Atlanta is commonly referred to as where the 2021 NFL Draft begins. Setting aside the fact we have no clue who the 49ers are taking third, the possibilities for the Falcons at four seem endless. Atlanta could draft a quarterback. They could trade the pick for a haul similar to what Miami received. They could sit there and take the best non-quarterback on their board.
Since movement generates intrigue, much talk is centered around the middle option. Denver, New England, Washington, and Chicago are commonly linked to the Falcons are interested buyers in the 4th pick. Sure, the teams are “interested.” Atlanta said they’re open to trading as well. After seeing what San Francisco shipped out to fly up the bored, of course the Falcons are “open” to trading.
However, if we start connecting some tea leaves, the trade market seems to be more concept that substance. I have no doubt the four teams mentioned above, and perhaps others, have spoken to Atlanta just to gauge the waters. Again, those teams are, in fact, most likely “interested.” But that doesn’t mean any of them are willing to sell of the sun, moon and stars, nor does it mean the Falcons have the leverage that is currently being baked into any hypothetical asking price.
It’s easy to see the 9ers giving up three firsts and a third for the number three pick and make a one to one comparison to what the Falcons would receive for the fourth pick, but it just doesn’t work that way. Quarterback draft trades aren’t created equal. Distance traveled up the board matters, sure, but so does the perceived quality of the quarterback prospect, the strength of the available alternatives, the number of potential suitors, and the number of potential suitors willing to pay the asking price.
I’ve detailed the modern history of quarterback trades many times before, so we don’t need to rehash the entire list. What will be most useful is narrowing it down to trades involving a top five pick in the last five drafts. As always, we’re using the Chase Stuart draft chart in order to quantify the value.
Recent Top 5 Trades
Jared Goff – To go from #15 to #1 in 2016, St. Louis gave up #5, #15, #43, #45, #76, and #100 for #1, #113, and #117. Tennessee profited 34.3 points. The 1st pick is worth 34.6 points.
Carson Wentz – To go from #8 to #2 in 2016, Philadelphia gave up #8, #12, #64, #77, and #100 for #2, and #139. Cleveland profited 27.1 points. The 3rd pick is worth 27.6 points.
Mitch Trubisky – To go from #3 to #2 in 2017, the Chicago gave up #3, #67, #70, and #111. San Francisco profited 17.3 points. The 15th pick is worth 17.4 points.
Sam Darnold – To go from #6 to #3 in 2018, the Jets gave up #6, #34, #37, and #49. Indianapolis profited 29.1 points. The second pick is worth 30.2 points.
2021 QB3 – To go from #12 to #3 in 2021, San Francisco gave up #12, #22, #22, and #100. Miami profited 26.3* points of draft capital. The 4th pick is worth 25.8 points. (*Projection)
Most likely, Atlanta is looking for a deal that falls within the 2021 QB3 – Sam Darnold range (26.3 – 29.1 points in profit). It’s a heavy cost, especially when three of the four suspected suitors are picking 15th or later. There is also the draft altering unknown of who San Francisco is going to select. It stands to reason Atlanta would benefit from the 9ers drafting Mac Jones. Generally speaking, Jones ends up as QB5 in this class. Fields and Lance would represent a team’s QB3 still being available, perhaps even their QB2.
Scouts Inc. prospect ratings are not the end all, be all, but for what it’s worth, here is how they rated each quarterback we’re using to try to build the proper context:
-Jared Goff; 91
-Carson Wentz; 91
-Mitch Trubisky; 89
-Sam Darnold; 94
-Trey Lance; 92
-Justin Fields; 91
-Mac Jones; 90
If the teams left desiring a quarterback agree Jones is a notch below, they’ll be more willing to pay the price to go get Lance or Fields. Of course, to that end, if only one of Lance or Fields is left available a desperate team may be willing to make Atlanta an offer they can’t refuse. Ok, so, there’s a logical argument for whoever San Francisco selects helping or hurting the Falcons.
