It’s been a wild few days in the NFL and with so many transactions I haven’t been able to really sit down and write much on it besides some tweets on the topics, but with the cutdowns drawing to a close I thought it would be a good time to write on a few of the bigger topics of the weekend.
Texans Go Insane with Trades
The Texans have no general manager and are being steered by a committee of sorts that I assume is headed by their head coach. The two big trades which saw them trade away star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney for a 3rd round pick and some spare parts and then hours later give up two 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick and some players for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills trade a few hours later, just reminds me of why the NFL moved away from the head coach essentially having all the authority in an organization. While GM’s are certainly on a hot seat, and that seat can get pretty hot, for the most part the traditional GM can at least take some kind of big picture overview of a situation. The coach, more often than not, does not focusing on immediate returns and minimizing distractions while giving no consideration to the future.
Despite the fact that Clowney was upset with the Texans organization he really had no options but to return to the team this year on the franchise tag. The Texans are flush with cap space and paying Clowney his $16 million tender should have been no issue. If he held out the season the Texans simply tag him again in 2020 and then restart the trading process when they can sell a team on being able to sign Clowney to a contract extension.
This past offseason we saw two franchise pass rushers traded- Dee Ford and Frank Clark. The return on Clark was a 1st and 2nd round pick while Ford netted a 2nd rounder. While you can argue the pros and cons of Clowney he is a higher regarded player than both of those two and at a minimum should have received a 2nd round pick in a trade. By trading him next year they still would have received their pick in the 2020 draft so its not like it would have cost them a year. They could have at least insisted on a condition that would increase the value of the draft pick if Clowney remained in Seattle in 2020 but they did not do that either.
While the team had no leverage in where they could send Clowney this year and they were limited because another team cant extend him until January, a third round pick is just so low. Last year in the middle of the season the Rams traded for pass rusher Dante Fowler who had fallen out of favor in Jacksonville. The Rams gave up a 3 and a 5 for a mid season rental who was scheduled to be a free agent the same as Clowney. Seattle gets a better player for a full year for just a 3 and some players who were likely non-factors this season for the team anyway.
The news went from bad to worse for the Texans when it was then reported that they not only traded Clowney for just a 3rd round pick but paid the Seahawks $7 million to do it. Teams do prepay contracts for players to jumpstart a trade but that is usually done because the player is grossly overpaid and the team is just desperate to make a move. Clowney on the open market is worth over $20 million a year and was a bargain at $16 million for the season. It is just panic from a coach they likely didn’t want the trouble of inserting him back into the lineup during the season.
Houston’s thought process here is just terrible. A few short weeks ago in a desperate mode to add to their backfield the Texans worked out a trade for Duke Johnson who was basically in the doghouse in Cleveland because they had so many other players they now liked better than him. Johnson was basically rotting on the Browns bench because there was no spot for him and publically asked for a trade. For a running back to, at the time, split snaps with Lamar Miller the Texans gave up a 3rd round pick for Johnson if he is healthy for most of the year (it’s a 4th if he is not or is inactive for a portion of the year). It was really no different of a situation and for a much easier to replace position yet the Texans got strong armed into giving up a 3rd for him.
Things then got laughable when the team gave up their next two drafts for Tunsil. The Texans left tackle situation has been a disaster since they traded Duane Brown because of a contract dispute and disagreements over his stance on the anthem. Brown eventually signed an extension with the Seahawks for $11.5 million a season. Rather than attempting to fix the line through the draft the Texans disregarded it (this goes on their former GM not the current group) and looked for name value in free agency signing Matt Kalil who had been cut from the Panthers after a few injury plagued poor seasons. Panic again set it.
While Tunsil is a good player, maybe even a great player, the cost is far too high to ever pay for a tackle. They essentially gave up what you would give up for a star quarterback prospect. To make matters worse they did not have the vision to negotiate an extension before making this trade. Generally when you make a trade of this magnitude, such as the Bears trade for Khalil Mack, you work out a contract ahead of time with the player to maintain some type of market leverage. Had the Texans done this they likely would have extended Tunsil at a cost of around $17 million a season.
