Raiders Trade for Matt Schaub


Yesterday the Oakland Raiders moved a sixth round pick to the Houston Texans to acquire the rights to QB Matt Schaub. Schaub had come under great scrutiny since the Texans signed him to an ill-advised extension worth $15.5 million a year, a number that, at the time, made him one of the two highest paid “non-Super Bowl” winners in the NFL. Schaub was coming off injury and had just one year remaining on his contract in 2012 when the Texans made the move. By the end of 2012, when team expectations were high and Schaub’s physical limitations began to be scrutinized more due to those expectations and his contract, he began to falter.

After an exit in the 2012 playoffs there were questions as to whether or not Schaub should be back in 2013, technically just the first year of his new contract. The large guarantees in his contract made that an impossibility but the talk of it seemed to rattle his confidence. Schaub had a meltdown under the pressure and went through a series of injuries and benchings during the course of the 2013 season. It was clear he needed a new home to try to resurrect his career.

For the Raiders the move is a no-brainer. They had no quarterback of note on the roster and need to turn the fortunes of the team around. Before Schaub began to get rattled in 2012 he was having a very good season and had always been careful with the football. As long as his confidence returns at worst the Raiders get a professional behind center.

The contract itself is one that the Raiders should not touch to give him added “job security” or anything else they feel may help him with his confidence. The Raiders have a high draft pick and should not look at the addition of Schaub as a reason to not use it on a prospect, so keeping outs in his contract would be a smart decision. Schaub will be 33 this season and while that is young enough to get two years out of him I would not call it likely to expect much more than that, at least at a relatively high level of football. The Raiders also need to plan for the fact that Schaub could also be finished.

Because no prorated money enters the equation in a trade the contract itself works out perfect for the Raiders current contract format of no signing bonus money and instead the use of base salaries and incentivized roster bonuses. Schaub will only cost the Raiders a maximum of $11 million this season in cash and salary cap, which is the second lowest paid veteran “starter” QB in the NFL behind Alex Smith of the Chiefs.  If you look at this as a two year contract with an annual value of $12.25 million it ranks as 4th lowest among veteran starters. So the contract is not as bad from the Raiders perspective as some are making it out to be.

The decision will bring more scrutiny to GM Reggie McKenzie’s handling of the Carson Palmer situation in 2013. McKenzie wanted Palmer to take a paycut of $3 million in 2013 which Palmer refused to do because of how he felt he was being treated in Oakland. McKenzie traded Palmer and a 7th rounder to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th rounder and a conditional draft pick in 2014.  The Raiders would then send a 5th in 2014 to the Seahawks for Matt Flynn, who was an epic disaster and released in October. McKenzie restructured Flynn’s contract for both cap relief and the ability to give him that “job security” adding more dollars to the picture that the Raiders had to account for when Flynn was released.

Palmer ended up reducing his salary in 2013 and 2014 with the Cardinals from $27 million to $16 million with a chance to earn $4 million in incentives and escalators.  The guarantees were just $10 million. Schaub is essentially a lateral move from Palmer putting the Raiders right back to where they were in 2012. All told the Raiders will spend, assuming Schaub does not take a paycut, $26.84 million in salary cap charges in 2013 and 2014 for Palmer, Flynn, and now Schaub. The Cardinals spent $16 on Palmer over the same time period.

The Raiders are probably the best example in the NFL of the desperate levels that teams will go to try to fix the QB position. In the last three years the Raiders have sent draft picks to other teams for the services of Jason Campbell(4th in 2012), Carson Palmer(1st in 2012 and 2nd in 2013), Matt Flynn (5th in 2014) and now Matt Schaub(6th in 2014). The first three QB’s started a total of  43 games in four seasons going 19-24. Over that same time frame the Raiders have also drafted Terrelle Pryor (supplemental that cost a 3rd in 2012) and Tyler Wilson (4th in 2013). Pryor started 10 games in 3 years while Wilson was released in 2013. When you combine all the picks(1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th, 6th) the Raiders have essentially given up an entire draft for the position. That’s quite the waste of resources.

For McKenzie he needs Schaub to work out our this will likely be the end of his run in Oakland, where he oversaw the salary cap teardown of the team and had little success on the field while struggled with the mistakes of the organization before him. The Raiders have spent approximately $47 million in cap space this season, mainly on veterans likely leaving their primes than entering it, which means the improvement needs to come quickly. They still maintain cap flexibility as almost every contract has a one year escape window, but he wont be in Oakland if they have to pull that switch in 2015.




