The game of musical chairs that is the NFL draft has already begun and no team wants to be left standing.
Last week's trade of offensive tackle Jason Peters from the Buffalo Bills to the Philadelphia Eagles figures to be one of a number of draft-related trades that will serve to change the complexion of the draft. Julius Peppers, Brady Quinn, Braylon Edwards, Anquan Boldin, and Chad Johnson are just some of the big-name players on the market in an offseason that has already seen three starting quarterbacks in their prime (Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton) and an elite left tackle (Peters) shipped away from their first NFL homes. Every trade can alter which players are taken where in the draft and thus change the game for all of the teams picking below them.
Take Buffalo for example. Most people expected them to take a pass rusher with the 11th overall pick to aid Aaron Schobel and allow the Bills to get pressure on the thinking man's quarterbacks who reside in the AFC East, like Tom Brady and Chad Pennington. The Bills' controversial trade of Peters, which I will delve into in-depth below, more than likely puts the onus on them to select a tackle with the first of their first-round picks if either Alabama tackle Andre Smith or Mississippi tackle Michael Oher are still on the board, even though they are high on last year's sleeper seventh-rounder, Demetrius Bell.
That means one of the top pass rushers available, like Penn State's Aaron Maybin or Florida State's Everette Brown, could potentially drop to the Denver Broncos or lower, even though the Bills likely would have snatched them up had Peters still been on their roster. Unless, of course, the Bills are high on Connecticut tackle William Beatty and think he will be available at No. 28, then they may indeed take Maybin or Brown at 11.
The same is true for the Eagles with the first-rounder they still possess at No. 21. It was believed the Eagles were in need of an offensive tackle and a running back to complement Brian Westbrook. The acquisition of Peters takes tackle off the table and has many presuming the Eagles will take a running back, such as Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. But any team behind Philadelphia is keenly aware of that fact as well and may elect to jump in front of the Eagles to secure the rights of the runner they desire.
Follow? The point is there are so many possible scenarios that the Bills, Broncos, Eagles and every other team either choosing behind them or in pursuit of a player at the same positions need to prepare for anything.
Back to the Peters trade. I can't help but laugh every time I hear the Eagles "stole" Peters away from the Bills by giving up first- and fourth-round selections in this draft and a sixth-rounder in 2010. Before I even get into the specifics of what has the potential to be an outstanding trade for the Eagles, it is important to note that every comment about the Eagles "fleecing" the Bills on this deal is essentially an insult to a half-dozen other teams around the league.
If you start with the assumption, and we must for this exercise, that the Bills took the best offer that was available to them, then a number of teams evidently had their head in the sand and missed out on an unbelievable opportunity. The Eagles are hardly the only team in the market for a left tackle. The Lions, Rams, Seahawks, Bengals, Raiders and Jaguars could all use a guy with Peters' ability to man the premier spot along the offensive line for the next six years.
If the Eagles got such a great deal, why didn't the Lions offer the 20th overall pick and a couple of mid-round selections for a guy who would have allowed them to select Matthew Stafford or Aaron Curry at the top without any concern about their left tackle spot? Heck, maybe they could have gotten Peters for the 33rd overall pick and their first third-rounder based upon what Philly ended up giving up.
Perhaps the reason more teams weren't involved is because they had some of the same concerns the Bills had in regards to Peters. The Bills have had Peters on their roster for the past five seasons and yet they could not compel themselves to offer him the $10 million a year he was seeking. He had begun to show too many of the bad habits that caused a 340-pound athlete running a 4.8 40-yard dash out of college to go undrafted. That made such a sizable investment too much to stomach.
His talent is unquestioned. I played with Jason in 2004 and 2005, when he was a youngster, and it was obvious to me he was the most naturally talented offensive linemen I had ever been around. Even though his technique was raw, he was virtually unbeatable because of his quick feet, long arms, flexibility and amazingly low center of gravity. He was the best left tackle in the NFL in 2007 and appeared in line to take the best in the business belt from Walter Jones and carry it into the next decade.
On his way towards becoming the next great one he grew unhappy with his compensation because he was underpaid for his production based upon his 2007 season and the Bills were paying a couple of inferior linemen more. But two wrongs don't make a right and Peters was out of touch the entire offseason. He reported to Buffalo out of shape, overweight, disinterested and it showed in his lackluster performance. That made the Bills particularly uneasy to make him the highest paid player at his position. Personally, I would have made him play out his contract in western New York, but the Bills didn't want to go through last year all over again and began to entertain trade offers.
For their part, the Eagles did their research and felt comfortable believing that if Peters is happy with his compensation and gets back to working like he did his first couple of years, he will be the best left tackle in the NFL the next six years. If so, they will have gotten one heck of a bargain. It is a bargain other teams didn't want and a deal that has already begun to change the game plans of a number of teams as they head toward this weekend. Rest assured, more change is on the way.