49ers Trade Derek Carrier and the Cost of a Draft Pick

The 49ers trade of tight end Derek Carrier to the tight end needy Washington Redskins for a conditional 5th round pick became official this afternoon. While trades of players with a minimal future with a team is somewhat common, and the 49ers had a number of tight ends on the roster, what stood out to me with this trade was that the 49ers had extended Carrier in early March to a two year extension that guaranteed him an additional $400,000. While a $400,000 bonus is certainly not protection from release, it is much more rare to see a team extend a player who was on a minimum contract and then turn around and trade him just a few weeks into camp. That kind of reminded me of this post over at Chase Stuarts site (Football Perspective) about trading draft picks for dollars. Though this was not exactly the scenario that Chase was talking about (that scenario was more about specifically making the signing with the intent of trading) I thought it did paint some idea about the cost of a draft pick Chase was discussing.

The Redskins will get a $400,000 cap and cash discount on a player in return for a 5th round pick one year later, which I guess most would view as being as valuabe as a 6th round pick in the upcoming draft. From San Franciscos point of view we would say that they believed $400,000 was a reasonable price to pay in additon to the actual salary they will guarantee a draft pick in 2017. While we don’t have many (any?) other data points to test the concept, this is probably a reasonable starting point in assigning a monetary value a team might pay to receive a draft pick in return.

Did Washington get a good deal?  For that I would look at my own draft value assigninments in which every draft slot is rated at a specific monetary value based on the veteran marketplace based on historical draft returns based on AV.  Washington is receiving a player that was valued at $1.2 million per year. At $1.2 million a player should, on average, give the return of the 200th pick in the draft. Thats going to be a late 6th round pick, so if this is indeed a player who performs at his salary level the Redskins gave up a premium for the $400,000 discount.

How about the 49ers?  Was paying $400,000 worth the pick?  A mid fifth round pick, which would be our theoretical pick, will give a team about the same value as a $1.5 million per year player. The cost of that player this year was about $625,000 per year so, in theory, a team obtains about $875,000 in value for drafting rather than signing a $1.5 million veteran. Since the $875K is more than the $400K paid for the pick, San Francisco is receiving significant value in the trade even though its delayed for two drafts.

While some will likely look at the overall extension of Carrier as a mistake due to that $400,000 price, without that there is no guarantee Washington makes the same deal. Really what San Francisco did in the Carrier extension was to buy restrited free agency at a discount.  Carrier was set to be a restricted free agent in 2016 and would have cost the team a minimum of $1.619 million to tender at the lowest level. On the extensio they would have paid him $1.325 million in new money through 2016, which is a discount for the team. His contract did contain a $250,000 escalator that would have brought him to $1.575 million. But whenever you see some short term low level extensions pay attention to the cash aspect because 90% of the time the team is simply buying something early that is very easy to value at a discount.

But as we look back at this trade, Washington does need Carrier to play at a level higher than his salary would indicate to give them the value in the trade. As long as he meets the condition for a draft pick the 49ers are receiving value in the deal even though they are the ones paying that $400,000. Will more trades happen like this in the future?  Only time will tell, but this is a bit of a unique one that maybe starts a trend.