Looking At the Houston Texans Salary Cap and Coaching Vacancy


Driving home from work the other day I heard a discussion between Jay Glazer of Fox and Mike Francesa of WFAN where they felt as if the Texans head coaching job was “one of the best openings in the last 10 years”.  While some of their talk focused on ownership that doesn’t meddle most of it was centered around the strength of the roster and flexibility they have. Glazer compared it to the Chiefs of 2012. I admit I was surprised when I heard that so I wanted to look deeper at the team.

Going into the season I had felt the Texans were a team that likely was going to trend downward.  We see it all the time in the NFL. You are pretty good for a long period of time and eventually the wheels come off. The 2011 Houston Texans were an excellent football team. Everything clicked on defense and their offense was potent. Unfortunately QB Matt Schaub was injured and that killed any hopes for real playoff success. The 2012 team was much more inconsistent than the 2011 team.  They were up at times and down at others. Schaub returned but faded in critical situations. The wheels fell off for him and the Texans this year.

In terms of salary cap the Texans are not in a position to be active in the way the Chiefs were this past offseason. Kansas City had the cap room to trade for a mid grade QB, extend a franchise tender to a left tackle, extend a wide receiver on a top of the market contract, and then go out and sign a number of players to add to the poorly coached team. The Chiefs had millions upon millions to spend.

The Texans have been tight on cap space all season and will carry over just about $1.1 million to the 2014 NFL season. Based on their current cap commitments the team will have just slightly more than $9 million in cap space to spend on improving their team, a number that does not include tenders (though they have no RFAs of note) or escalators.  Considering one of those improvements will come with the number 1 pick in the draft, whose cap charge will be just over $4 million, the team has essentially no money to spend with the roster as currently constructed.

The Texans will go into the offseason with nine free agents that are considered contributors to the team. Houston will need to create some cap space in order to re-sign some of these starters and rotational players. The list is as follows:



% Snaps

Wade Smith



Antonio Smith



Garrett Graham



Darryl Sharpton



Joe Mays



Earl Mitchell



Ben Tate



Ryan Harris



Greg Jones



The question becomes where do they go to create cap space?  It would seem to be a foregone conclusion that the team releases Schaub, but that move only saves the team $4 million, essentially the room it needs to sign his replacement, which will be expected to be their top draft pick. But beyond Schaub where is there to go for cap relief?

The Texans need to restructure contracts in the past or sign players in a manner to fit short term within the cap has them with very limited options. They are not a team that has one or two players making large sums of money with no realistic chance of being on the team in 2014. The Texans highest cap savings are TE Owen Daniels and S Danieal Manning at $4.5 million each. Both were injured in 2013, but would be penciled in as starters in 2014. Both are also free agents following the 2014 season so there is no restructure relief available and extending two players on the wrong side of 30 coming off injury would not seem to be beneficial. Both could take paycuts but the team is not going to get major relief through just these two players.

CB Johnathan Joseph would be a logical candidate for restructure as he has an $11.25 million hit and they could push a portion of it to 2015, which is the final year of Joseph’s contract. Again that is only going to save around $4 million with the bill coming due in 2015, so it doesn’t make a huge dent in the Texans salary cap.

The two big questions will be what the team does with WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster. Both are big ticket players, but Johnson will be 33 years old and Foster’s body already seems to be breaking down. The Texans have restructured Johnson’s contract so many times that going there again is going to cause damage in the future. Johnson is still a great player but he is nearing that age where the Wide Receiver numbers begin to decline and if you bring a rookie QB into the mix you never know what can happen.  His cap in 2015 is already over $16 million and the team has over $7 million in dead money there if they had to release him. Adding more money to those totals seems like a bad idea.

Foster has an $8.5 million hit and release saves just $1 million in cap, but there at least has to be a discussion about his future. Tate is a younger and likely cheaper option at this time and it would seem unlikely that the team can afford both players. With Foster’s injuries it’s a situation that needs to be watched carefully.  Foster would more likely be a June 1 cut candidate so that his salary cap savings can be applied to signing draft picks.

Houston also needs to be concerned with the future of LB Brian Cushing. When he plays Cushing is one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL, and the Texans are paying him accordingly, but he has only played 12 games in the last two years. This could turn into a Jon Beason situation where constant injuries lead to wasted cap room.

Now I’m painting a bleaker picture than this really is- The Texans do have really young talent ranging from JJ Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, to DeAndre Hopkins, who could very well be one of the next stud receivers in the NFL. The team this year just never recovered from some early losses and things spiraled out of control as injuries piled up.  They also play in one of the worst divisions in the NFL making a quick turnaround that much easier.

