How the N.F.L. Draft Became a Trading Floor

On Thursday night, the Chicago Bears will make the first of many picks in the N.F.L. draft that have something in common: They originally belonged to someone else.

The Bears’ pick — expected to be U.S.C. quarterback Caleb Williams — was acquired last year as part of a blockbuster deal in which Chicago also got receiver D.J. Moore and three other draft picks.

That trade is part of an increasing draft-night trend in the pursuit of “draft capital.” As teams become much more sophisticated in their understanding of how much a draft pick is worth, particularly in later rounds, draft picks have become increasingly common as deal-sweeteners, or to round out intricate trade packages.

In one sign of how firmly this ethos has taken root in today’s N.F.L.: In last year’s draft, for the fifth time since 2017, more picks were traded away than were used by their original team.

In a trade emblematic of the trend, consider the circuitous route of the 230th pick in last year’s draft. That pick had changed hands five times, starting in 2020, before coming to the Buffalo Bills.

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