A narrative which floated around during (and following) the 2019 NFL Draft was how much the Steelers “gave up” in order to move up ten spots from pick number 20 in this year’s draft to the tenth overall selection: in order to secure the opportunity to draft Michigan linebacker Devin Bush.
Some sides say that the Steelers paid too much. Others say that Denver Broncos GM John Elway was “fleeced” and that Pittsburgh got the better bargain.
But what if I were to tell you that the price was right? Well, that’s precisely what I’m going to do!
First things first: the Steelers didn’t “pay too much” as some may argue. First, here are the details of the trade to better understand what happened:
— NFL (@NFL) April 26, 2019
The Steelers and Broncos swapped their first round picks, but to be equitable, there had to be more offered. This included the Steelers second round pick for this year’s draft and a third round pick next season.
In other words, the Steelers gave up two extra picks and swapped their original to move up ten spots.
That’s where a lot of pundits are upset, thinking that the second and third round selections could yield some great players. That much is true, seeing some of the most recent draft selections in those rounds such as JuJu Smith-Schuster (2nd) and James Conner (3rd).
However, was it giving up that much? I digress.
They had to do something
The Steelers were apparently in love with Devin Bush and rightfully so. He was regarded as one of, if not the top inside linebacker prospect in this year’s draft: a position the Steelers have sorely needed help at ever since Ryan Shazier was sidelined with a career-threatening injury. (Note my choice of words there, as Shazier continues to rehab and focus on a all but uncertain return!)
With Shazier’s future grim and the Steelers lacking depth at the ILB position, they had to make a move.
Pittsburgh had ten picks in the draft and looked as if they were infatuated with Bush from the get-go. In fact, if I were a betting man, I should've put money on the Steelers moving up. (And if you are a betting man? Check out the latest Super Bowl odds by researching the most prominent sports books like NoviBet.)
Because an opponent within their own division, the Cincinnati Bengals, were on the clock with pick 11. With a hole at the same position, there was a train of thought that the Bengals were also interested in Bush. We later learned that other teams were inquiring about moving up for Bush as well, making it much more certain that the former Michigan Wolverine would not be around when the Steelers were finally on the clock at pick 20.
Was it worth it?
It’s difficult to say at this point, because we won’t know for several years how Bush will turn out as a professional football player. On paper, at this time, it looks like the proper move for a Steelers defense that has a need at the position and also could use another playmaker: Bush could provide both and looks like the most natural fit for the team out of the all of the players who were available to draft this year.
The Steelers couldn’t sit tight and watch as players they were interested in flew off of the board either. They had already experienced such in the 2018 draft, when one year ago several of the top inside linebackers were gone by the time it was their selection… despite attempting to move up in a similar fashion.
This year it made more sense, and Pittsburgh had the ammo to make the move, unlike in years passed. With ten overall selections in 2019, everyone was guessing as to whether or not the Steelers would make a move: and they did.
The sticking point by most critics is what they gave up, but it’s not as if they did not have enough insurance to make the bold decision. While the Steelers gave up the 20th pick in the second round, they ended up with a high third round pick – the second selection of that round, in a previous trade with the Oakland Raiders. Essentially, they moved back from pick 52 to pick 66 – yes, they lost pick 52 entirely, but if they never had the third rounder it would’ve hurt more.
In this scenario they have two thirds plus Devin Bush. (I’d call that a win!)
Furthermore, the blow of losing a third rounder next year is a similar jockeying of positions. If we’re to believe the Steelers are a playoff contender, they will be picking in the late 20’s… or if we’re bold enough with predictions, we can predict they pick at 32!
With the compensatory system in place for losing free agents, some teams will receive an additional draft pick in 2020. The Steelers figure to be one of those teams and may have the highest, or nearly the highest, of those comp picks. That estimates to a third round choice that could be as high as… pick 33 of the third round – only one behind the one they gave away.
In theory, they lost nothing.
Sure, they could add more players through the draft, but when looking at the holes on the team and the amount of roster spaces available, it would be surprising to even see all nine players drafted this year to make the final 53-man roster. It’s inevitable that one or more of those draft picks doesn’t wind up on the roster: the Steelers just kicked that decision ahead one year, if you want to look at it that way…
And ended up with a potential gamechanger on the defense.
Did it cost too much?
That’s the final though here. When you strip down what the picks are worth in their very essence, the answer is “not really”. According to a point value system originally developed by former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, the breakdown between the Steelers and Broncos trade is evaluated as follows:
I know some are saying "too much" and others are saying "Elway got finessed" but the trade appears to be really fair if you think the #Steelers will pick no sooner than they did in R3 this year (meaning they are a playoff team and the R3 pick value decreases) #NFLDraft19 pic.twitter.com/17autG8d9p
— Joe Kuzma (SCU & DisContent) (@joe_kuzma) April 26, 2019
105 points is all that separates the trade based on making a guess on where the Steelers could pick in 2020. This is based on picking at 83, the bottom of the playoff eligible teams. Should the Steelers fall out of the postseason again, the pick will rise in value and the Broncos will definitely have the better end of the deal.
However, if the Steelers were to win the Super Bowl, the 2020 3rd round pick drops 55 points in value, bringing the difference between the pick used to acquire Bush and everything else Pittsburgh relinquished to merely 55 points.
That's talking about value as in draft position, without factoring in the type of player Bush may be. That intangible alone makes the risk more than worth it for the Steelers and shows that both sides of this trade deal actually paid a fair price during the transaction.