But I don’t see how the Texans are a new coach away from greatness. This is a team that probably underachieved for some time in part due to coaching and then peaked in 2011. Now its time to begin turning parts of the roster over again.  The Texans had 7 starters this year over the age of 30 and 8 over the age of 29, so turnover is a necessity. The short term cap position does not really lend itself to adding significantly to the team in free agency. The team does not have a Quarterback on the roster. There are just as many questions with this team as there are with most teams searching for a head coach. .

I don’t think that in terms of readiness that this job compares with some of the more recent coaching hires that included Mike Tomlin to the Steelers, Jim Harbaugh to the  49ers, or Rex Ryan to the Jets. The Steelers were set at the QB position when Tomlin took charge and did not really have a roster overhaul to consider. The other two coaches did not have Quarterbacks (though Ryan did end up with a top draft choice to play the position) but both had tremendous roster flexibility due to better managed salary caps and teams that had not yet peaked. At the time all three were highly desirable jobs.

The Texans are not a bad job like the Raiders, but to me they are a rebuilding team that must first navigate the breaking down of a team following successful period of football before they make the turn to returning deeper into the playoffs. Any coach that takes the team over should be expected to improve off this seasons dreadful performance but most likely it will take two to three years to drive home the results that many seem to think are just going to happen overnight.




Stock Down: Week 5


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Matt Schaub– Mentally Schaub is broken and it has carried over to the playing field where he looks nothing like the player he has been in the past. I don’t even know what to make of him. At times he is like Chad Pennington floating the ball and not showing the arm needed to get the ball to the sidelines. At others plays like he is down two scores with just 5 minutes left, even though it’s the first quarter of the game. Schaub is going to be in danger of being released from his contract and missing out on $11 million in salary in 2014 if this continues. The Texans are going to feel too much pressure to not do it and there is also a stigma growing around Schaub which is going to be reflected in free agency if released. I was sure if Schaub ever got released he would get a decent contract, but now I’m beginning to think it will be backup/prove it type money. That will not be $11 million dollars. He needs to turn this around.

Tyson Clabo Clabo had given up what may have been the most critical sack of the game when matched up against Terrell Suggs. He had been overwhelmed on the day and is on pace to give up 11 sacks on the season. Clabo was signed to a one year $3.5 million dollar contract  after his release from the Atlanta Falcons, who have their own line problems to consider. The Dolphins ground game has been unable to get on track and yesterday the team gained just 16 yards out of their running backs. While Clabo is not the only one at fault he is the one that will feel the most problems when the season ends as he looks for another contract. With teams in 2013 not really interested in him at a $3.5 million dollar tag why would anyone sign him for anything close to that in 2014 if this is what they will get?

Kenny Britt– The free agent to be Wide Receiver appears to be done with the Tennessee Titans. He’s a third string player at this stage and the Titans are now considering further demotion after a one  reception, multiple drop game on Sunday against the Chiefs. Britt now has just 52 yards on the season and is either not the same player following knee injuries or is mentally just not committed to the games with a team that does not want him. Either way other teams around the NFL are going to look at him poorly. He is most likely headed for a minimum salary contract next season as he has to now rehab his image in 2014.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Carson Palmer– This is like bizarro world. A losing QB gets a “stock up” nod while a winning one gets the down nod, but Palmer has been awful and his team won in spite of him not because of him. For all of the talk about what Palmer was going to mean for the Arizona offense they essentially look no different than they did when John Skelton was the QB of the team. Palmer was a mess on Sunday throwing for just 175 yards and being picked off 3 times. Like the Panthers the Cardinals are going to waste a good defense this year because their offense is simply no good. It’s clear Arizona needs to draft a QB next season and begin re-tooling that offense instead of praying they can get something out of the current grouping. Palmer was supposed to fix that situation and he hasn’t.

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Thoughts on the Texans Options With Matt Schaub


The other week I touched on the reasons why the Texans would likely not consider releasing Matt Schaub in 2014, but yesterday Schaub had a complete meltdown in a big game and his head coach gave him a mercy killing and pulled him from the game in favor of TJ Yates. The fall of Schaub has been stunning. He played well most of last season but it would seem an entire offseason of people discussing how Schaub would never win a big game has mentally broken him as he looks like a completely different QB in 2013.

It is very difficult for a team to pull a starter for the backup and then go back to the starter. The fanbase has already decided the problem with the team is Schaub and I would imagine that there are some players who privately believe the same. Going back to Schaub just opens the floodgates of negativity unless the team is sure he can handle the pressure and thrive in the situation.

