Its been a big two days of free agency and there are plenty of things to discuss, but I wanted to take a little chance today to talk about the very surprising Browns trade for Brock Osweiler. Im a bit late to the party on this one but with the volume of contracts coming in I haven’t had the time to really talk much about the news, but this was the one I found the most interesting. This was something I had spoken about on the podcast a bit and answered in some Twitter Q&A that the only way to move his salary was to give up a draft pick (I assumed a 1 at the time) but doubted anyone would seriously do that. So I was surprised as anyone to see the Browns agree to basically acquire a 3rd rounder for taking on a bad contract. Now they supposedly would like to pay some of his salary and flip him for another draft choice, which I think also seems unlikely, but you never know. So let’s explore the concepts behind this trade.
While I believe this is the first time that anyone has so overtly traded cap room for a draft pick, this concept is not exclusive to this trade. In the past those spots were reserved for draft choices who turned out to be busts that were signed to large contracts with no NFL track record. Unless the player was JaMarcus Russell level bad you could often find someone to take a flier on a player as long as you made it cheap enough by paying almost all of the players remaining guaranteed salary.
Ive been on the record before that I think Osweiler’s market value is around $3-4 million and maybe a touch higher if you moved him to a QB starved team, which the Browns certainly are. Those teams know that the upside is limited but there is at least some chance of a change of scenery working out. As long as the price is below market it may be worth a chance. Here is how a normal trade for an Osweiler would have worked out
Texans Trade: Brock Osweiler
Browns Trade: conditional 7th round pick and $2.5 million in cash
Basically what would have happened is that the Browns would relieve the Texans of about $2.5M of the sunk cost and give them a 7th round pick to make the trade official. This is still basically a trade for cash its just that the cash is considered the value of the player.
But in this trade they agreed to take on the entire sunk cost and asked for something in return which is different. The actual trade worked out as:
Texans Trade: Brock Osweiler, 6th round pick, 2nd round pick in 2018
Browns Trade: 4th round pick and $16 million in cash
So if we cancel out the constants we would get the following
Texans Trade: 6th round pick, 2nd round pick in 2018, conditional 7th pick
Browns Trade: 4th round pick and $14.5 million in cash
While Im not the biggest believer in the traditional draft value chart if we slot in the Texans trading the 64th pick, 188th pick, and the last pick in the draft they gave up 288.2 points and received 35 points back, giving the Browns a net gain of 253 points. Basically it boils down to paying $14.5 million for an early 3rd round draft pick. That seems pretty excessive.
Granted the Browns have a ton of cap room and maybe they see this as the only way to get better but there are probably more creative and cheaper ways to get a 3rd round draft pick.
Ironically I think we can go back to a trade that the Browns engineered a few years ago to see how a better model can work. The Browns had selected Trent Richardson with the 3rd pick in the draft in 2012 and pretty much felt he was a bust. They had already paid the majority of his $20.5M contract as a signing bonus (13.3M) in 2012 so the Colts, blinded by Richardson’s draft cache, thought they were getting a great player on the cheap. They traded a first round pick for Richardson’s remaining contract. Now not everyone will have that kind of situation to work with but it can give a framework.
NFL general managers are always fascinated with players with perceived value that they were unable to acquire in the past either because of lack of cap room or draft picks. Finding ways to exploit that can be the best way to achieve what the Browns were hoping to achieve here. The Eagles in my mind are the best at doing this.
The Eagles are spenders in free agency and they aim relatively high. When things don’t work out to well they aggressively pursue trades. The Eagles have prepaid enough of a contract in the first year to make the contract, which a team could not have signed in free agency, reasonable to absorb. This has kind of given the Eagles the best of both worlds. They take a shot at a talented player to see if he fits in their system and then obtain draft picks for the player the following year. Basically they are using the first year’s salary as an option cost to try the player out.
The Browns had more than enough resources to spend big in free agency, taking a one year flier on a player, knowing full well if the staff doesn’t like him they can flip him for a 3rd or 4th rounder. I’d say that would be cheaper by a few million, with how much depending on position, than what they did here. They could go after the highest level talent and spin that into something as well.
If there is immediate draft capital needed there are ways to use free agency to do that. There was a discussion about this on Football Perspective once where the concept was using a team like the Browns as a middleman to get a player you really wanted. For example lets say the Chiefs, who don’t have much cap room, desperately wanted Stephon Gilmore. They have no avenue to acquire that player and would be in a desperate position. If the Browns sign Gilmore, pay him a $14.5 million signing bonus and then trade him the Chiefs only need to account for $8.5 million this year and $50.5M total over five years. Would a desperate team give up a 1 in that situation? There are going to be teams who would do that for the chance to get the star they didn’t think they could have.
Would I do that if I was in charge of a team? Probably not because the cost is going to be greater than the expected value of the draft pick but I can see the logic in doing that especially when you are a team looking to acquire as much young talent as possible to better the team. I mean afterall every team wastes millions of dollars on bad signings anyway such as the Browns waste on RG3 last year. So if you are going to spend it anyway you may as well swing for the fences in the draft. But this just seems like way too much for a 3rd round pick.
Now if this trade helps them somehow land their QB of the future, whether that’s in a trade with the Patriots or someone else, maybe I’ll look at it differently, though I cant see them flipping Osweiler again but maybe it happens. It was those Eagles trades last season that allowed them to get Carson Wentz and taken separately they didn’t amount to much. Maybe this will be the same and they saw this as the only way to do it.
If that is indeed the end game for the Browns I think this trade, as well as some of the recent contracts given out for quarterbacks, should lead to a reopening of a discussion on a rookie wage scale. This is a completely different topic, but teams clearly have no issues paying a gigantic price, both in cash and draft capital, for the chance to land a franchise QB. The dud QBs of the past became poster boys for why a wage scale was needed, but the more I look at this and the way draft picks are treated the more I think the NFL just looked for an easy way out because they had lost control of the process.
While the QBs were the poster boys the real issues were paying a safety or a defensive tackle like a quarterback. That was the fault of the people negotiating the contracts who gave up far too much to the agents. Those salaries could have been used to increase positional valuations across the NFL and that’s gone now. If the Browns are willing to pay $14 million for a 3rd round pick and the Bears willing to give $19 million to Mike Glennon maybe some of those high draft picks should be getting the potential to earn more. We’ll talk about that more at draft time.
So anyway let me know what you think of the Browns trade? Worth it or not? And if its worth it is it worth it for the Browns or would you recommend any team do it.
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.