The Saints made a pretty interesting acquisition today, making a move for 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander for Kiko Alonso and a conditional fifth round draft pick. Alexander was one of the prize free agent signings of the 49ers in 2019, signing a very stunning (at least to me), four year, $54 million contract. Just a season and a half later and he is now a Saint.
I really like this move for New Orleans who is clearly all in on this season. The team is facing an absolute salary cap nightmare for 2021 and may have no quarterback on the roster other than Taysom Hill to boot so doing anything in their power to get better makes sense. Alexander has Pro Bowl talent if healthy which is always a big if when it comes to Alexander.
The Saints will not pick up much salary with the move. Alexander has $2.64 million in base salary remaining on his contract in 2020 and another $420K in potential roster bonuses that he can earn. So if things work out the team will only owe $3.06 million for what they hope will be a Super Bowl run. By trading Alonso, who has been on PUP all season, they also shed $900,000 in salary cap space making this at most a $2.2 million risk. We estimated that the Saints had $7.4 million in cap space before this trade so there is still room to add more if they can find a player they want.
Alexander has no guarantees in his contract for 2021 (there is a vesting injury guarantee which basically offers no protection) so the $13.4 million cost that this will have for 2021 is meaningless since they can walk away with no issue. If he plays great they could look to recover the 5th round pick, but most likely this will be a player who is released come March. There is $0 dead money for the Saints if cut.
For San Francisco this is more about fixing a mistake and getting some cap relief at the same time. This contract really surprised me when it came down because Alexander was hurt all the time. He had only played 12 games in 2015, 11 games in 2017 and 6 games in 2018 and that kind of history should never lead to a $13.5M a year contract for a linebacker. Not surprisingly Alexander only appeared in 8 games last season and then just 5 games this year. The 49ers wound up paying Alexander $23.562 million for just 13 games across 1 1/2 seasons, an uncharacteristically big blunder for one of the best front offices in the NFL.
The team had tinkered with the contract last year for cap relief so there is a good deal of dead money affiliated with the contract. Alexander will count for $4.86 million in cap charges this year and $6.91 million in dead money next year. By making the trade they will save the $2.2 million in net cap costs mentioned above when discussing the Saints.
Prior to the trade we estimated that the 49ers would be right at the salary cap limit for 2021 if the salary cap winds up being $176 million so now they should be at $10.3 million in effective cap space. The 49ers can save close to $30 million next year if they bail on Jimmy Garoppolo and Dee Ford next season and begin to retool the team around their more productive core players.
Given where each team stands for this year and next I like this for both teams. The 49ers get a little cap relief and maybe a draft pick for a player who was going to be cut while the Saints dont take on too much salary for a player who may help the defense in crunch time.
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.