Rams Trade for Sony Michel

The Rams made a trade this morning per ESPN’s Adam Schefter acquiring running back Sony Michel from the New England Patriots.

The Rams were in a position where they were looking to boost their running back by committee group which was dealt a big blow when last season’s rushing leader, Cam Akers, landed on the shelf with a torn Achilles. Trading for Michel gives them the ability to bring in a potential talented player on the cheap to fill in the role left by Akers.

Michel is a former first round pick of the Patriots in 2018. First round picks on running backs are often controversial and Michel’s run in New England did nothing to end that controversy. He never had a 1,000 yard season though he did lead the team in rushing in two of his three seasons. He seemed to fall out of favor with the team last season with a stint on IR and a more limited roll. The Patriots would decline the fifth year option for Michel.

Moving to the Rams should give Michel a fresh start where the expectations of being a top draft pick are gone and he can focus on having a big year with free agency around the corner in 2022. That can be a motivating factor for a player and he should see a bigger role in the Rams offense as a two down back than he may have in New England where he was likely playing out the string and may not have even made the team.

The Patriots likely look at this as a smart salary dump due to the salary and $555,747 remaining guarantee. The will clear $1,792,731 by trading him and receive some late draft picks in the process which is a big win for a team who probably was probably finished with the player. They will carry $1,270,308 in dead money this year for Michel.

The trade compensation here looks to be a 4th round compensatory pick (Nick projects them to receive that for the loss of John Johnson this offseason) which is a bit of a high price for the Rams to pay for what may just amount to a salary dump for the Patriots. The Rams are in a clear “win-now” window and likely not looking that far in the future to consider the pick impactful enough to pass up the talent in the player who they hope will be motivated by the change of scenery and chance of bigger free agent dollars.

There is next to no chance the Rams will recover a comp pick in 2023 for Michel anywhere near a 4th rounder but if he does leave they can probably recover something in the process which would limit the loss. If he has a normal year and doesn’t scare teams away I would guess he would earn a contract in the 6th round compensatory range. I would guess that the Rams also factored in the fact that they are projected to receive five compensatory picks next year as an offset of losing one of those picks for the hopeful immediate impact.

Before I saw the trade compensation I would have considered this a rare “win-win-win” scenario for the three sides here. It is a clear win for New England and Michel. The Rams will need him to excel in the role to justify the cost.

Joe Schobert Traded to the Steelers

Just one year after signing a five year, $53.75 million contract with the Jaguars, LB Joe Schobert has been traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Schobert was one of the Jaguars prized free agent signings just one year ago, but after cleaning house in the front office and coaching staff the team has a new look this year and may have been happy to simply move the contract to another team. The Jaguars will save $7.3 million in salary by trading Schobert. Schobert started 16 games for the Jaguars last season and recorded 84 solo tackles and had 6 tackles for loss to go along with 3 interceptions.

As far as contract’s go this was a big loss for the Jaguars. The team paid Schobert $15 million, about 28% of the entire contract value, last season. The key to finding value in the contract was to have him a member of the team for the 2020 through 2022 seasons since his salary in 21 and 22 were much more affordable.

The Steelers have been searching for more help at this position and likely saw this as a good cost for the position. Schobert will cost the team up to $7.3 million this season and this is the last year his contract has guaranteed salary. His salary next year is a non-guaranteed $9.25 million bringing the two year average to $8.28 million. The 2023 salary increases to $10.75 million, which is still an affordable figure if he is still on the team at that point.

The Steelers had about $12.2 million in cap room prior to the trade. Schobert’s contract does not really fit the model for the Steelers as it contains workout and per game bonuses so it would not be surprising if they approach him about renegotiating the contract by converting his salary and per game bonus this year into a signing bonus while putting all the future workouts and per gamers into his paragraph 5 salary.

Once the trade becomes official the Jaguars will have a salary cap charge this year of $2.6 million for Schobert. He will also leave the team with $7.2 million in dead money next year. The Jaguars lead the NFL in available cap space this year and should have over $65 million next year including their carryover from this year.

