In NFL draft, Ravens typically get 'the itch' to trade

Baltimore has a history of trading picks in the NFL draft

April 15, 2012|By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

At some point in next week's NFL draft, the Ravens will get the itch. It's usually a good itch, and few teams, if any, have been as successful at scratching it as they have been the past two decades.

That's why during the draft it has become a question of when, not if, the Ravens will swap one of their picks. They have made at least one trade in each of the past 10 drafts and 14 of 16 overall. Their preference has been to trade down, but they can be aggressive when trying to secure a player they believe is special. And with eight picks this year, the Ravens have the assets to move around.

"There's nobody that covets picks more than the Baltimore Ravens," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said earlier this month. "And so the notion of giving up a pick is pretty distasteful for us -- unless the player is pretty darn good."

In general manager Ozzie Newsome's war room, it's often an easy decision when the Ravens trade up for the top prospect on their board or move down to stockpile picks. But whether they deal a first-round pick or a seventh-rounder, the process itself rarely comes without a little perspiration.

The future of a franchise can be altered in the 10 minutes it takes for the pick to go from the war room to the commissioner's pocket to the lectern, but the groundwork is laid weeks beforehand.

Leading up to the draft, the Ravens contact teams around them in the first round -- teams picking as many as 10 spots before and up to 10 picks after -- to let them know there is a chance they will be interested in trading their top pick depending on how the round unfolds. That ensures they aren't caught panicking in the heat of a frenzied draft moment.

But as Newsome warned, even if the Ravens are looking to deal, they must be prepared to pick.

"You can't control the other 28" previous picks, he said. "So if you're on the clock and 28 players have been taken, you have to be ready to take that 29th if the phone call doesn't come."

As the first round progresses and more and more of the draft's top prospects, sweating in their three-piece suits, finally realize their NFL dreams, the Ravens get an idea of who will be on the board when it's their turn to make a young, well-dressed man cry and hug his mother.

If the Ravens are confident they'll get a player they're comfortable with, they'll stand pat. If they don't think they'll get good value, they'll look to trade down. And if there is a player they really covet who won't last until their pick, they'll start working the phone lines.

"It's really who the player is and who are the other players around him," DeCosta said. "You'll never see us trade up to get a player unless we think clearly he's by far the best player that's still there."

That was the case in 2003 when the Ravens traded a second-round pick and a future first-rounder to the New England Patriots so they could take a quarterback and potential savior in Kyle Boller. The Ravens, who had selected outside linebacker Terrell Suggs earlier in the first round, knew when Boller was expected to come off the board and had trade partners lined up ahead of time.

Boller didn't live up to his draft status, but the Ravens were decisive in drafting him 19th overall.

"It was a very calm progression of getting on the phone and seeing if we could work back up into the area that we were sure -- [pick Nos.] 18, 19, 20, 21, somewhere around there -- where he was going to go," said former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who is now an analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network. "It wasn't a panic. … It was hectic, but it wasn't panicked."

Though the stakes aren't as high after the first night of the draft, the same philosophies are in place in the later rounds. Last year, the Ravens watched all but one of the top offensive linemen fly off their board before they made their third-round pick. Sensing that Central Florida tackle Jah Reid wouldn't last until No.90, they moved up five spots to select him.

"We weigh the pick, we weigh the players," DeCosta said of drafting Reid. "All these guys got picked and it made it easy for us to make that decision. There were no other players at that position -- or even any other players with third-round-type value -- when we were picking. So when you start to get 'the itch' -- which is what I call it -- you make some phone calls, probably."

Inside linebacker Ray Lewis (first round, 1996), running back Ray Rice (second, 2008), right guard Marshal Yanda (third, 2007) and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta (third and fourth, 2010) are among the most notable Ravens players selected with picks acquired from other teams.

The Ravens have swapped their first-round pick in four of the past six drafts -- and it would have been five of six if not for their controversial trade mix-up with the Chicago Bears in last April's draft.

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