All these years later, Mike Tannenbaum concedes “maybe it was a little bit of a different era” when he decided to trade up for Mark Sanchez on draft night. Back in 2009, the then-New York Jets general manager made a deal with the Cleveland Browns to go all the way from No. 17 to No. 5.
The fact that the Jets moved up to grab a quarterback, even then, wasn’t surprising. The jarring aspect of the trade now in retrospect is that the Jets were able to do it — without giving up a future first-round pick.
Tannenbaum gave the Browns the 17th pick, a second-round pick and three veteran players rather than surrender a treasure trove of draft capital that commonly takes place these days.
“Eric Mangini had just taken over for the Browns and there were a number of players that he liked,” said Tannenbaum, referring to the Jets’ former coach. “And we were able to uniquely put a package together for players and picks.”
When the NFL draft begins on Thursday, Washington coach Ron Rivera and his front office will be in a similar spot that Tannebaum and the Jets were in more than a decade ago. The team holds a pick just past the middle of the first round — No. 19 — and Washington is in the search for a long-term answer at the most important position in sports.
With the top five throwers in this year’s class projected to be gone by the 10th pick, Washington will likely have to trade up if it wants to land one of them. The price figures to be steep, much more costly than what the Jets paid in 2009.
Since 2012, when Washington mortgaged the future for Robert Griffin III, there have been 15 instances of a team moving up in the first round to grab a quarterback. In six of those deals, the team moving up had to send back at least one future first-round pick. For the others that didn’t surrender a future first, only the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 and the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 jumped more than five spots in the draft order.
Washington, by comparison, would have to jump at least nine teams to get in the top 10.
Tannenbaum, now an analyst for ESPN, said Washington will have to see how the draft unfolds, but added there should be at least one of the five quarterbacks sitting there when the Carolina Panthers are on the clock at No. 8.
“That certainly gets you much more into striking distance,” Tannenbaum said. “I think Carolina is the inflection point in this draft because they recently acquired Sam Darnold.”
Tannenbaum said that preexisting relationships can help facilitate a trade. If that’s the case, that should bold well for Rivera, given that he spent nine seasons in Carolina before being fired in 2019. Rivera, too, seems to have exited on solid ground as the Panthers threw him a post-firing press conference and Carolina donned “Rivera Strong” shirts prior to facing Washington last year.
With the Jets, Tannenbaum’s connection with Mangini helped the process of working out a deal. He understood that Mangini was “trying to change the program” and wanted to bring in players that could help do so. The Jets were eager to land Sanchez, who they became infatuated with over the months-long scouting process.
Even then, deals aren’t easy to complete. Tannenbaum said conversations with the Browns started well before draft night. And sometimes trades can fall through. When the Jets traded up for the 14th pick in 2007, Tannenbaum said he reached an agreement with the Carolina Panthers the night before — on the contingent that the player they wanted, cornerback Darrelle Revis, was still available. If Revis was gone, the trade wouldn’t have been executed.
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, on the other hand, said he’s unsure whether Washington should look to make a blockbuster trade. He said it won’t be cheap, adding the team would “probably” have to part ways with at least a future first.
“I don’t know if they’re that close to making that type of move,” Jeremiah said. “Obviously the quarterback — (North Dakota State’s) Trey Lance would be the one. If he started to drift I would say, ‘OK, I get it. Be bold and go do it.’ Outside of that I would say probably stay back there.”
Washington has been heavily rumored to be interested in Lance, a dual athlete who dominated at the FCS level but whose playing experience is relatively limited with only 19 college games under his belt.
Tannenbaum said he thinks with Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster, Washington could allow Lance to sit for a year and learn behind the 38-year-old journeyman.
“That’s a dream scenario if I’m Trey Lance,” he said.
Complicating matters for any potential deal: Washington may not be the only team in the market to trade up for a quarterback. The New England Patriots (No. 15) and the Chicago Bears (No. 20) have also been linked to such scenarios — meaning Washington would potentially have to outbid them.
“You really have to measure what’s best for your organization,” Tannebaum said.