The final days before this year's trading deadline started with a bang and ended with a whimper. On Monday, the Broncos traded outside linebacker Von Miller to the Rams for 2022 second- and third-round picks. The Broncos reportedly converted $9 million of the Super Bowl 50 MVP's remaining $9,722,222 2021 base salary into signing bonus prior to the trade, which means the Rams only have a $722,222 salary cap charge to acquire him. He is in a contract year.
Miller being moved was the only 11th-hour trade of major consequence before the deadline. It's the type of deal MLB and NBA teams are more willing to make for what is perceived to be a missing piece to better make a championship run.
Here are three of trades that should have been explored before the deadline that may have improved a team's chances to make the postseason or go on a deep playoff run. The financial ramifications of the moves are highlighted. Salary cap space is based off NFLPA data.
An acquiring team would have needed enough salary cap room to absorb the remainder of the player's current salary unless the original team was willing to eat salary like the Broncos in Miller's case. Since the trades would have occurred after Week 8, the acquiring team would have been responsible for 10/18ths of a player's 2021 base salary and any other applicable salary components in his contract.
The salary cap situations around the league weren't ideal for trades. The teams with the most existing cap room like the Jaguars and Eagles aren't playoff contenders. Most of the contending teams have very limited cap space.
I had a Browns/Saints trade idea centered around a swap of wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Michael Thomas that was scrapped with Thomas now being out for the season because of a setback in his recovery from ankle surgery. A standalone trade of Beckham to the Saints didn't seem feasible. The Saints have just over $710,000 in cap room, which would have required the Browns to convert almost $7.5 million of Beckham's remaining $8,055,556 2021 base salary to signing bonus before a trade and increased the amount of draft capital the Browns would have wanted in return. Every conceivable contract that would have been a source of significant 2021 cap room has already been restructured by the Saints.
Trades can't be executed again until the 2022 league year begins on March 16.
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Texans WR Brandin Cooks (and 2023 fifth-rounder) to Raiders
Trade compensation: 2022 second-round pick
Remaining 2021 Salary: $1,830,066 (Texans 2021 salary cap savings)
Raiders 2021 cap room: $2.535 million
Texans 2022 dead money: $7.5 million ($8,735,294 salary cap savings)
The Raiders would have needed to act quickly after 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III's car accident early Tuesday morning in which the driver of the other vehicle was killed. Ruggs is facing felony charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol resulting in death and reckless driving. He was travelling at 156 miles per hour before the crash with a blood alcohol content of .161, which is slightly more than twice the legal limit. The Raiders have released Ruggs.
Cooks, who has been traded three times in his eight-year NFL career, expressed displeasure last week after learning running back Mark Ingram had been dealt to the Saints. With a 1-6 record and clearly in a rebuilding mode, the Texans shouldn't have had any qualms about parting with their best skill-position player. Cooks was acquired from the Rams last year, along with a 2020 fourth-round pick, for a 2020 second-round pick.
The Raiders are currently sitting atop the AFC West with a 5-2 record in an already challenging season. Head coach Jon Gruden resigned three weeks ago after racially insensitive, homophobic and misogynistic emails he sent while as an ESPN employee surfaced.
Cooks' remaining 2021 compensation consists of $1,388,889 in base salary, $294,118 of per game active roster bonuses and a $147,059 bonus for being on the roster for the 17th game. Ten million of Cooks' $12.5 million base was converted to signing bonus in March while his 2023 contract year was made voidable and a 2024 contract year was added for proration purposes. He is scheduled to make an unguaranteed $13,735,294 in 2022 comprised of a $12.5 million base salary, $500,000 in per game roster bonuses and a $735,294 17th game roster bonus.
Giants TE Evan Engram to Packers
Trade compensation: Conditional 2022 fifth-round pick
Remaining 2021 salary: $3,340,556 (Giants 2021 salary cap savings)
Packers 2021 salary cap room: $3.71 million
Giants 2022 dead money: None (expiring contract/fifth-year option)
The Packers starting tight end Robert Tonyan was lost for the season in a Week 8 victory over the Cardinals with a torn ACL in his left knee. Zach Ertz may have made sense if the Eagles hadn't already dealt him to the Cardinals for a 2022 fifth-round pick and cornerback Tay Gowan, a 2021 sixth-round pick, after Maxx Williams' knee injury five games into the season. Engram would have helped fill the void created by Tonyan's injury since Green Bay doesn't have another experienced tight end besides 37-year-old Marcedes Lewis, who has operated primarily as an inline blocker.
Engram is playing under a $6.013 million fifth-year option and may not be in the Giants' future plans. He hasn't lived up to the potential that made him 2017's 23rd overall pick despite being selected to the Pro Bowl last season, which was aided by injuries to Ertz and George Kittle.
The Packers are 7-1 in what could be reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers' final season in Green Bay. The fifth-round pick would have changed to a 2022 fourth-round pick with the Packers winning Super Bowl LVI.
Bears DT Akiem Hicks to Chargers
Trade compensation: 2022 fifth-round pick
Remaining 2021 salary: $5,777,778 (Bears 2021 salary cap savings)
Chargers 2021 salary cap room: $10.37 million
Bears 2022 dead money: None (expiring contract)
The Chargers' run defense is atrocious. It's giving up a league-worst 159.4 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Hicks' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was given permission to seek a trade in March when the 2021 league year began. Surprisingly, Rosenhaus reportedly approached the Bears about extending Hicks' contract during the preseason despite him wanting a change of scenery earlier.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has familiarity with Hicks. He was Chicago's outside linebacker coach in 2017 and 2018. The proposed compensation is consistent with what the Giants got from the Lions in 2018 for trading defensive tackle Damon Harrison during the middle of the season.