Are We Sure Teams Need To Trade Up For QBs This Year?

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Teams have to trade up to get a quarterback, that's the rule.

There’s almost always a need for a passer in the NFL; teams are either trying to get one to win now with or trying to develop one to win later with. For ones that need a quarterback badly, every pick is a threat hence trading up. It's not like teams will overpay — if a QB ends up a franchise player, nobody will remember what was spent on them. 

A lot of people recall Ryan Pace traded up from third overall to second to draft Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, largely because Trubisky ended up bad. But the deals authored by Houston and Kansas City for Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, respectively, that same year are often forgotten because they're good.

Last year, TDN's Trevor Sikkema highlighted the last 11 quarterbacks selected from 2016 to 2018 and every single one was the product of a trade up, save for Baker Mayfield who was selected at first overall by the incumbent Cleveland Browns.

So there you have it: if you need a quarterback, you better be prepared to move up even if you're not thrilled about any of the quarterbacks in the class — that's just the NFL world we live in.

Sikkema wasn't wrong then and he isn't wrong now. Teams should be prepared to move up for quarterbacks and have those potential plans, packages and targets outlined before they step foot in their war room. But the class didn't fall as we expected in 2019; it bucked the recent trend.

Kyler Murray went first overall to the Arizona Cardinals, Daniel Jones was sixth overall to the New York Giants and Dwayne Haskins 15th overall to the Washington Redskins. They were all selected at their respective team's original picks.

There wasn't a single trade up for a quarterback in the first round of the 2019 draft.

Overall, it was a quiet draft for trades: only one trade up was executed into the top 20 when the Pittsburgh Steelers moved up from No. 20 to No. 10 for Devin Bush. The fact that no quarterback required a trade up challenged precedent and now allows for an investigation of what would happen if nobody traded up for a QB.

The 2019 class was not good and was often discarded in favor of the incoming 2020 class. This year’s class, however, has no defined QB2 or QB3. It’s not just a matter of preference or valuation either; there are split opinions on the draftability of players like Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love. This is a polarized group, and while it could end up with multiple starters, it's certainly too tumultuous to categorize as strong. There's too much uncertainty.

Uncertainty is the first half of the problem: buzz, need, desire and the typical smoke that accompanies QB trade ups is the other. Of those 10 quarterback trade ups from 2016 to 2018, seven were executed on draft night; the three that weren't were all involved in the acquisition of top-five picks. The only top-five trade up on draft day was Trubisky’s.

Typically when there are aggressive trades into the top five — for example, a team jumping Miami at No. 5 by trading with Detroit at No. 3 — we've done more than just heard about it by now. We've already seen it.

But teams continue to stare down the barrel of an uncertain draft with uncertain pick value given the conditions of this year's format and uncertain bets in Tagovailoa and Herbert. To get ahead of the Dolphins, a team like the Chargers at No. 6 would be forced to spend a pretty penny. Miami has enough capital to beat any modest offer, secure its pick of the litter at quarterback and still have plenty of selections in the next two drafts. The only buzz we've heard to this point is that Detroit wants to move back and fielding offers. But who's offering? What are they offering? How far along are talks? 

The only team mentioned are the Dolphins, who currently hold every card with the highest pick among the QB-needy teams and have the most capital. The only reason the Dolphins would trade up to No. 3 is if they believed either the Lions or another team had a legitimate shot to take the quarterback they wanted. Detroit has said the former won't happen and other teams don't seem interested in being the latter at this stage.

The Dolphins will only trade if they’re forced to; they want to keep all of their picks, take their QB at No. 5 and fix the rest of the roster in the next couple rounds. Once we start getting buzz that the Chargers, Jaguars, Panthers or somebody else is deep in talks with Lions — more than just testing the water  — then there's a chance we see movement. 

All of this is conditional on the Chargers/Jaguars/Panthers/somebody else having one quarterback they like better than the rest of the group. If Herbert were the consensus QB2 then it would be clear a team has to get in front of Miami to draft him.

When it's all said and done, we will see trade ups for quarterbacks in the 2020 draft but not in front of the Dolphins. Nothing leaked, rumored or hypothesized supports the idea Detroit will find a dance partner to move back, and if there isn't a big shift in the next six days, it will likely be forced to make a pick at No. 3. The Dolphins will take their pick at No. 5, the Chargers might take their QB at No. 6 and the rest of the teams will react accordingly.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Senior CFB Writer

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.