From Houston’s point of view benching Schaub might be in the best long term interest of the team. Most squads in the NFL have short windows of opportunity unless they have the elite QB leading the team, of which there are very few in the NFL. Houston has been a very good team the last two years with the 2011 team arguably being at the top of the AFC before an injury to Schaub put them behind some other teams.

If the window is closing they need this season to determine if TJ Yates or Case Keenum can be an answer for the longer term or if it is time to turn the page and rebuild.  It does the team no good to trot Schaub out there and finish 7-9 or 8-8 and then go into next season with an open competition between the three. You need to know at the end of 2013 if your QB is on the roster for next season or not.

The cost of releasing Schaub in 2014 results in a $10.5 million dead money salary cap charge, which represents $4 million in savings for the Texans.  Houston might consider moving Schaub in the next few weeks to try to offset some of that cost. Schaub makes a fully guaranteed $7.25 million in 2013 of which just $5.1 million remains to be paid. If the Texans hold off two weeks to find a suitor that team would only be responsible for $4.3 million in salary which a fringe playoff team might be willing to take on with hopes of a change of scenery fixing the player. All of this money would carry over to help offset the cost of cutting Schaub in 2014. If there was a market for Josh Freeman outside of Minnesota the Texans should be calling those same teams to see if there is interest in Schaub, far more accomplished and likely coming at the same cost.

Another option open to Houston would be what I call the “waiver wire dump” in which you release a veteran player after the trade deadline in the hope that he is claimed to relieve yourself of the salary obligations. While veterans normally become free agents upon release the rules change following the trade deadline and they are then exposed to waivers.  If Schaub is claimed the remaining salary and guarantee transfers to the acquiring team. That scenario allows the Texans to see what happens over the next few weeks if they decide to go with Schaub at the helm and deal with the potential backlash of the move.

At that point Schaub’s salary for 2013 would be less than $4 million which I would imagine a team would pick up considering no compensation would need to be given to Houston.  The team picking up Schaub in such a scenario would have no financial obligation to Schaub if released beyond the 2013 season. His cap charge for that team would be $11 million in 2014 with the possibility to restructure to make the cap charge lower.  Teams may consider that reasonable for a player with talent that could restart his career with a change of scenery.

It will be an interesting few weeks for Houston who have a difficult decision ahead of them and finding ways to make the best out of a bad situation.

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Would Texans Consider Cutting Matt Schaub in 2014


I had a few questions on Matt Schaub yesterday but didnt really think much of it until PFT published today how the Texans can get rid of Schaub next season using the June 1 cut. So I figured we may as well chime in as well.

When you consider cutting a player such as Schaub a lot more goes into it than “correcting a mistake”, which the Texans certainly did make by extending him last season. The issues with Schaub brings up the consideration of a replacement level player and the salary associated with that player.

Based on my cap estimates for Houston I don’t think the June 1 designation is a viable option in 2014. Remember that by designating a player a June 1 cut the player’s entire cap hit remains on the books until June 1, just as if he was still a member of the team. In the case of Schaub this would be $14.5 million. That figure is difficult enough for the Texans to burden with Schaub on the roster let alone with him signing for another team. The actual cap relief, which would be $11 million dollars in 2014 would not occur until June 2, at which point free agency has come and gone. So if he goes the Texans would most likely take the full $10.5 million dollar hit in 2014 and free up $4 million to spend in free agency.

The question at that point is what type of player can the Texans bring in for $4 million dollars that gives you the performance of Schaub?  The answer is nobody. Schaub is a game manager that crumbles under pressure, but he is capable. Last year, in terms if difficulty of throws, Schaub was actually very efficient because the Texans don’t ask him to do what he does not do well- throwing the ball down the field.   I have not run the numbers this season, but I would imagine they will be close when all is said and done.

Schaub is not Ryan Fitzpatrick, the type of QB that is significantly over-earning based on performance. In the high priced QB market Fitzpatrick should have been earning about half his salary. Schaub is right around where his money should be. While it may sound high, and it was high IMO when he signed, the fact is QB money in the NFL is incredibly high.

$4 million in the NFL does not buy you much. It is rare for a good QB to hit the free agent market. Of the veterans the only players with a cap charge at $4 million or lower include Carson Palmer, Matt Flynn, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Cassel, Matt Moore, Kyle Orton, Shaun Hill, Jason Campbell, Shaun Hill and Fitzpatrick. Are any of those players better than Schaub?  The answer is no. Really none are even close and other than Palmer all are backups.

