Bill Barnwell, formerly of Football Outsiders and currently of Grantland, published his second annual NFL Trade Value column this week. Part I can be found here, and Part II can be found here. Even if you disagree with Barnwell's conclusions, it's an entertaining read. The analysis is done within the following framework:
1. Contracts matter. Mike Wallace is a better receiver than Randall Cobb, but Wallace just signed a five-year contract that guarantees him $27 million, while the Packers have Cobb under contract for two more years at a total cost of less than $1.9 million.
2. Contracts don't matter as much as they do in the NBA version of this column. NBA contracts are guaranteed and clearly defined. NFL contracts have nonguaranteed base salaries and bonuses that are often paid early in a deal, even as the cap hit stretches across the length of the deal. Those bonuses then accelerate onto the current cap in the event of a trade, but the team can also get out of the contract without having to pay the nonguaranteed base salaries if they wa— you're falling asleep. Wake up. For the purposes of this column, we're considering both the specific nature of the current point in the player's contract (e.g., Matt Ryan having just one year left on his contract) as well as the broader terms of the entire contract (e.g., the entirety of Ryan's deal).
3. Age matters. Tom Brady is an incredible quarterback, but when he made his way into the Patriots lineup in 2001, Robert Griffin III was in sixth grade. Remember the golden rule of NFL contracts: You don't value a player for what he's done, you value him for what he's going to do. That's in play here.
4. Pretend that every team can fit each player on this list within their cap and that they have a below-average starter at the position in question. The Broncos aren't going to deal Von Miller for Cam Newton because they have Peyton Manning, even though that trade would happen in a heartbeat if Brock Osweiler were starting in Denver.5. Positional scarcity matters. Quarterbacks are more valuable than pass rushers, who are more valuable than wide receivers, who are more valuable than interior linemen. When in doubt, we looked at how organizations valued top players at each position when re-signing their own or shopping in free agency.
6. It's a question of degree. The Steelers might not trade Ben Roethlisberger for Russell Wilson, but they'd have to give the possibility of acquiring a younger, cheaper, healthier guy some thought. The Seahawks would hang up on the Steelers if they called and offered Roethlisberger for Wilson.
7. This list runs in reverse order. If Patrick Willis is 25th on the list, the 49ers would probably at least consider dealing him for one of the first 24 players on the list, but they wouldn't bother having much of a conversation for players 26 through 50.
I write this post not to take exception with Barnwell's rankings. I write this post to discuss some of the comments Barnwell makes while discussing Houston's own J.J. Watt. Specifically, this part of the Watt commentary:
Wouldn't Brady-for-Watt be the perfect escape route from the Brady era for the Patriots? If the Patriots had a legitimate backup quarterback (they don't now), I really think Bill Belichick would go for it. Watt's on a rookie contract, he's the most destructive lineman in a generation, and Brady's 36 years old. My guess is that Belichick treats Watt's game tape like porn. I also think the Texans would trade Watt for Brady if they had let Matt Schaub go this past offseason, but they would have to spend more time thinking about it than the Patriots would.
I do not think your Houston Texans would trade J.J. Watt for Tom Brady. J.J. Watt is 24 years old. J.J. Watt is entering the third year of a four year rookie contract. J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL. While even the most fervent Matt Schaub defender would admit that Tom Brady constitutes a rather sizable upgrade at QB in such a scenario, going from Schaub to Brady would not come anywhere close to offsetting the negative impact of going from Watt to another DE in Wade Phillips' 3-4. Not only would I not trade J.J. Watt for Tom Brady, I wouldn't take more than five seconds to reject such a proposal summarily.
A buddy of mine read Barnwell's analysis and took it a step further. "Could you envision trading J.J. Watt for any single player in the NFL right now?" I thought about it. No. No, I could not. Not that there aren't players out there who might tempt me (e.g., Aaron Rodgers). But right now? With Watt still on his rookie contract? I don't think there's a better value out there, and certainly not one that would improve the Texans enough to offset the loss of J.J. Watt. Additionally, it stands to reason that any such trade would surely involve a QB, and we return to the issue addressed while pondering an upgrade to Brady from Schaub. Would such an upgrade--say, from Schaub to Rodgers--be fantastic enough to offset the shift down from Watt to another DE, thus considerably improving the Texans on the whole? I say no.
All of this is not to say I could never envision a scenario where I'd trade J.J. Watt. That rookie contract is going to expire, and the Texans are going to have to sign Watt to a mega-deal. If J.J. wants to become the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, it's going to happen. So if we're talking about a deal that exceeds what Mario Williams got in Buffalo, a gigantic portion of the Texans' resources and cap space would be tied up in a single player. At that point, trading J.J. (hypothetically, of course) becomes much more palatable. Probably still not for a single player, but for a package of draft picks? Something in the vein of what the Rams got for the second overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft? I'd have to think awfully hard about that. I weep at the thought of the Houston Texans without J.J. Watt, but if he was the highest paid defensive player in NFL history and the Texans had the opportunity to add multiple premium draft picks? I dare say I'd pull the trigger.
What say you? Am I a heretic? Am I valuing J.J. Watt too highly, or not highly enough?