Teddy Bridgewater Traded to Denver

The Denver Broncos have made a trade with the Carolina Panthers for QB Teddy Bridgewater, who was going to be replaced by Sam Darnold this season. In order to facilitate the trade it sounds as if Bridgewater will agree to a reduced salary and that the Panthers will eat most of the cost.

With such a low salary and draft compensation I would expect the Broncos to continue to look at QB’s as Schefter mentioned. This is basically the money that you would pay a backup and it should give the Broncos some insurance if Drew Lock fails to improve this offseason. While Bridgewater has limited upside he has proven to be capable of managing a good offense and the Broncos certainly have talent on that side of the football.

For the Panthers this is another in a long list of bad deals over the past few years. They grossly overpaid Bridgewater in free agency at $21 million a year with $33 million guaranteed at signing. This is the type of free agent that is generally a disaster signing and Bridgewater joins the list of names like Nick Foles who cashed in off limited games and desperate franchises.

Bridgewater will end up pocketing $31 million from the Panthers for 15 starts and 4 wins. The team will carry $17 million in dead money this year and his release will create about $6 million in cap space for Carolina in 2022. The reason that Bridgewater agreed to a reduced salary is because he had $10 million of his salary guaranteed this year. The guarantee had offsets so he was locked into a $10 million salary no matter what. By only paying $7 million the Panthers will save $2 million more than if they had cut him and allowed him to sign for the minimum with another team.

Carolina’s depth chart at the QB position takes a hit with the trade and Darnold has never played 16 games in his three year career so a backup could be important. That said there is no way they could justify the cost for Bridgewater. Whether they are content with PJ Walker and Will Grier for next season or look for a cheap veteran remains to be seen. I still think that if the right QB fell in the draft that they could possibly pick someone and maybe they hope that this prevents the Broncos from making a trade ahead of them in the draft.

Dolphins Trade Ereck Flowers to Washington

The Miami Dolphins continued their purge of 2020 free agent signings with a trade of Ereck Flowers to Washington in exchange for a swapping of late draft picks. The trade made little sense for Washington when announced given that Flowers was set to earn $9 million in salary until ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared this little nugget:

With Miami picking up all but $3 million of Flowers’ salary for the year the trade makes far more sense for the Football Team than before. At $3 million Flowers will be at the salary of a backup player and likely in a competition for a guard position. Given that the team already has $18 million tied up in franchise player Brandon Scherff it made little sense to spend $27 million on the position but this is basically a no risk signing. The $3 million salary is about equal to what Washington paid Flowers when they signed him in 2019 ($3.25 million) as a free agent so the salary and trade makes complete sense from their perspective.

Miami will have $8 million in dead money for Flowers- $6 million from this years restructure and $2 million remaining from last years signing bonus. Flowers was going to count for $10 million on the cap for the Dolphins so it will be about $2 million in savings this year on the cap and $3 million in cash. This move now gives the Dolphins the extra cap room needed to sign their rookie class this summer.

It has been a very interesting offseason for the Dolphins. The team made three pretty bold signings last year- Flowers at $10 million a year, Shaq Lawson at $10 million a year, and Kyle Van Noy at $12.75 million a year- and all three are now gone with Van Noy being cut and the other two traded. All three were questionable numbers but Miami had cap space to spare and a need to attract players.

That said they frontloaded the Lawson and Van Noy deals and with the money spent to get out of the Flowers deal they blew a ton of cap room on players they ultimately did not need. All told the Dolphins spent $45.525 million for one season apiece on those three players. The players are now playing for $7 million (Van Noy), $3 million (Flowers) and $8 million (Lawson) in 2021 for other teams, about $27.5 million less than what Miami paid them for their one season. They will carry $14.79 million on the cap in dead money for those three players in 2021. That’s a terrible ROI.

On the other hand you have to really like the Dolphins approach to admitting a mistake and finding a way to move on. $6 million on Flowers is better than $9 million for a player you do not want on the team. More often than not teams chase the sunk costs on these mistake signings and wind up spending even more on the cap by hoping things improve in the second year. In the studies we ran in the OTC Free Agency Guide it is usually year one that sees the best results for most players with declining production from that point forward so Miami is ahead of the curve with their strategy. That should be encouraging for Dolphins fans.