Let’s cover each presumed (perhaps incorrectly) bidder individually. Remember, Atlanta figures to be looking for a 26.3 – 29.1 profit range (the average of the three trades is 27.5 for the record). The 4th pick of the draft (which Atlanta would surrender) is worth 25.8 points. In order for the Falcons to profit 27.5 points they’d have to receive 53.3.
First and foremost, the 9th pick is worth 20.6 points, meaning Denver would have to relinquish another 32.7 points. This trade most likely would end up looking like the Wentz deal where Philadelphia went from eight to two for a similarly graded prospect. The Broncos would almost certainly need to add in their 2022 first rounder, a second and third round split between 2021 and 2022, and perhaps a Day 3 pick.
Logic would dictate Denver is actually Atlanta’s preferred hypothetical trade partner as the Falcons could still land one of the elite five non-quarterbacks in this class at nine with quarterbacks going one through four. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it doesn’t appear the Broncos and George Paton would come near this price.
This isn’t apples to apples, but we’ve now thrice seen Denver bow out of quarterback bids this offseason due to the cost of doing business.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) April 12, 2021
As we all know, Stafford ended up going for two firsts, a third, and Goff. Denver’s offer was the 9th pick in 2021 for Stafford and they wanted a second rounder back. This isn’t even close to what the Rams ponied up in the end. That isn’t to say the Broncos were right or wrong, it’s just a fact.
Was totally false. They didn't even offer him.
Same thing with Wentz. There were reports about a trade and they.never offered.
New GM George Paton likes to know the price tag on everything so he calls about everything. That gets leaked as interest whether it is or not. https://t.co/N5vdyUETkY
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) April 12, 2021
Wentz ended up getting dealt for a 2021 third and a 2022 conditional second that could turn into a first. Denver never even made an offer.
Yes, and sort of. The price was well above what they wanted to pay.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) April 5, 2021
Carolina sent a 2021 sixth, 2022 second and 2022 fourth to New York for Darnold. It once again appears Denver didn’t make a formal offer.
So, one more thing from our friend Benjamin Allbright:
I think a lot of people are trying to connect dots.
George Paton wants the price tag on everything. They haven't even remotely finished setting their board yet, sooo…. https://t.co/MTBKuSFSO8
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) April 11, 2021
There seems to be a lot of credence that George Paton likes to due his due diligence and investigate the cost of everything. He also seems to be keened on either getting a bargain or paying what he believes to be a fair price. If these are accurate characterizations of how Paton operates, a trade up to four seems unlikely. Waiting to see if a quarterback Denver likes falls down to six or seven would appear to be a more realistic scenario.
Any “Belichick doesn’t operate that way” trope is now completely out the window thanks to the Patriots’ spending spree in free agency. Perhaps the Belichick of yesteryear wouldn’t have sent three firsts plus some to fly up the draft board, but we’re in new terrain.
In all seriousness, it still seems far fetched. The 15th pick is worth 17.4 points so New England needs to come up with another 35.9 points, or equivalent players. This could go a few different ways. Considering what Miami got for three, Atlanta would initially ask for three firsts, plus a bump on the future third for dropping even further down the board. New England has the 97th pick this year, along with three fourth rounders (121, 123, and 140). 97 plus one of the fourths could be the desired bump.
Or the Falcons might ask for three firsts and 46 (the Patriots’ second rounder) and hope Belichick caves due to desperation and/or fear of being outbid. This is where who San Francisco picks coupled with New England’s board makes all the difference. Should the Patriots only like one non-Lawrence/Wilson quarterback and the 9ers take him, that’s that. If they only like one non-Lawrence/Wilson quarterback and he gets to four, they just might pay the piper. If they like two non-Lawrence/Wilson quarterbacks and both get to Atlanta, they might wait to try and get the other guy cheaper.
But seriously, would New England pay up?
