The NFL trading deadline is approaching and while in season trades of star players is still pretty rare it is being floated that two left tackles are available for the right price. The Browns are supposedly willing to deal 9 time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas for a 2nd round draft pick while the 49ers are hoping for a 1st round pick for 5 time Pro Bowler Joe Staley. We’ll take a brief look at the cap room needed to acquire each player as well as the realistic market for both.
Here is the tale of tape for both players
Though Thomas is generally the higher regarded player there is a financial advantage to trading for Staley. Staley would cost a team about $1.4 million less this year and less over the next two seasons. The disparity is likely greater in 17 and 18 than shown in the table. Thomas can escalate his salary by $1.5 million in 17 and $2 million in 18 by being named to the Pro Bowl, which seems a certainty. So over a three year period a team would likely pay Staley about $10.5 million less than they would Thomas. Staley is also under contract in 2019 for $5.5 million.
So if we are looking at justification for the 49ers asking for a higher price than the Browns these numbers are a big reason why (there are also some other favorable payout terms for Staley compared to Thomas). Realistically does it make that kind of difference? I don’t think so. We are talking about player’s who have already made the turn past 30 and while left tackles have long careers, giving up so much more for the possibility of big cost savings that really don’t kick in until the age of 34 for Staley is not really good business. The 49ers would need to pick up some future salary to really have a chance for a first rounder.
If anything I would think that the financial benefits of Staley make the two equally attractive and narrows the divide in talent gap that exists. In that respect I could see a team giving up what would be expected to be a late 2nd round pick for either player. The more attractive trade may come from a team willing to sweeten the pot and use some of that added cap room they have to prepay a future part of the contract.
I currently estimate that only 9 teams would not have the cap room needed to execute a trade for Thomas. That list is the Bills, Ravens, Falcons, Cowboys, Rams, Cardinals, Chargers, Jets and Vikings. The Lions are right on the border. For Staley the Bills and Ravens would have the room while the others would not. That doesn’t mean these other teams could not trade for these players just that they would have to restructure contracts to create the cap space to do it.
The Vikings would be the one team from that list that is in desperate need for a tackle, but they already gave up their 1st round pick in the 2017 draft for Sam Bradford and I can’t imagine them dumping their 2nd round pick for a 30 year old left tackle. I’d almost think it makes more sense for them to take a flier on a veteran like Ryan Clady or Michael Oher for a lower draft pick and cost and hoping those players can turn their season around. Minnesota would need to create cap space for pretty much any trade but for players of that level it would be far easier than for Staley or Thomas.
It is doubtful the Rams are ready to give up on Greg Robinson but they are slowly falling out of the playoff race and finding a way to improve their line would certainly help the team. There would also be a long term benefit to it as they will be turning to Jared Goff at some point this year or next and they need better play along the line before they make that switch. Any move on the line could also help get a better ROI on Todd Gurley who has struggled to have the impact he had last season. The Rams have a ton of cap room next year so they could handle the restructure of a contract to make the player fit. Id call them an outside landing spot for Thomas but I could see the logic with the young QB waiting in the wings and no real help on the horizon. I cant see SF and the Rams agreeing to a deal.
The Seahawks should have more than enough space to make a move as long as they are comfortable with being pretty tight on cap space for the rest of the year. Like with the Rams I would think Thomas is the only guy in play due to Staley being in the same division and Im not sure Seattle will want to pick up that bill. While they have made some blockbuster trades in the past for skill talent, the Seahawks have pretty much run away from players on the offensive line once their rookie contract has expired. They could have signed Russell Okung for $6 million this year and didn’t do so. While Thomas is a better and more reliable player than Okung I am not sure if they will effectively sink the same cost now.
The Giants seem firm on Ereck Flowers as their left tackle, but the team would be better overall if Flowers moved to the right and they slotted in a better left tackle. Flowers has struggled in pass protection which is not what a team with Eli Manning needs. Either player would improve the passing game and Flowers should have a positive impact in both run and pass playing the other side. The Giants have spent a lot of money this offseason and missing the playoffs would be a disaster. If the GM is fighting for his job he should spend a 2nd round pick on an upgrade as he wont be around to make that pick next year if they miss out. Im not sure if there is a team that makes more sense to do this trade.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.