all have to assume that, if say a trade was proposed between Shanahan and Belichick in the early 2000's involving draft picks, that both would use the chart as a rule of thumb. Not hard and fast - meaning the numbers would not always add up exactly - but it would give teams a baseline to work off.
Now, we as fans take this chart as Gospel and if the numbers of a draft pick swap don't work then they don't work, simple as that. I have not gone back to recalculate any trades from the past and compare the winners based on the value VS winners based on actual player production during their career, but that would be a worthwhile study. I am sure many, many NFL teams have done so.
In addition, I am confident that the Patriots, among other teams, have devised a rating system for every player in the league, based upon their up to date performance. Meaning the Pats have a current grade for Fred Jackson of the Bills, CC Brown of the Lions, Chris Gocong of the Browns, and everyone else for that matter in the league or even street free agents. I would guess that the grade for each is based upon a combination of statistical analysis, scouting grades, and inside scoop (i.e. player rumored to be a "roider"), position the player plays, how they would fit into the Patriot system, etc.
I also believe that the Patriots have kept a "living" document of their own version of Jimmy Johnson's chart based upon changes that have occurred in the league. Additions of teams, increasing value of guaranteed money, limit of which picks can be held to 6 year commitments and which to 5 year commitments, the strength of that year’s draft, the strength of next year’s draft, etc. I bet they tweak it as necessary. Then they kept their chart secret, and when talking trade with the Shanahan's of the world they have an equivalency chart that converts Jimmy Johnson’s chart into Patriot-speak. My guess is that there also exists a third chart which converts player ratings for each existing player in the league into Patriot-speak and into Jimmy Johnson’s chart. All are backwards compatible as well.
So when draft day is humming and the phones are ringing, the Patriots simply have to plug and play on all the scenarios – the scouting, the value assessment, who is left on the board, all the variables have been covered- for the draftees, next year’s draftees, this year’s current crop of players, free agents, and the value of all picks. For example, the Patriots are offered John Abraham and a 5th rounder in this year’s draft for number 33 overall – Belichick simply has to put the guy on hold, plug it into his master excel spreadsheet and the answer will spit out if it’s a win, lose, or draw.
It takes out the gut feel and emotion that others like the Jerry Jones’ and Dan Synders’ cannot. I am guessing for example, that someone like Pete Carroll does not have this system nearly as streamlined, with Charlie Whitehurst for a 2nd round pick being a prime example. To me that feels like a gut feel pick and not systematic. Belichick can prey on those types of guys, though there are fewer and fewer out there.
We all know this entire essay is pure conjecture and speculation and no one truly knows what systems are in place, save for the employees in key positions on the teams. Based on the scrutiny, the micromanagement of the league, and the money involved it wouldn’t surprise me that it is this complex at Patriot Place. If we simply look at the paranoia in the NFL: keeping playbooks of cut players, videotaping signals of other teams, scouring used empty locker rooms for leftover clues, thinking that locker rooms are bugged, and accusations of communication systems that are intentionally jammed, then based on this crazy behavior we must assume a plug and play system has to exist.
This brings me (finally!), to my point. At this point, there doesn’t appear that a CBA deal will be completed before the draft. Based on negotiations reported on various websites, an agreement was made on a rookie salary cap structure. I am sure that the rookie cap structure will not change much between now and when a final deal is made as there exists other more important sticking points between the two sides. Additionally, one can only assume that any CBA will be retroactive to this year’s draft class. As a result, players selected at the end of this month, will be subject to a new more reasonable salary structure, with significantly less guaranteed money at the top of the draft. A smart owner would have shared the intimate details of the salary cap negotiations with their Coach and GM. The GM can then plug and play into their system the change in the draft value chart. See where I am going (albeit slowly)?
As a result of all this, I believe that higher draft picks are going to be more coveted by smart teams in this draft. The reluctancy of Belichick in the past to trade up to grab a top 5 pick was more about the draft picks cap hit than their talent. Meaning to say that Belichick probably was drooling all over Ndamkong Suh last year, but at 30 Mil guaranteed – decided he could do better elsewhere.
I do not know who Belichick covets this year (hoping it is a monster pass rusher). But if the right combination clicks – an unaware or undervaluing of the new rookie structure by a GM, the right player Belichick thinks can be a difference maker, with the ammo the Patriots have in extra draft picks – this could be the year Belichick surprises and trades up into the top 10 or 5. He always looks for an edge, and this might be an area he is looking to exploit.