Even if you want to bump to the $11 million category,which would be his full savings if designated a June 1 cut,  the players who will fit that cap charge who would hit the market are Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman, and Chad Henne. You can probably throw Mark Sanchez in that mix as well as he has a higher cap hit now, but will never earn the same money once released from the Jets. None of those are strong options.

The reality is there is almost no financial benefit to releasing Schaub next season. You would need to find a way to bring in a star veteran QB, likely by trade, where you are compromising your future by guaranteeing future money just to make the cap figures match and trading away draft choices. PFT mentioned going with Tyler Yates or Case Keenum, both much cheaper player currently on the roster, but would anyone be excited about that?

The other option is to draft a QB, assuming that the Texans would even be in a position to draft a QB.  Thats a viable alternative and cheaper alternative to Schaub, but most teams do not catch lightning in a bottle as the Seahawks, Redskins, and Colts did in 2012. Most struggle as rookies. Some much longer. This would be the same as the Keenum/Yates possibility, IMO in terms of what it means going forward.

If they plan on going that route that isn’t just dropping Schaub, but most likely turning the page on the veteran aspect of the team and completely building for the future. Is that the direction that the Texans would want to go in?  I would imagine only if they have a catastrophic season in which they fail to make the playoffs and finish under 0.500. They are a long way away from doing that.

View Matt Schaub’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

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Is Jay Cutler Worth Even Close to $20 Million a Season?


Mike Sando had an interesting piece on ESPN yesterday looking at the big free agent QB’s and prices they may command (subscription required).  Unfortunately its an insider piece but since posted some comments from it we’ll do the same here. Sando was able to get a cap manager of one of the teams to discuss some potential contracts for players. This was the one that floored me and everyone else:

Jay Cutler is going to eventually get $20 million no matter how much he deserves it. I think there will be a team desperate for a quarterback who doesn’t like the quarterbacks in the draft. Maybe they think they’re close and the GM says Jay Cutler is no different from Joe Flacco, that you can win a championship with him. It just takes one of 32 teams to make that judgment, and I think there’s a good chance someone will. Cutler can still be pretty darn good.

I have to admit I was stunned that a person in charge of managing the cap for his team would believe that Cutler would fetch $20 million dollars per year. Currently there are only four players in the $20 million dollar per year club- Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers.  Each is there for a number of reasons. Brees is a prolific passer who was a Super Bowl MVP. Flacco is considered to have tremendous upside and put together a tremendous stretch of games that culminated in his Super Bowl MVP trophy.  Its also worth noting that Flacco was only going to receive around $16 million a year before the Super Bowl win and the Ravens were not going to hand him $20 milion a year because “you can win with a guy like Flacco”. Matt Ryan is considered the best young passer in the NFL and looks to be on his way to becoming a 5,000 yard passer. Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL, putting up tremendous statistics and winning a large amount of games.  Cutler is not even in the discussion right now with these four players.

I think sometimes we forget that Cutler is not a young player anymore. There is an argument to be made that Matt Ryan was paid on the dreaded P word- “Potential”.  Now in Ryan’s case it was the potential to win a Super Bowl not be a great passer as he had already established himself as a passer. It is the same reason Philip Rivers became the second highest paid QB in the NFL in 2009. He had enough numbers and success to convince teams that he was going to win it all just like Eli Manning. Ryan and Rivers, in the season of signing, were both 28, right about to enter the prime of their careers. Jay Cutler will be 31 when he takes the field for a new team in 2014.

Potential doesn’t come into play over 30 and it should never cloud the judgment of a team. Cutler’s “potential” year came off his last season in Denver when he threw for 4,500 yards and looked like he had that Rivers/Ryan potential. The Bears traded for Cutler the following season and did extend him at just under $14.7 million a year in new money, which was near the top of the market at the time, but he opted for the short term extension assuming he would cash in after winning some big games for Chicago where Cutler was to be the missing piece to the puzzle. That money was based on potential.

Four years later and no potential was realized. His numbers have plummeted while the average QB numbers, in general, have risen. He has thrown for less yards in his last two healthy seasons than Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  You don’t go back to what a player did at 25 when he is 31 to come up with a pricing point.

It doesn’t mean Cutler has had an easy time of it in Chicago. They have had a revolving door of bad offensive coaches, bad decision makers selecting poor wide receivers and horrific offensive lineman. Cutler did himself no favors either as he carries himself with a bit of an attitude that rubbed many players, specifically veteran defenders, the wrong way. Players didn’t come to his defense and I don’t think he ever assumed a leadership role with the team.

