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Ravens ponder whether to trade up, trade down or stand pat in NFL draft

In the days and hours leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome considered making a significant move forward in the first round.

The Ravens had the 17th overall pick, but they loved Khalil Mack and knew that their only shot to get the linebacker was to possess a top-five selection. The Oakland Raiders, who were drafting fifth overall, liked Mack, too, though their general manager, Reggie McKenzie, was at least listening to offers for his pick.

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Newsome wasn't able to sufficiently entice McKenzie, so the Raiders stayed put and drafted Mack, while the Ravens remained at 17, where they took linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Ravens' willingness to package picks to move inside the top 10 last year shows that Newsome will explore all avenues during the draft to select a player his organization covets.

"I guess the one thing that I probably could say over the years is I don't like to pigeonhole myself and say, 'I won't do this,'" Newsome said this month. "I'm just not that way, because if a player is that good, then you go and get him regardless of position, because we feel like he will impact us over the course of his first four, five years that we would have him. I don't like to be pigeonholed and say, 'I will not go up and get this player,' because at some point I might do it."

The Ravens will enter Thursday's first round with the 26th overall pick and plenty of inventory to use to move up in the draft. Even though three of their 10 picks are compensatory ones and can't be traded, such selections still provide insurance if the Ravens want to package some of their original picks. The likelihood of getting four more compensatory selections next year also gives the Ravens flexibility to include 2016 picks in deals.

Newsome had made a trade in 13 straight drafts, and he's either moved up or back in the first round in five of the past nine. This week, he'll ponder the quandary that all NFL general managers confront at this time of year: Do you trade up to guarantee that you'll get the top remaining player on your draft board, trade back to accumulate more picks, or just stand pat?

"Circumstances always dictate that," said ESPN analyst Bill Polian, former general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills. "You could have a player that you badly want and you're pretty sure that he's going to get to you. And everybody at his position is gone five slots from where you are. That tells you that you better go up and try and get him."

For general managers, the draft provokes a tug of war between aggressiveness and patience, between boldness and discipline. Nobody wants to repeat the mistake of the New Orleans Saints, who mortgaged their entire 1999 draft to select running back Ricky Williams. But the thought of standing pat while the player you covet gets taken in front of you burns at team executives, too.

Consider the Ravens' approach to the 2008 draft: They had the eighth overall pick and a desire to land a franchise quarterback. After Matt Ryan went to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 3, the Ravens traded the eighth pick to Jacksonville for the Jaguars' first-round selection (26th overall) and three other midround picks.

Sitting at pick No. 26, the Ravens didn't want to risk losing their other target, Joe Flacco, so they traded the first- and third-rounder they got from the Jaguars, plus an original sixth-round pick, to the Houston Texans for the 18th overall selection. Flacco was finally theirs.

To trade or not to trade

By the time NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces Thursday night that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the clock with the first overall pick, Ravens executives will already have touched base with many of the teams picking directly in front of and behind them.

"They're at 26, so you'd call those teams in that 20-to-24 range and say, 'Hey, we're targeting a certain player and we may be interested in coming up depending how the board shakes out,'" former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "Then, you'd call the teams behind you and say, 'We're open for business if you want to come up.' You know what your own team needs are and what's going to be available. You have to marry those two things, and that determines what direction you go."

The former director of college scouting and player personnel for the Ravens, Savage has seen Newsome do just about everything during the draft, except sway from the team's draft board.

The Ravens will earmark the players they'd be content to get with their first-round pick. If only one or two of those players is available as their slot draws near, Newsome will try to swing a deal to move up to ensure he gets one of them. If several of their targets still are on the board, Newsome will stay put and select their top-rated player or move back into the late first round or early second round while getting an extra pick or two in return.

What he won't do is select a player the Ravens don't value in that particular round.

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"There are not 32 first-round players in any given draft. That's always a fact," Polian said. "The lower third, you always see a lot of movement because people want to get out and pick up extra picks. They feel like they can get the same player at 41 that they would get at 26."

The Ravens abhor trading picks, but they've done it in an attempt to fill major needs. In 2003, Newsome traded a future No. 1 pick to draft quarterback Kyle Boller. They've moved up to take defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and offensive lineman Michael Oher. Newsome also has traded out of the first round altogether, landing linebacker Courtney Upshaw under that scenario in 2012.

"I think we do a good job of ascertaining where we have to be to get a certain player," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "We will anticipate certain guys falling a little bit in the draft and we'll try and have a plan in place if we have to make a decision. There's a couple of players that we would have probably taken at any given pick and would have been excited to get, but we rolled the dice and that player was still there for us later. I think that's a slam-dunk when you can do that."

Determining value

There were five trades in last year's first round as teams jockeyed to get into position to select the likes of Sammy Watkins, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. With the uncertainty at the top of this year's draft and the rookie contract structure much more forgiving on teams, many analysts are predicting that the drafts will continue to be trade-heavy.

Teams are given 10 minutes to make a decision in the first round, seven minutes in the second round and five minutes in rounds three through seven.

"Once you get on the clock, you know what your options are," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Texans and Washington Redskins. "Your discussions are trade discussions, not who you are taking because you do all these draft meetings to make sure your board is correct. You've decided how you're going to go by what your board says."

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Still, agreeing to the terms of the deal can be difficult. Each team uses some modification of a trade chart, which was developed by former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. The chart assigns a numeric value to every pick in the draft and serves as a guideline for what teams need to give up or get to move up or back in each round.

The chart, however, is hardly uniform. New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan acknowledged last week that he provided teams with his organization's chart so they'll know ahead of time what the Jets will expect — or be willing to give — for compensation.

Ultimately, though, the compensation is decided not by any chart, but by the level of interest a certain team has in moving up. If there is a lot of interest in a specific pick, teams will obviously want greater compensation.

"Teams can say, 'Well this is what the chart says,'" Casserly said. "But you say, 'I don't care what the chart says, this is what we're going to offer.'"

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway joked about the high cost of moving up in the draft, saying he tried to last year but that a team wanted his "first three grandchildren."

Newsome came to a similar realization while contemplating a move forward to get Mack. In that case, standing pat worked out just fine as Mosley made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

However, with needs at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback, Newsome is going to have to decide whether that's the right approach again this year.

"We'll value the board, we'll watch it very closely, and as we get close to our pick if there's somebody that we really covet, then we'll go and get him," Newsome said. "If not, we'll just value all the guys that are available to us."

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