Miami was much less aggressive in free agency this year signing only one players to a $10M+ contract and that was Will Fuller on a one year deal which means there is no frontloading or future dead money. So everyone this time around is either on a one year contract or a low dollar figure deal that won’t require any significant future cap charges if things do not work out.

Should the Falcons Trade Julio Jones?

In this morning’s FMIA Peter King passed along that he would not be surprised if Julio Jones was traded with a note that the trade likely would not be finalized until June 2 which would allow the Falcons some much needed salary cap relief. Since then others have said there has been interest in a trade for Jones around the NFL. The Falcons are currently navigating their way through one of the worst salary cap situations in the NFL not just this year but also next year which should lead a lot of credence to these rumors.

It was really a tale of two very different contracts with Jones. The Falcons negotiated a strong contract in 2015 that averaged $14.25 million per season which was quickly surpassed in the market by inferior players. By 2019 Jones indicated he wanted a new contract despite having two years remaining on the old deal. Whether they misread the Falcons misread the market or were really just trying to make a star wide receiver happy they ended up signing him to a massive $22 million per year extension which has stood out as a bit of an outlier for the last two years.

Jones received $36 million in prorated money and a $27.6 million raise over the original terms of his 2015 contract that ran through 2020. The Falcons guaranteed $64 million dollars with full guarantees that would virtually run through the 2021 season. The contract made Jones un-cuttable through 2021- it would leave the Falcons with a $40.55 million cap charge- and virtually untradeable given their cap situation- his $23.25 million in dead money would be the same as keeping him on the team.

That leaves the June 2 as the only real option for the Falcons. By delaying  a trade until that time Atlanta can split that $23.25 million across two seasons. They would be charged $7.75 million on the cap this year, saving the team $15.3 million in cap space, and $15.5 million next year, which is about $3.7 million in savings for 2022.

When I discussed the Falcons on the podcast this offseason my thought was that the Falcons could not really support both Jones and Matt Ryan on the team for much longer. When the Falcons were desperate for cap savings this year it was notable that they restructured Ryan’s deal despite the future cap pain that would be incurred but they did not touch the contracts of Jones or defensive lineman Grady Jarrett. Not touching those contracts would always leave the team with a chance of a trade this year with an ability to create cap space in the summer if they did not trade the players.

While some may argue that given all the dead money in Jones’ deal that it makes more sense to hold onto him especially if no compensation will come until 2022, I think it makes far more sense to move on if they find the right package. Jones will be 32 this year and is coming off his worst season since 2013 as he dealt with injuries. His name value is still incredibly high and the contract so affordable for another team that they should be able to get a decent return. The fact that they would likely delay draft compensation until 2022 should only make the package stronger as teams will look at this as a “no payment, all reward” trade. You can’t guarantee any of that next year.

While Jones is certainly a legend in Atlanta they need to turn the page on this roster in the next year. Calvin Ridley is coming off a near 1,400 yard season as he took over the top duties in the passing game and is just 27. He will be looking for a lucrative extension and if you have to choose between the two players you need to choose the younger player especially if he grows with a young QB in the future.

The Falcons are also a team that does not have the cap space needed to sign their rookie class this year. They will be in the ballpark of $6 million over after rookie signings. That does not even account for the need for more money come September when the cap expands to the full roster and practice squad. Basically the team is $8-9 million in the hole right now. If the Falcons move Jones it fixes the issue for this year and helps them retain more flexibility for 2022. Restructuring his deal or that of another veteran does opposite for their long term health. Deferring any rookie costs to 2022 is also a help along with Jones’ split cap charges.

As for a team looking to acquire Jones it is very affordable. It is $15.3 million this year and $11.513 million in each of the next two years. Just $17.3 million is guaranteed so if things went really bad a team could walk away but at an average of $12.8 million a year even a diminished Jones would be reasonable value at that cost.