The highest end comparisons you could make for Cutler are Matt Schaub of the Texans and Tony Romo of the Cowboys. Schaub was 31 when he signed his extension and Romo will be 33 this season. Schaub earns $15.5 million a season while Romo earns an inflated $18 million. Neither comes close to $20 million. One of the difficult items in comparing Cutler to other players is the pressure he deals with in Chicago. Last year Cutler saw pressure on 37.5% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus. Romo and Schaub are closer to 30%. That said Cutler deals with it well and is one of the rare QB’s who has very limited decline statistically under duress, perhaps because he is so used to dealing with it. Last season Cutler completed 60.5% of his non-pressured passes and 54.1% of his pressure attempts.

Looking at the last two more or less healthy seasons of work for each QB and breaking things down into yards per pass attempt by throw distance you get the following look at the players:

Jay Cutler YPA

Cutler is considerably less effective than both Romo and Schaub passing down the field and for most QB’s this is where they get paid, not by throwing little dink and dunk passes. For what it’s worth the presence of Brandon Marshall did little to the results and his yardage totals actually decreased, significantly in the 10 to 19 yard category, in 2012 compared to 2010.  I often look at something I call incremental yards which more or less measures actual yardage produced by distance compared to the average NFL QB.

jay cutler incremental yards

Romo pretty much makes his living throwing the ball down the field while Schaub is an intermediate passer. Cutlers failures down the field have made him an average QB overall. Part of that is the Bears offensive design faults and some may be Cutler’s decision making. Romo completes over 40% of his passes over 20 yards. Cutler completes only 28.5%, yet Cutler’s pass selection sees 15.6% of his passes travel over 20 yards while Romo is under 12%.

Those decisions hurt Cutler even more than just yardage, but also in turnovers.  Schaub only throws 9.2% of his passes deep because there is no upside to him doing so.  Even though he completes over 36% of his down the field passes his interceptions per attempt are 8.7%. That works out to a 23.8% interception to completion ratio which is a ridiculous number, so the Texans just avoid it. Cutler is at 8.3% I/A and a whopping 28.9% I/C. Someone needs to just have him stop those passes. Despite the arm strength that is not his game in Chicago and may not be anywhere else.

The bottom line is that he is nowhere near as productive as your next tier of salaried QB’s. I think you can argue about Romo vs Schaub and make a strong case that Romo’s salary should be closer to Schaub’s, but I’m not sure the rationale behind arguing that Cutler should make as much as either of the 30+ year old players, let alone $20 million a season.

The most realistic data point for Cutler should be that of Carson Palmer. Palmer is one of the “potential” graded QB’s simply because of where he was drafted and how he played very early in his career. By the time his days were coming to an end in Cincinnati he was unproductive, even moreso than Cutler, but the distance passing results were nearly identical:

Jay Cutler vs Carson Palmer

The major difference is just the short yardage passing which helped him produce more productive yards than Palmer. Because of his limitations Palmer rarely threw the football deep(8.2% of his attempts)  as a Bengal, a model maybe the Bears should consider with Cutler. The Raiders ended up trading for Palmer in 2011 and then extending his contract for cap relief.

Palmer, a former number 1 pick that the Raiders had bet the farm on, only received a deal worth $10.75 million per year. The Raiders were, at the time, the worst managed team in football and that figure represented a 40% decline from Peyton Manning’s top of the market $18 million per year contract from the Colts. Palmer was 32 years old and 7 years removed from his draft when he signed with Oakland, very similar to Cutler’s situation next year. The Raiders traded Palmer in 2013.

If we bring those dollar figures into today’s salary market, Cutler should be looking at a deal worth $13.1 million a season, a far cry from the $20 million mentioned by the cap manager. Cutler is a bit better than Palmer so maybe we push that to $14 million, but that range is likely going to max out somewhere below $15 million. Those figures are assuming the Raiders contract with Palmer was considered legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the NFL. Given their history it may have been viewed as an inflated price tag.

Of course we can throw this all out the window if Cutler goes out and wins a Super Bowl and is named Super Bowl MVP. If that occurs he has something that Romo, Schaub and Palmer do not, and as we have seen with Eli Manning and Flacco, albeit at a much younger age, the Super Bowl trophy means big dollars to teams. I still don’t think this would bring him to $20 million a year but it may at least be a discussion since teams are certainly showing a willingness to spend big on the plus 30 QB. But without it there is no way a team can pay him based on what they have seen for 8 seasons.

