Valuing the Cowboys and Texans Trade

The big trade today came down between the Cowboys and Texans where the Cowboys traded away a 5th and 6th round pick for WR Brandin Cooks of the Texans. As is usual with veteran player trades there are all kind of varying opinions on compensation so I just wanted to share a method that I have fiddled around with when evaluating trades like this.

Most people are familiar with the Fitzgerald/Spielberger draft chart that Brad and I came up with a few years ago and probably somewhat familiar with the trade calculator Nick built for OTC, but I think sometimes some things get a little lost in the shuffle. One of the things that I thought was cool about the trade value chart we came up with is that while it does assign static points to a draft pick it also is structured in a way to allow you to calculate the average return in salary that you can expect for each draft pick. For example a blind draft pick at number 1 would expect to bring you a layer worth about $18.6M a year. We can adjust that based on position to get the real value of the eventual pick, such as a QB having an expected value of $46.5M a year.  I believe this is the way that we can utilize the charts better to value veteran contract trades.

First lets look at the trade from the Texans perspective.  What did the Texans gain?  Most might say they just gained a 5th and 6th round pick, but there is more. Cooks salary was guaranteed for the year and while the Texans spent $6 million to move him they ultimately saved $12 million by getting Dallas to take on that part of the contract. That is $12 million that can be used to sign other players. In addition to losing Cooks they do also have to account for the costs associated with the draft picks, which reduces the financial savings from Cooks. While the guaranteed figure is low for these draft picks I will use the four year investment here as the total cost to make things a little easier. Here is the breakdown.

Texans Receive4 Year Value
Round 5 Value$10,542,568
Round 6 Value$8,314,268
Cooks Saved Cap$12,000,000
Lost Cap Room- Pick 5($4,069,944)
Lost Cap Room- Pick 6($3,951,469)
Total Gain$22,835,423

From Dallas perspective they are gaining a player who they value as being worth $12.5 million, which is the salary they were willing to take on as part of the trade. They do gain cap room by moving the draft picks off the team which should also be accounted for in the analysis.

Cowboys Receive4 Year Value
Brandin Cooks$12,500,000
Gained Cap Room- Round 5$4,069,944
Gained Cap Room- Round 6$3,951,469
Total Gain$20,521,413

Over a 4 year period the trade skews slightly in favor of the Texans by about $2.3 million, which is a pretty even trade considering that on a per year basis that would be the value of a player bouncing on and off the roster all season.

Now the timing on the return is very different for both teams. Realistically the savings on Cooks wont really factor in for the Texans until 2024 and their draft picks will contribute more in 2024 and 2025 than they will in the present. Dallas gets almost all their value from the trade in 2023 unless Cooks proves to be very productive. If he does the trade would strongly favor Dallas because they would get two rather than one year of higher end production. The danger for Dallas is if Cooks does not mesh with the offense and they do not get that $12.5M of value from him.

Even if Cooks blows up that doesn’t make the trade bad for the Texans. Cooks had no value left to them. They made a mistake extending him last year and probably should have traded him when they had the chance last season. Him producing more doesn’t make it a bad trade given their relationship with him. The value they brought in remains constant.  Really all it means is that they should have found a way to focus on him more last season to make him appear more valuable to a team like Dallas. That is where the evaluation should come down if this looks bad for them by the end of the 2023 season. The risk for the Texans is also lower since Cooks was not a part of the plan. The $12M in savings is firm. If the draft picks dont pan out they still got those $12M in savings and the investment in those players is less than shown since the only guarantee is the signing bonus.