Exploring the Costs of Trading Star QB’s in 2021

With the rumor mill in full swing on quarterback trades and cuts I thought this would be a good time to go over the actual costs of moving players since there is so much confusion around the dollars and cents of these moves both for the teams moving the players and the teams potentially obtaining the players.

Before getting into the numbers I wanted to talk about the aspect of a June 1 trade. This is consistently coming up because of the easier to digest salary cap numbers but let’s just get that one out of the way to start.  No team is agreeing in principle to a trade in March and not executing the trade until June. While the offseason programs may again be Covid impacted the fact is the player would miss the offseason and there is always the chance something happens between March and June that could impact it. It would also require the teams looking to trade the players carry them at full cap charge until June 2 which does nothing to help their salary cap. It also requires in many cases renegotiating contracts to move bonuses out of the way.  So unless there is an injury that forces a team to trade late I don’t see this as an option for anyone so I am not going to include those scenarios. So with that out of the way let’s look at the players in the rumor mill.

Deshaun Watson, Texans

Watson wants out from Houston and has been very vocal about it. He costs just $15.94 million on the salary cap this year and trading him would increase that number to $21.6 million a loss of $5.66 million. There are some complex ways that Houston might be able to reduce that (you can listen to this past weeks podcast for that) but it’s highly unlikely that happens. The only way they make this trade is if the relationship is beyond repair. Watson’s contract would be desirable for any team in the NFL. The cap charges for the acquiring team would be $10.54 million, $35 million, $37 million, $32 million, and $32 million. That works out to a five year, $146.54 million contract, an average of $29.308 million a year. The team can restructure that deal for more equal cap hits if they want. Almost every team in the NFL would take that deal but Houston shouldn’t want to give that up.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

The Packers drafted Jordan Love in 2020 which seemed to signal that they think the end is coming for Rodgers. Considering he will be 38 in 2021 and 39 in 2022 that is probably a reasonable assumption. Rodgers played great this season and should win the MVP award but was clearly frustrated following this week’s loss in the playoffs which started the trade speculation. Rodgers will cost Green Bay $37.202 million on the cap if he is on the team and $31.556 million if traded. Considering the team just invested a ton of money in their left tackle and will likely invest a ton of money in their wide receiver, it would make no sense for Green Bay to not have at least one more year with Rodgers and that group. Rodgers situation reminds me a little of Tom Brady’s at the end of his run in New England when after years of not complaining about his contract he began to feel slighted by the organization and became more of an issue. The Patriots added incentives into the contract to make the sides happy and something like that could work here, especially since the Packers will likely wind up restructuring this contract for cap relief even though they will want to maintain a trade window for 2022 and 2023.

A team acquiring Rodgers would take on cap hits of $22.72 million, $25.5 million, and $25.5 million over the next three years. This is pretty much right in line with the salaries for older quarterbacks- Brees, Brady, and Rivers have all been on $25 million a year deals- so it’s fair value. A team really enamored with Rodgers might offer more money to extend the term but I’m not sure they could justify the five year value for the team jumping far above these numbers. This move makes little sense for Green Bay the way I see it.

Jared Goff, Rams

Goff has fallen far enough the last two years to where he is going to be criticized because of his contract value as much as his play. The Rams GM would not openly commit to him, but the numbers here only play out for the Rams if they can find a trade partner. Goff counts $34.95 million on the salary cap in 2021 and cutting him would cost the Rams an obscene $65.2 million($49.8M as a June 1 designation) while cutting him a check for $43 million so let’s not talk about cuts because they cut Todd Gurley. This is a completely different animal when it comes to salary. Trading Goff, however, would cost $22.2 million if executed before the 2nd day of the league year, and $24.7 million if executed after that date which is reasonable if they have another QB they can acquire.

The question is would anyone want him? Assuming the trade is made at the earliest date the cost for Goff would be $28.15 million in 2021, $26.15 million in 2022, $25.65 million in 2023, and $26.65 million in 2024. The team would certainly be on the hook for his entire 2021 salary and $15.5 million of his 2022 salary with the balance of his 2022 salary becoming guaranteed in early 2022. Essentially this is a 4 year, $26.65 million per year contract with $54.3 million guaranteed. That’s not terrible but may be looked at as too pricey especially since he would likely be going from the Rams to a team just like the Rams- a decent team without access to a better QB.   So I’m not sure who would see the upside unless the Rams picked up some of the cost or included a draft pick. Unless the Rams can get someone like Watson or Rodgers in a trade that seems counter-productive. You cant rule it out but I would lean more toward him remaining.