One of the lessons that I think we should be learning with some of these contracts is that the extension with two years remaining on a contract , especially for an older player or one at a position that breaks down, is often a mistake. If the Falcons trade Jones they will have paid him that extra $27.6 million just to complete his prior contract and not have him play a down for the team in the “new” contract years. Teams really need to weigh out the pros and cons of these mega deals and probably should really put in place policies of no negotiations until one year out for all players. It just makes it easier and avoids situations like this one.

Chiefs and Ravens Agree on Trade for Orlando Brown

The Chiefs continue a massive overhaul of their offensive line following last year’s Super Bowl loss where the offensive line came under all kinds of criticism this time making a move for Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown who will move to the left side of the line in Kansas City. Brown is in the final year of his contract and should be in line for a big pay day now that he has been traded.

The terms of the trade according to Adam Schefter will see the Chiefs send over this years 31st, 94th, and 136th overall picks as well as a 2022 5th rounder for Brown, the 58th pick in the draft and a 6th round pick in 2022. This is a pretty big price to pay for an expiring contract, basically the value of a mid first round pick.

The biggest winner in all of this should be Brown who had made it know he wanted to be a left tackle and this trade opens up a massive payday for him. The Chiefs committed $16 million a year to guard Joe Thuney in free agency, about $2 million a year more than the next highest paid guard in the NFL. The average differential between top guard and top left tackle salary is around $4 million so I would say at a minimum Brown should be looking at $20 million a season, which is more than his teammate Ronnie Stanley earned from the Ravens.

Recent players traded for big returns have also earned record setting contracts which should make Brown more bullish on his prospects for a big pay day. Laremy Tunsil set a record with a $22 million contract extension in Houston and Jalen Ramsey landed the first ever $20 million per year contract for a cornerback. Neither signed a contract immediately upon trade and only saw their value increase because of it.

The money puts the Chiefs in an interesting spot with the potential for over $35 million a year committed to just two positions on their offensive line. The current NFL average for average spend on left tackle and top paid guard is around $17 million. The 49ers are the top team in the NFL at $28.15 million which is a big gap to $35+ million.

Most teams go with a strategy of draft one, pay one if they look for a top 1-2 punch at the two positions. Only five teams in the NFL have both a left tackle and a guard both at more than $10 million a season. Those teams are the Broncos, Titans, Buccaneers, Cowboys, and Saints. So this will be a somewhat unique situation.

I guess the question is did the Chiefs always intend to spend on this position or was this a change in focus when Brown became available to them. While I can throw all these numbers out there that will paint the Chiefs as an outlier the fact was their former left tackle, Eric Fisher, was going to be a free agent after this season. While Fisher was not looked at as a Bakhtiari type I would imagine that he was going to sign for around $17 million a season.

If we make that assumption I would guess that the Chiefs had budgeted around $80 million over the next five years for Fisher (Fisher was set to earn $12 million this year). Because Brown will only cost the team $3.384 million this year that would put the money at around $85.3 million on a $20 million a year contract (Fisher should qualify for injury protection of $2 million this year which is why the number is higher). Brown is much younger than Fisher and the ultimate cost is pretty similar if we look at it that way.

So if the plan before his injury was to make a run at one of the two big guards in free agency and re-sign Fisher then they will wind up right on track with the original plans. If that was never the intention, well this is a big expense that they will need to consider. They will have the right to tag Brown next year in the ballpark of $17 million as well which can factor into the equation as well.

Brown will join a revamped line that includes Thuney, an un-retired Kyle Long, and the returning Mike Remmers. There were rumors that the Chiefs could also be interested in bringing back Mitchell Schwartz as well.

While risky for the Chiefs it is clear that they are in a window of opportunity right now and taking these risks are often best done during these times. They will walk away down only one player since they will obtain two draft picks and Brown for their four picks so they should still be able to add depth to the team in the draft even if the probabilities of landing better cheap players falls  with the moves down the draft.

