Trading up for a QB is risky business

Recent history tells us it's hard for an NFL draft to produce five or six quality starting quarterbacks.

Normally, a draft is lucky to offer three quarterbacks who end up being a long-term answer to a franchise's quarterback needs. With the growing likelihood of Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert going in the top three of the draft to Carolina and Buffalo, respectively, the biggest decision facing quarterback-needy teams is how to be in a position to get the third-best QB in the draft.

The strange part about this year's draft is the abundance of quarterback options, even though Newton and Gabbert are the only throwers with solid first-round grades. Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi have enough questions about them that many regard them as second-round options.

But the need for quarterbacks in this quarterback-driven league is so intense, the chances of teams trading up into the lower part of the first round are good. That will turn April 28 into a high-stakes poker game for teams trying to deal for the right quarterback.

The Seattle Seahawks, who draft 25th, are the only team in the second half of the draft with a quarterback need. With the Bengals looking for a possible replacement for disgruntled Carson Palmer, 11 of the top 16 teams in the draft are sniffing around this class of quarterbacks.

Let's say Newton goes No. 1 and Gabbert goes No. 3 and the rest of the quarterbacks drop past the Jaguars' selection at 16. The Seahawks would have the third quarterback option, but they could still go for a defensive end, a guard or a cornerback. The scramble to trade up to the lower part of the first round -- picks 26 through 28 -- will then begin.

The rough price for moving up into the first round would be a third-rounder (in addition to swapping picks). The uncertainty about the 2012 draft complicates things. Using next year's picks to get a deal done might be dicey.

Here's the scary part, though. There have been five "trade-ups" (moving into the first round) for quarterbacks since 2003, and none have really worked out.

• In 2003, the Ravens, who passed on Byron Leftwich with their first-round pick to take Terrell Suggs, traded up from 41 to 19 to draft Kyle Boller. They gave up a first-round pick in 2004 to make the move. After that didn't work out, the Ravens eventually had to trade for Steve McNair a few years later and finally fixed the long search for a franchise quarterback by trading up from 26 to 18 for Joe Flacco.

• In 2004, the Buffalo Bills moved from the second round (No. 43) to No. 22 to get J.P. Losman. They gave up a 2005 first-rounder for the jump. Since then, they've tried Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and others and may finally resolve the issue this year if they get Newton or Gabbert. The 2004 draft was a great one for quarterbacks -- Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub. Losman was the fourth of the four first-rounders taken that year. It didn't work out.

• In 2005, the Redskins moved from the third-round (pick 76) to draft Jason Campbell at No. 25. They gave up a No. 1 and No. 4 pick in 2006. Owner Dan Snyder got 52 starts out of Campbell but never felt he was an elite quarterback. He shipped him off to Oakland, and the Redskins, after taking a one-year flyer on Donovan McNabb, still are in the market for a quarterback.

• In 2007, the Cleveland Browns set themselves back for years by trading up for Brady Quinn. They moved from No. 36 to No. 22, giving up a first-round pick in 2008. They tried Quinn and Derek Anderson for a couple years without success. Enter Eric Mangini. Mangini stayed with Quinn and Anderson as the quarterbacks in 2009 and started trading down from the fifth pick in the first round. They were involved in trades that gave the Jets Mark Sanchez and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Josh Freeman. Sanchez has been to two AFC title games and Freeman is on the verge of becoming an elite quarterback.

• In 2010, Josh McDaniels shocked the league by moving from the 43rd selection to 25 to take Tim Tebow. He gave up third- and fourth-round picks. McDaniels is gone as head coach and head talent evaluator. John Elway has taken over and conceded the Broncos don't have a franchise quarterback unless Elway comes out of retirement.

What's clear in all of this is the need for the 2011 "trade-ups'' to be on the mark, because you are dealing with the third- and fourth-best quarterback prospects in a draft. Boller was the third quarterback in a draft that had Palmer, Leftwich and Rex Grossman. Losman was the fourth quarterback in 2004. Campbell was the third quarterback in the Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers draft. Quinn was No. 2 in what wasn't a good draft for quarterbacks -- JaMarcus Russell was No. 1 that year.

If the labor situation isn't resolved by draft day, the temptation to make these trades will be enhanced. For the teams in need of quarterbacks, it would be easier if Kevin Kolb, McNabb, Kyle Orton and Vince Young were immediately available in a trade. Would Orton for a third be better than a second-round trade-up for Ponder, Locker or Dalton?

All I know is the Ravens, Falcons and Patriots, who have picks No. 26 through 28 in the first round, will keep the phones open for trade calls. They all have quarterbacks and could get a third-round pick or more to move back to get close to a similarly rated player at another position.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.