In contract theory and economics, we often talk about how when we give something of value it sends a signal to other people and relays information about itself. If I were to assign something a price, which is a form of value, then I would be sending a signal to a buyer or seller, giving them the option of whether they want to purchase or sell that item. A prime example of an online service that involves signaling is eBay, where items are posted for people to engage in buying and selling that involves set prices. However, in economics and contract theory there can be false signals, which are essentially signals that give off the wrong impression or indicate a value of an item that is not correct. In other words, if a person were set a price for an item and a buyer purchase the item, but later discover that the object is worth less than what they bought it for, then that purchaser may feel they have been “robbed” or lied to. This is sometimes what we call a “smokescreen”: an act that is performed to conceal or falsify the value of something.
But what do smokescreens and signals have to do with the NFL? They are big part of it, especially during each year’s draft process. Teams will often send false signals or smokescreens about who they are going to pick, concealing their true intentions or trying to entice trade offers. A team may want to draft a top WR, but another team may value that receiver at the same level. The team who values the WR at the same level may not want the other franchise to notice, so they might produce a smokescreen and workout several RBs who analysts set at a high value, even though they have no intention of drafting a RB. For example, the Buffalo Bills re-signed Tyrod Taylor, but they have worked out and visited with many of the draft’s top QBs, including Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, DeShone Kizer, Nathan Peterman, and others. Beat writers who cover the Bills have debated whether this is a smokescreen or not, since the Bills have the 10th pick. Other teams may now think the Bills want to draft a QB, but it’s possible the Bills have other plans. To hide their true intentions, the Bills may have sent false signals to other franchises. As this example shows,the NFL (and its draft) emulates economic competition, in which people in a market compete for things that have the highest value.
Sean McDermott even touched upon the fact that the visits could have possibly been a false signal, saying “Maybe these last three or four trips were just kind of all a smokescreen, right? It’s kind of like hiding your presents from your kids. You kind of put them in different spots and see, right? We’ll just see. It’s just a big mystery at this point. No one really knows. You never know who’s going to be there at number 10 when we pick. You just got to go do the homework and study it up.” Peter Schrager of “Good Morning Football” on the NFL Network also touched upon this idea, indicating that the Cleveland Browns at pick 12 could possibly trade with the Bills at 10, eyeing QBs like Trubisky. For the Bills, these smokescreens could result in more draft picks, which some Bills fans would heartily rejoice. Regardless of whether the Bills’ meetings are a smokescreen, we all know that such false signals are prevalent during the draft. Just as signals are important in any interaction between people in a market, so are smokescreens in the interactions between NFL franchises in the NFL Draft market.