Now Tunsil should have no reason to sign for that number. The Texans organization can not, under any circumstance, allow the player they gave this all up for to simply walk away after two years. The way they botched the Clowney situation should also give him all the ability to just say Ill get to the tag and then see what happens. There is no reason that Tunsil should not be able to get $20 million a year from Houston at this point because of what they did here. At the least this trade, seeing what they gave up, should have been done in early August just to get everyone time to work together and toward a new deal.
Stills is little more than a throw in and is probably a 4th receiver in Houston that will provide them peace of mind if some of their other receivers get hurt again. Like the players received in the Clowney trade there is limited value there.
About the only way that this works out for the Texans is if they make the Super Bowl between now and 2021, which is the final year of Deshaun Watson’s rookie contract. Their lack of ammunition in the draft and poor use of resources should make this a very unappealing job for any general manager. The team has tons of cap space to use but generally has not been aggressive in free agency but they will need to be if they want to improve the team in the future. I’m not sure if they will really be that way seeing how they have handled these last few weeks.
The Views From the Other Side
At just $9 million for Clowney this is a steal for the Seahawks. While they did have to give Clowney a no tag provision for next season the cost is so low it doesn’t matter. The Seahawks offseason planning, unlike Houstons, has been brilliant. They were able to get the two draft picks for Clark and replaced him with Ziggy Ansah and Clowney for pretty much the same price that it would have cost for Clark alone on the tag. So in a sense you could say that they spun Clark and a 3rd for a 1st, a 2nd, Ansah and Clowney. That’s great management of resources.
While there is a chance that Seattle will recover their pick for Clowney through the compensatory process if he does not re-sign I’d put that at 50-50 only because they have a lot of cap room next year and one would expect them to continue to be active with their roster. Still they have a chance to recover that pick later on.
For Miami this is a steal. They were able to dump Kenny Stills salary as part of the trade and avoid paying him his $3 million guarantee if they cut him which was likely. Each of the draft picks, based on our studies of the draft, should give the Dolphins about a 40% chance of hitting on a $10M+ player. So the odds are strongly in their favor of at the least replacing Tunsil with a similar caliber player and have a good chance of doing much more.
Miami is clearly in a tear down mode. They will likely end up with $50 million in dead money on the books this season but will be staring at over $100 million in cap room and a ton of draft picks in 2020 and 2021 to try to fix the mess they have. They have one of the least talented rosters on paper in modern NFL history and Im sure some are upset with the tanking aspect of the season.
I don’t like tanking on the NFL and there is no reason to say it works for any team. The NFL draft, unlike the NBA draft, is generally not dependent on having a top pick since there is so much value outside of the top 10. The lone exception is at the QB position where you have to be high to get one. The problem is unlike the NBA where most years there is a high level prospect the QB being available is still a 50/50 kind of proposition.
That said while the message to the locker room with the trade and other cuts is not a good one there is not one person that can objectively say the Dolphins should not have traded their left tackle for so many draft picks. Its just a no brainer in terms of value vs impact.
Running Back Holdouts Continue
The Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon holdouts continue and look to be ready to go into the regular season. Since 2011 only 16 running backs have signed a four year or longer contract worth at least $7 million a season. Those players are Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, LeVeon Bell, LeSean McCoy (twice), Arian Foster, DeAngelo Williams, Devonta Freeman, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Jerick McKinnon, Jonathan Stewart, Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles, and Ray Rice. Of that list Peterson, McCoy, Lynch, Charles and maybe Forte are probably the only ones to not disappoint on the deals. Foster was great when healthy but health was a concern. The jury is out on Gurley and Bell. Needless to say it’s a risky proposition when you look at those names and how many fared.