We estimate the Chiefs to be around $7 million in net cap space in 2022 which will become a very interesting year for them. In addition to Brown being a free agent they will also have a new contract for Tyrann Mathieu to decide on. Tyreek Hill will enter the final year of his contract and could also very well be looking for an extension.

As for the Ravens they have to be thrilled with the trade. Brown was not going to be happy there this year and was certainly not going to factor into their long term plans. The Ravens are a very draft centric team and this gives them more ammunition this year to add to the group around Lamar Jackson as they try to take that next step and get to the level the Chiefs are at.

Really that last line is the most intriguing part of the trade for me. While the Bills were certainly in the mix last season and may be as well this season I think the Chiefs and Ravens had established themselves as 1 and 2 in the conference. To see the two teams ranked like that make this kind of trade is rare. In my mind you have to really think that the trade either really widens or narrows the gap to make the trade so both probably have pretty different viewpoints and the value here.

If I had to guess the Ravens probably look at this more like I did above and believe they are getting the value of the 1st round pick in the trade. The Chiefs perhaps are looking at it more from a volume perspective where they are just down 1 player in total and given their needs can fill most of the depth they need through those later picks. We will need to wait until the regular season though to see which of the two teams comes out ahead.

Panthers Trade for Sam Darnold

Jets first round draft pick Sam Darnold has a new home according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter

The Jets hold the second pick in the draft which made the disappointing Darnold, who struggled with injuries and play in his first three years in the NFL, expendable. The Jets will be left with about $5 million in dead money while saving about $4 million in cap room. The return for the Jets is solid even if it is year away before they realize the main prize which is the second round selection. Darnold had played poorly and his stock had to be considered low. Recent top draft picks who have played at Darnolds level were signing sub $5 million contracts the last two seasons as free agents so to receive a 2nd and 4th rounder is a good return.

Jets GM Joe Douglas has done a good job now on two big trades the first being an absolute heist of two first round picks for Jamal Adams from the Seahawks. I think he has done a really good job of exploiting the “win now” mentality of teams that sees them discount future picks far too much in these situations. The fact that the return isnt going to happen until 2022 is probably going to see the trade get panned by the vocal fans of Sam Darnold in New York or at the least not see Douglas get the credit he deserves for this. This is a very good return especially when you consider there was no future for Darnold in New York.

The Panthers will take on $4.77 million in salary for Darnold this year and will likely pick up his 5th year option which will be a fully guaranteed $18.858 million making this a two year $23.63 million commitment to a question mark at quarterback. Last season the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three year, $63 million contract but the return was poor and clearly they were desperate here. They were in a position to potentially draft a QB but they either did not like who was going to be left for them or felt that they would get jumped via trade making this the safer path.

Bridgewater has a $23 million cap charge this year and can be cut next year with $5 million in dead money remaining on the salary cap. Given Darnold’s injury history it would make sense to keep Bridgewater this year. Bridgewater has a $10 million salary guarantee on an $18 million salary and I would expect Carolina to try to get him to take a pay cut close to that guaranteed number which would offset some of the large number Darnold will make in 2022 if the option is exercised.

Cutting Bridgewater this year would cost the team $20 million on the cap if done before June 1 and $15 million if done after June 1 if they decided to cut ties with him this year. It is possible that a team could consider a trade but again it would likely only be under a scenario where he accepts a pay cut similar to what I proposed above or Carolina to eat some of the cost. A trade would cost the team $10 million on the cap (with any financial kicker added in).

This is a pretty big trade for Carolina. They will be giving away three draft picks for a player who may not even win a starting competition if the competition was open between he and Bridgewater. For a team in the middle of a rebuilding process where they are tearing down a really bad and old roster with cap issues this is really risky and they must really like what they see from Sam Darnold to make it. The change of scenery should be good for Darnold.

Timing wise it puts the Panthers receivers in a good spot. Their two star receivers- Robby Anderson and DJ Moore- are both free agents after 2021 and now they are expecting to have a star QB on an extension in 2023. This type of trade could push Carolina to extend their players sooner rather than later to make sure that they keep offensive stability around the new QB. Anderson played with Darnold in New York and could be the first to benefit.