How to fix the top of the NFL draft

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The more NFL general managers I speak with, the more I get the feeling teams would rather pick 10th or 12th than among the top several spots in the 2009 draft.

This is what happens when teams do not perceive any of the top choices as future NFL greats. It's not that this draft lacks quality players. Some will surely surprise. Teams simply do not see much difference between the top prospects and the ones they'll be able to land later at vastly reduced salaries.

There's a problem when teams coming off poor seasons would rather pick lower than higher. The obvious solution would be to reduce salaries for the top players, but the NFLPA isn't going down that road very easily.

What to do? Ryan from Denver raised the subject during our Thursday chat. He offered a solution. I offered one as well. I'll break out our exchange here before continuing:

Ryan (Denver): Seeing how a #1 draft pick seems to not be a good thing for an NFL team (Clayton said as much in his mail bag) would it be a good idea to give teams a choice of either the #1 draft pick or two picks later in the first round like pick #15 and #20. Teams with the worst record are usually rebuilding and multiple first would be more helpful that just one pick. Can you think of any other ways to help improve this #1 pick problem besides lowering rookie contracts?

Mike Sando: Tell me what you think of my idea: Rank the teams using the current draft-order formula. At that point, let the first team -- Detroit in this instance -- choose any slot from one to 32. Then let the Rams choose from the remaining slots. Then let the Chiefs choose from what is left over. And so on. I think the results would be fascinating. I can hear the commissioner now: "With the No. 1 overall choice in the 2009 predraft draft, the Detroit Lions select ... the seventh overall choice!"

Ryan (Denver): I like it. What about making the trade value chart official and letting Det take picks worth a 3000 in the first. Going off of your idea Det would pick first and could either take the #1 pick with the 3000 points or a couple picks worth that much overall? There are a lot of holes in this, just wanted to throw something out there. Your idea is a good one, just trying to build on it.

Mike Sando: That would be terrific. The owners could set values at their league meetings. I think the predraft draft would be a showcase event by itself. Which pick will the Lions take? I think we're on to something.

The NFL draft is bigger than playoff games. It seems to get more attention over a longer period of time than the Super Bowl or any other NFL event.

If teams think the top picks aren't worth the investment, they shouldn't be forced to use them. One GM told me he thought top teams would consider passing on their picks, but such tactics could be tough to justify politically.

Ryan's suggestion to give teams the option to accept multiple picks instead of the top pick has some appeal, but not if you think every team should have at least one first-round choice and the first round should feature only as many picks as there are teams.

Perhaps we could adapt my idea to include only, say, the top 10 overall choices. Teams slotted one through 10 would be able to choose where they picked within that range. This year, for example, the Lions would be able to pick anywhere from one to 10. Are we missing anything here? Are there obvious drawbacks to such a proposal? Are there superior alternatives?