The Chargers came out with a statement saying there will be no more talks with Gordon about a new deal. Gordon can be fined a significant amount as an option player with losses of $30K per day missed of camp plus a weeks salary for each preseason game he missed. Often some of those fines are forgiven when the two sides make up but this sounded more ominous. Former Jets and Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum made a good point on twitter that you want to avoid these holdouts and one way to do it is enforce these fines which just adds another layer to it.
Elliott can also be fined and he does also have bonus money at risk but those two sides have been working more on a deal so I doubt that happens unless this really drags on. It’s a tough one for Dallas here because the market for Bell was so weak that is hard for them to justify the Gurley contract as anything but an outlier.
The compromise there is probably just doing a longer term deal with a favorable vesting guarantee schedule. If they do that they can hit whatever APY metric he wants while protecting themselves in the event he is one of the lesser names on the list of highly paid running backs.
Bears Extend Cody Whitehair
Brad wrote about Whitehair the other day and was pretty close to where this one came in with Whitehair signed a five year, $52.5 million extension with $27.5 million guaranteed. My guess is some think that the annual value on this is a little light given how he played last year but that was likely made up for with the guarantee being on the high side.
The Bears will now move into their next phase with the salary cap where their space is going to get very limited and they will be faced with harder decisions moving forward. They have the luxury of a cheap QB for a few more seasons but may be facing a crunch similar to the Vikings where a number of higher priced players do begin to put pressure on the bottom line. I could see the Bears following a model like the Rams where they look to exploit trades in the future to keep adding talent.
Browns release and re-sign Greg Robinson
I thought this would be good to write about because people wondered why you would do this. Generally at this time of year teams look to protect players from waivers if possible and turning a 53 man into a 54 or 55 man roster. You may have a player you want on the practice squad but don’t want to expose him to the first wave of waiver claims when teams are more aggressive. Or you may need to hold a spot for an injured player so he can be eligible to return later in the season (a player must be on the initial roster if he is to be eligible for IRDFR). What you do to protect the players from waivers is to release a veteran who is not exposed to waivers and simply re-sign him once you can make the other move you want. The vet knows he is coming back so there is no concern at all on his end.
The odd thing here is that usually you make this move with a player on a minimum salary contract, as the Seahawks did with Geno Smith, because those players have a limited market in the NFL. While you promise to take the player back they are free to sign elsewhere which is why you would normally not do this with a player like Robinson who is the teams projected starting left tackle. It probably says something about the relationship that the two sides have but also about how Robinson is viewed around the NFL that you are confident nobody would sign him. Robinson did sign one of the more surprising deals of the offseason. Expectations are high for the Browns who have a great group of skill guys and a young talented defense but there are probably concerns about their offensive line and this should further illustrate those concerns.
Bills Cut LeSean McCoy
McCoy was probably the biggest name cut of the weekend and he quickly landed with the Chiefs on a $3 million deal. Why the Bills even brought McCoy to camp should be the question that is being asked. Had McCoy been hurt the Bills would have been responsible for his $6.175M salary on the season. McCoy struggled last year and while some of that was probably due to the offensive line there was also no way the Bills were going to showcase McCoy in hopes they could find a trade partner at that salary. He should have been cut months ago to minimize the risk.
As for the Chiefs this seems more like a sentimental pick up by Andy Reid than anything else. McCoy did torch the Jets in a game last year so there is still probably a chance for a game here and there and maybe that is all the Chiefs need. McCoy has proved people like me wrong before though so maybe he will do so again.
Making the Move to Full Season Accounting
Now that the regular season is upon us we have updated our cap tables to reflect the regular season accounting where the full roster rather than just the top 51 players count on the cap. So if you saw the cap room for your favorite team drop by millions overnight that is why. The cap is very fluid this time of year with many teams working on injury settlements, restructures, and extensions so if you see a team over the cap it’s just because we don’t have that information yet. So if you have anything to share on recent deals or see any mistakes please let us know so we can update it. Thanks again for all the support and we’ll hopefully be adding some new features this year that some of you may enjoy.
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.