Cutler will have another coach this year that is supposed to be an offensive expert. He has his old buddy Marshall again at Wide Receiver and they brought in Martellus Bennett to play Tight End. The team signed a new Left Tackle and Left Guard. They still have a capable runner and pass catcher out of the backfield in Matt Forte. Cutler is going to need to see his stats go way up this season and see the team go into the playoffs to bring himself into the Schaub/Romo conversation. If he continues to be the same QB we have seen I just can not picture a team going long term into Cutler at the upper tier price level.  Moderate price, sure, but the upper level is going to be very difficult for him to achieve without going on a tremendous run in 2013.


Kirk Cousins and the Cost of Trading for a Backup Legend


Driving in today I flipped over to Mike and Mike on ESPN and heard them having a discussion about Kirk Cousins the backup QB of the Washington Redskins and how valuable a piece he is to the Redskins. The discussion centered around a comment made by Peter King that insinuated that a team drafting in the upper half of the first round should consider giving up their pick (I believe the number they used was 7) for him. I immediately thought that would make an interesting discussion.

Cousins has clearly fallen into the “backup legend” category where we all get so enamored with the position and the prospect of finding a great talent to start for our team. This time last season Cousins was almost an afterthought. Cousins was drafted with the 7th pick in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. This wasn’t Geno Smith falling from the top half of the 1st to the 2nd round as Cousins was projected to go anywhere from the late 2nd to the early 4th, which is exactly where he went. The scouting on him was pretty consistent: efficient player but will never be more than a game manager.

The draft pick itself was considered questionable at the time because the Redskins had just given up a draft fortune to select Robert Griffin III with the 2nd pick in the draft. To select another QB when you had just parted with so many picks seemed like a poor use of limited assets. Cousins began to create a little buzz in the preseason where he completed nearly 58% of his passes at over 13 YPC, but when Cousins was elevated from 3rd string to 2nd string over Rex Grossman more than just a few were surprised.

Once RGIII got injured Cousins got his regular season opportunity and yet another “backup legend” was born. Cousins first led a comeback against eventual champion Baltimore Ravens and then was terrific in his lone start throwing for 329 yards against the Cleveland Browns. Last night Cousins went 6 of 7 for 52 yards in a preseason game which sparked the discussion about his upside.  How quickly everyone forgets just where the young QB was a year ago as he battled for a backup job.

The best comparison one could probably for Cousins would be the career of Matt Schaub. Schaub was drafted with the 27th pick of the 3rd round in the 2004 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Schaub was brought in to be a backup to Mike Vick. Vick was a phenomenon at the time. The 1st overall pick in 2001, Vick was the most electric player in the NFL and had a reputation that far exceeded the actual play on the field. There were also questions about his durability making a backup seem like a bigger need than for other teams. Schaub was good in the preseason  and got one start in his Atlanta career where he threw for 298 yards against the Patriots. Schaub became the “backup legend”.

The price for Schaub was nothing like was being suggested on Mike and Mike. The Texans gave up two second round draft picks to acquire him. Schaub has gone on to have a solid but unspectacular career and has also been dogged by injuries at times. But he has probably been the most successful of the star backups. Other recent names who turned preseason and less than one season samples into starting jobs have been Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel , and AJ Feeley.  None were successful.  Kolb, Cassel, and Feeley were all acquired via trade while Fitzpatrick and Anderson were signed off their samples.

Trading a high first pick for a backup QB is a recipe for disaster. Part of the benefit of the top 15 pick now is the slotted pay scale. It allows teams an opportunity to mold a cap friendly roster around a number of potential superstar young talent. When you trade that draft pick for a “backup legend” it’s not just a draft pick being given up, but often large sums of money. Assuming a team was to trade for Cousins next season they would only have Cousins under his rookie contract for two seasons. If they waited one more season it would only be for one. After that he hits free agency.

When you make that trade commitment a financial one goes along with it. In essence you have traded the new rookie wage scale for the old one. For the group above here are the awarded salaries of the more recent backups to riches stories:



3 Year Cash
















Of all the deals Cassel was far and away the worst, which was just a sign of how inept the Chiefs front office was. Cassel has almost no pedigree at all (he was a 7th round pick) and they gave the farm away for him. At least in Fitzpatrick’s case there was no trade involved and the three year money total was smaller.

Of course the other question is whether or not a team would even consider giving up the first round selection for him. This is not the Bears trading for Jay Cutler. Most of the teams that would consider trading for Cousins are those same teams that have a scouting department that gave him a 3rd round or worse grade.  Maybe he has done enough in the preseason and limited game action to up that grade but it’s unlikely without an extensive look that a teams’ scouts would recommend giving him a 1st round grade, let alone a top 10 grade, especially factoring in the cost. Plus there are going to be teams that say Mike Shanahan runs a very QB friendly offense that turned players like Brian Griese and Jake Plummer into adequate players.

