Okay, before you even start, I know that the Pittsburgh Steelers have not traded out of the first round since Dan Rooney put a stop to the practice of trading picks for players in the mid-60s. To be specific, 1967 was the last year in which the Steelers did not make a selection in the first round of a draft.
In my research, the Steelers traded their ninth-overall selection in the 1967 NFL Draft to the Packers in July of 1966 exchange for tight end Tony Jeter and defensive lineman Lloyd Voss, the latter of whom played six year for the Steelers. The Packers used that selection on guard Bob Hyland, who went on to have a long career, but only three of those seasons came with the Packers before he was traded to the Bears for the 1970 season.
So yeah. I know. But that doesn’t mean that the Steelers can’t trade out of the first round, and there is good reason to think that if there were a year more likely for it to happen than others, the 2017 NFL Draft would be it.
For starters, they’re drafting in the right place. They are picking 30th-overall, which is the third-to-last selection in the opening round. They could trade down just three spots, acquire an extra pick somewhere else in the draft, and likely not affect a great deal the range of players that they were already considering.
I write this now because general manager Kevin Colbert mentioned some interesting things during the Steelers’ pre-draft press conference that I, in fact, was already curious about. For one thing, he was asked by a reporter if the fifth-year option would be a factor in their decision to trade down. He was pretty emphatic that it wouldn’t, saying “it doesn’t affect us at all”.
Really, it’s the difference between Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier. The Steelers will likely be giving Tuitt a long-term extension this summer. Next year, the team will have Shazier under the fifth-year option and use that as a guide to work out a long-term extension. Or if the talent demanded it, they could use the franchise tag the same way the fifth-year option is used and still work out a long-term deal.
Colbert also laid out how they go about preparing for the draft, and how they do their own mock draft for the first round, not for every team, but just for themselves—essentially, who they would pick if they had the top selection, and on down the line. But he mentioned that they do the mock all the way through a trade-down scenario as well.
That means that the Steelers are going to come in on Thursday with a list of probably 35-40 names that they would be comfortable using their top pick on, and as their natural pick approaches, they will take a look at their board and see if they can get something done.
“Of course we’re open to trading up or trading down”, he said. “We will make all the calls. We will know what the cost is to go up. We will know what we can pick up to go down”. They make these calls every year. It’s just rare that it happens. The last time they traded out of a round for picks was in 2009, trading their second-round pick for two in the third. I’m not suggesting that this will be the year they trade out of the first round—but it’s not a ridiculous notion either.