Your guess is as good as mine, but these figure to be the most likely packages:
-15, 2022 first, 2023 first and 46
-Three firsts, 97, 123 and a 5th round pick swap
-Three firsts, 97, 140
-Two firsts (2021 and 2022), 46, 97, 121, 140, 189
-Two firsts (2021 and 2022), two seconds (2021 and 2022), 97, 140
It’s steep, and Belichick has never done anything like it, but he’d also never gone out and bought the entire free agent market prior to like a month ago.
Atlanta could corner the market
The one thing New England has that the other hypothetical bidders do not is Stephon Gilmore. In many a fake trade, whether with Atlanta or Detroit, New England includes Gilmore to move up for a quarterback. It makes sense on multiple levels. Gilmore has one year left on his deal and Belichick famously moves on a year too early than a year too late and 2021 will be Gilmore’s age 31 season. If the Falcons don’t want to stay at four they’re signaling they’re in maximize-the-Matt-Ryan-years-mode and Gilmore immediately helps.
What never is discussed, however, is that it’s nearly impossible. Depending on who you ask, Atlanta has either ~$3.3 million in cap space or ~$5.3 million, but either way that number doesn’t include having signed their rookie class. Gilmore’s base salary for 2021 alone is $7 million. The “the cap is fake” crowd will say the Falcons surely could figure it out if they really wanted to, and maybe they can. But this is a real obstacle no one wants to include in the discussion.
To level set for Washington, and any subsequent teams discussed, these trades seem exceedingly unlikely. Flying up the board from 19/20 (or later) to four is basically unprecedented. The 19th pick is worth 15.8 points of draft capital, so in order for Atlanta to profit ~27.5 from a trade with The Football Team, Washington would have to come up with an extra 37.5 points (or equivalent starters).
There’s also the matter of the Falcons being unwilling to fall this far down the board. I won’t go into too much detail given The Athletic’s paywall, but Tori McElhaney doesn’t believe Atlanta would be willing to drop below 15. Never say never, but the odds are against it.
For argument’s sake, if Washington’s 2022 and 2023 firsts land at 20 each year, then those two picks would provide another 31 points. Washington’s 83rd pick in 2021 is valued at 6.5. We’ve gotten exactly to the 37.5 we’re looking for.
Despite the comparable capital, there’s still the human element to the general manager function. Getting three firsts and a third is the same package Miami got and they only dropped to 12 (initially). The Falcons will almost assuredly point to this fact while on the phone with Washington and ask for more. If Atlanta is only willing to drop below 15 for an offer that’s irresistible, it seems the asking price will cross over into territory Washington won’t want to pay.
This is nearly a copy paste situation as Washington. If Chicago gives up three firsts, the 2022 and 2023 firsts land at 20, and the Bears add 84 this year, we’re in the range of draft capital profit the Falcons figure to be seeking. However, once again will Atlanta to be willing to fall below 15, and if so would Chicago be willing to pay what it costs?
The only potential difference between Washington and Chicago figures to be Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy viewing a catapult maneuver up the board for a quarterback as a mechanism to extend their shelf life. Any trade involving this many premium assets (it would likely be the largest trade package since RGIII) presumably would have ownership sign off, meaning ownership themselves agree whoever Chicago goes and drafts is indeed the man of the future. If Pace and Nagy believe they can parlay “hey look, we were a playoff team last year” and “hey, you loved this quarterback as much as we did” into more job security, they might just be desperate enough to do it.
Part of me feels obligated to include Pittsburgh on this list because in a vacuum it’s logical, but at the same time it seems like malpractice as it’s just so unrealistic. Let’s just say the capital required to vault from 24 to four is something the Steelers won’t do.
As of this writing I’d deem the odds of the Falcons trading down as low. Both Tori McElhaney and Peter King believe Atlanta will select a quarterback themselves if “the right [one]” gets to them but “they will not force [it].”
King adds that a trade is likely, but only if it “enriches them” but doubts they’ll find one good enough. He also jumps on the wagon of a “transcendent player” like Pitts is tough to turn down.
The Falcons seem to want top dollar for the fourth pick and such a trade looks doubtful. If “the right quarterback” is off the board the lines in between are currently indicating Kyle Pitts should get an Atlanta based real estate agent.