While we often all buy into the fantasy aspect of the NFL and the throwing away of draft selections it has been some time since teams decided to throw first round picks at lower regarded talent. I believe the last two big ones were Rob Johnson in 1998 and Trent Green in 2001. Johnson was a 4th round pick with only one start under his belt which led to the Bills trading a 1st and 4th for his services. It is a trade so bad that it is still talked about to this day. Green was a journeyman type QB who was displaced by injury and replaced by Kurt Warner. At the time I think the feeling was that Green was just as good and that the Chiefs were getting a steal for a 1st round pick. Green would have a decent career with the Chiefs, who really have gone overboard with the trading for QB’s dating back to Joe Montana.

Really unless you have the exceptional pedigree teams are not going to throw away a first rounder and all that money on a player.  Here are some of the potential starter  trades since the Green trade to Kansas City.


Draft Round

Games Started

Trade Package
Jay Cutler



two 1’s, a 3rd, and Kyle Orton
Drew Bledsoe



1st* round pick
Carson Palmer



1st* and 2nd*
Donovan McNabb



2nd and 4th*
Alex Smith



2nd and 2nd/3rd*
Kevin Kolb



2nd* and DRC
Matt Schaub



1st round swap (2 slots) and two 2nds
Charlie Whitehurst



2nd round swap (20 slots) and 3rd*
AJ Feeley



2nd round pick
Matt Hasselbeck



1st round swap (7 slots) and 3rd
Matt Cassel



2nd (plus Mike Vrabel to KC)
* means actual slot unknown at time of trade

The marketplace really has been the 2nd round for players that do not have that elite pedigree. Of the younger talent, Cutler, who came from a Shanahan system and looked like one of the greatest prospects on the planet, is the only one to garner a fortune in compensation, losing the 11th and 18th pick in the 1st round. Kolb cost a 2nd and a player which is more or less the equivalent to the two 2nd rounders traded for Schaub. Alex Smith could be the same.

So it would be stunning, based on pat history, if any team in the NFL drafting in the top 10 would even consider trading for Cousins at that price. I tend to think that there may be more reservation as well due to the recent series of bust signings on questionable players with the small sample sizes. Over the next two seasons Kolb, Cassel, Fitzpatrick, and Matt Flynn will carry $23,950,000 in dead money for their respective former teams.

Flynn, who had backed up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and flashed in relief, expected to be involved in a bidding war of sorts when the Packers let him hit free agency. Teams were much more cautious with Flynn, a 7th round selection, than they had been with other players. Eventually he signed with Seattle for a base value of $19.5 million over three years. That was still good money, but not Kolb or Cassel money. Flynn of course was traded after just one season when unheralded rookie Russell Wilson outplayed Flynn by a significant margin in training camp and the preseason.

But right now I think many of us are going a little overboard on the expectations for Cousins in the trade market. Players don’t go from being 4th round draft picks to top 10 commodities based on a start and some preseason games. Maybe if he had close to a full season of work someone with a late 1st round pick might make a move, but the market is really a 2nd rounder and that’s assuming teams have not grown cold to the prospect of trading for someone else’s bench player rather than just  drafting one themselves. The financial commitment can be so large when you trade for a QB and is there really that much that separates Kevin Kolb from Blaine Gabbert?  Gabbert is certainly cheaper. Neither has been very good.  Gabbert had and probably has more upside.

I would think applying the Schaub test is really the right way to look at Cousins. Schaub has been the QB on two teams that made the playoffs and has twice gone to the Pro Bowl. He has started 79 games in 6 years and won 44 of them. Just a year after signing an extension many fans can’t wait to get rid of him because they feel the flaws, more or less the lack of physical tools that helped push him to the late 3rd round in the first place,  will keep them from winning a championship. In hindsight would you have been happy giving up the 7th pick in the NFL draft and somewhere around $60 million dollars for Schaub?  Probably not.

Now none of this is to say that Cousins can’t be better than Schaub. For all I know Cousins may be the next Tom Brady, who the Patriots wisely chose to stick with over Bledsoe in 2001. But as a teams’ GM or cap manager you have to weigh the risks associated with such a trade. You are losing four low cost seasons of a tremendous upside draft pick and replacing it with a high financial commitment for a player just a few years ago you felt did not have the tools to warrant a 2nd or 3rd round selection.  To pull that top 10 pick the player needs to be proven which means at least two years of significant meaningful game experience. Otherwise the 2nd round maximum is as far as a team should ever be willing to go.