Carson Wentz, Eagles

I’ve gone over Wentz multiple times before so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. Wentz costs the Eagles $34.67 million on the cap in 2021 and $33.8 million if traded before the 3rd day of the league year and $43.8 million if traded after that date. The cost to cut Wentz is $59.22 million prior to June 1 and $34.67 million if designated a June 1 cut. Wentz earns a $15 million guarantee for 2022 if he is on the roster on the 3rd day of the league year as well.  A team acquiring Wentz would carry cap hits of $25.4 million, $22 million, $25 million, and $26 million so four years for and average of $24.6 million a year with $47.4 million guaranteed (Yes its less if the Eagles pay that $10 million but that would not makes sense for them from a cap standpoint). So this is a better contract to take on than the Goff contract but there are probably more questions with Wentz than Goff. Goff you know is serviceable. The Wentz we saw last year was not. A trade makes some sense for Philadelphia but they would be best off restructuring the deal for cap relief and seeing if he can be traded the following season or coached back to a higher level of play.

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

This was a hot topic at the start of the season but died down when Cousins began to play better. Cousins count’s for $31 million on the Vikings cap this year and $20 million if traded, a savings of $11 million. Cutting would cost the team $41 million so that isn’t really an option and I cant imagine one that the Vikings would consider at all. The reason for Minnesota to consider a trade this year is because the cost to the acquiring team would be $21 million this year and $35 million next year. $56 million over two years is an affordable NFL contract, even with the amount being fully guaranteed. However, $35 million in 2022 is not an affordable deal for a team unless Cousins really ups his stock. This is probably a longshot as the Vikings would have to embrace a tear down if they did this. Like with Goff it would also require finding a team in a similar position as Minnesota where they have been ok but not great with Cousins. Teams like San Francisco, Chicago, and Indianapolis I guess would have some interest but it’s a low ceiling kind of move.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

The hiring of Arthur Smith should pretty much put an end to this speculation if it wasn’t dead already. Ryan’s contract really doesn’t work in a trade for Atlanta who is hard up against the salary cap this year. Ryan counts for $40.9 million on the salary cap this year and even if traded would cost the Falcons $44.4 million, more than his current cap number. There is a path to make that work but it would require 10 more dominoes to fall and basically going into a full rebuild but with Julio Jones on the roster. Teams would love to have him with salaries of $23 million, $23.75 million, and $28 million but this doesn’t work for the Falcons in my opinion. It might in 2022 but we can talk about that next year.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

Jimmy G will cost the 49ers $26.9 million on the salary cap in 2021 and would cost the team just $2.8 million if cut. Garoppolo has missed 23 games in the last three years with injuries and has a lower ceiling than players like Goff and Cousins. I’m only mentioning him here because people bring his name up as a trade chip for the 49ers but he would cost a team $25.5 million in 2021. Imagine if a player like Garoppolo was a free agent off of all these injuries. Would a team sign him to a $25.5 million a year contract?  No chance. He also has a no trade but Im sure he would waive that if someone paid him this full salary. San Francisco should have looked at the veterans last year and while I understand why they didn’t given the Super Bowl appearance they should upgrade this year, but would wind up cutting their current QB in the process, not trading him.  

Matt Stafford, Lions

Stafford is the only player on this list that will be a lock to be traded given that the Lions and he have already agreed to part ways. He and Ryan were often lumped together this season as trade candidates but Stafford’s contract was more amenable to a trade. Stafford counts for $33 million on the Lions salary cap and will cost $19 million in dead money when traded or cut, a savings of $14 million. Some people have speculated that the Lions putting it out there that they are done with him will kill his trade value but I don’t see that. Stafford is just 33 years old and you are going to trade for a contract that will cost just $20 million in 2021 and $23 million in 2022. As a matter of perspective Kirk Cousins just signed an extension for two years that costs $66 million, so it would cost a team far more in salary to sign him as a free agent than to trade for him. Odds are he will get a three year extension but with the $46 million locked in, even a three year, $105 million extension would work out to be $30.2 million a season.

The Lions do have a deadline for a trade, as Stafford has a $10 million roster bonus due on the 5th day of the league year. That is another reason to put him out there early as this is a situation where you want to agree to a trade in the next two to three weeks and then execute at the start of free agency. It’s better to let teams like the Colts know they can come get Stafford before they really get into their offseason planning while waiting to find out if the Lions are or are not keeping Stafford. I would expect this to be finalized in a few weeks.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC