Trades weren’t quite as frequent during the 2015 NFL Draft as they were a year ago, particularly during Thursday night’s first round.1 That decrease in trade activity league-wide filtered down to Trent Baalke and the San Francisco 49ers as well. After bouncing around the draft board five different times during the 2014 NFL Draft — accumulating a substantial amount of extra draft capital in the process — Baalke reined it in a bit this time around, making three trades over the course of the draft.
While not everyone will agree when it comes to the actual players selected, Baalke has a great track record when it comes to draft-day trades. Baalke has been incredibly active in moving up and down the board, making a total of 21 trades during his time as the 49ers general manager.2 And more importantly than simply making a bunch of moves, no GM has added more value with his trades than Baalke has.
Let’s run through San Francisco’s three trades during the 2015 Draft and see how they hold up against the high standard Baalke has set for himself in this area. As I did in this article last year, I’ll be using Chase Stuart’s draft pick value calculator to assist in this process, which is based on the Pro-Football-Reference metric Approximate Value.
Trade #1: 49ers trade their first-round pick (No. 15 overall) to the Chargers for their first-round pick (No. 17 overall), fourth-round pick (No. 117 overall), and a 2016 fifth-round pick
Baalke popped the 2015 Draft’s trade cherry by taking advantage of Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who is clearly stuck somewhere in the 1970s. Telesco offered up two mid-round picks in order to move up two spots in the first round to select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Baalke selected the player he almost certainly was going to take anyway, Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead, while adding the opportunity to select Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell in the fourth round plus a fifth rounder next year.
Using the No. 187 overall pick as a proxy for the future fifth-round pick,3 Stuart’s calculator estimates the 49ers received 127 cents on the dollar for allowing the Chargers to spit in the face of everything analytics has taught us and trade up to select a running back in the first round. Hard to do better than that from a value standpoint for moving back two spots.
Trade #2: 49ers trade their fifth-round pick (No. 151 overall) to the Colts for their fifth-round (No. 165 overall) and seventh-round (No. 244 overall) picks
Baalke’s second trade of the draft wasn’t quite as rosy — actually, it might be the worst draft-day trade of his tenure. Baalke moved down 14 spots in the fifth-round and only added a late seventh-round pick for his trouble, receiving a paltry 79 cents on the dollar by Stuart’s calculator. Did Baalke get tired of continuously pwning teams with these trades and decide to toss Colts GM Ryan Grigson a bone? Does Grigson have dirt on Baalke? I don’t know, but this is a pretty indefensible move.
To make matters worse, Baalke selected a punter with the No. 165 overall pick, and even tossed out the "best player on the board" line after he did it! There were real football players still on the board! My head hurts.
Baalke: Pinion can punt and also kick off. Gave the "best player on the board" line— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) May 2, 2015
Trade #3: 49ers trade their seventh-round pick (No. 246 overall) to the Cowboys for their 2016 sixth-round pick
Baalke wrapped things up with a pretty inconsequential trade at the end of the seventh round. Stuart’s calculator grades this one as a wash: a worthless pick this year for a slightly less worthless pick next year.
Net Gain: 49ers trade the No. 15, No. 151, and No. 246 overall picks for the No. 17, No. 117, No. 165, and No. 244 overall picks in this year’s draft, and 2016 fifth- and sixth-round picks
I contemplated tacking on an additional penalty for selecting a punter, but we’re here to assess the value added and lost with these trades, not what Baalke actually did with the picks. And when you put it all together, Baalke still comes out on the positive end of things thanks to that robbery of the Chargers in the first round. The 49ers received 121 cents on the dollar via their three trades with the net value roughly equating to adding a pick in the middle of the fourth round (No. 118 overall) for free.
There were 27 trades during the 2014 Draft; 24 trades during the 2015 Draft. In 2014, there were five trades during the first round compared to only two in 2015. ↩
I’m including the 2010 Draft in that total, even though Baalke hadn’t received the offical title of general manager at that point. ↩
I used the No. 155 overall pick (middle of the fifth round) plus a one-round penalty for having to wait a year to estimate the value of the 2016 pick. Perfect? No. A bit arbitrary? Yes. But it should work well enough for our purposes here. ↩