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The Brock Osweiler Trade Is Bad: An Analysis

The Texans’ trade of Brock Osweiler was rad, and then it became bad.

Divisional Round - Houston Texans v New England Patriots
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Two months ago, the Brock Osweiler trade was genius and spectacular. Today the Brock Osweiler trade is dumb as hell.

To rehash, on March 9th, Houston sent Brock Osweiler, a 2018 second round pick, and a 2017 sixth round pick to Cleveland in exchange for one of Cleveland’s 2017 fourth round picks. The trade saved Houston $10 million in cap space, $16 million in cash this season, and plucked the worst starting quarterback from the league off their roster. Cleveland, rolling in cap space, purchased a draft pick and continued rebuilding by acquiring as many picks as possible.

This trade was beautiful at first. An exultation. A jubilation. Osweiler was off the Texans. His contract was gone. Houston moved on forward into the future without their cap space poisoned by Osweiler’s dead money.

The baffling part is Houston has done nothing with the cap space they created before or after the trade was made. Rick Smith said the skeleton of the trade was arranged during late night pillow talks with Sashi Brown during the NFL Combine. The biggest unrestricted free agent Houston had at that time was A.J. Bouye. Bouye was the team’s best defensive back last year, starring on their best unit. Smith allegedly knew about the Osweiler trade before free agency opened, yet he opted not to re-sign Bouye or franchise tag him, despite having the cap space to do either. As a result, the strength of Houston’s defense in 2016, the secondary, lost a valuable piece from a unit facing questions regarding Johnathan Joseph’s age, the still empty strong safety spot, Kareem Jackson’s shaky 2016 season, and Kevin Johnson’s foot. Now it looks like it will be up to the front seven to make up for the secondary’s potential drop-off.

After the trade was completed, Houston resigned Shane Lechler, Nick Novak, and Ryan Griffin. They also signed their rookie class (except D’Onta Foreman at the time of this post) and the very bad Breno Giacomini. Aside from the rookie class, each signing was a various shade of questionable. Houston didn’t sign a single free agent with the potential to start. Now the free agency pool has been picked through, with only scraps and bones remaining.

Cap space is only valuable if you use it. Houston has $28,700,555 remaining in cap space and no way to upgrade the roster with it. For a team attempting to compete and contend, it’s insane that Houston has left starting options on the table by not making a move. Both strong safety and right tackle could have been filled with this money. All of those opportunities are gone now. Right now the best remaining free agent option is probably Elvis Dumervil, a possible bullpen pass rusher. The only options left are veteran additions who may be able to contribute in specific roles. These are signings Houston didn’t need to trade Osweiler away to make.

So I’m confused. I don’t understand this trade at all today. I understood it then. I don’t understand it now. What Houston ended up doing was trading a second round pick for goodwill, for the idea that they were able to move on from Osweiler successfully, when in reality they gave away assets without accomplishing anything at all. The entire point of the trade was to create cap space to improve the roster. Rick Smith said the same thing after the trade was announced:

“We are committed to bringing a championship to the city of Houston. We are exhaustive in our efforts and the resources provided by the McNair family allow us to operate that way. We continuously evaluate our decisions and processes to ensure the results match our goals and objectives. The decision to trade Brock was made because it was in the best interest of the team. It frees up both cash and salary cap room to continue to improve our football team. We appreciate Brock’s effort and leadership while he was with us and we wish him and his family well."

Houston made a trade for something they never used. The greatest benefit of the trade has been wasted. There are five benefits for this trade aside from cap space, and none of them really make the trade worth it either.

1.) It Removes Osweiler From the Team.

Osweiler was the worst full-time starting quarterback in the NFL last year. He needed to be released from the team performance-wise. Based off reports after he was traded, he needed to be removed because he was a cascading black cloud depressing everything. Osweiler was bad. Consequently, he mad everyone very sad.

The problem is Houston could have done the exact same thing by cutting Osweiler on June 1st. The contract would have balanced out. They wouldn't haven gained or lost cap space. In this multiverse, they would have ended up with $18 million in cap space this offseason, including the players they re-signed. This is more than enough for them to be in the same spot they are in now.

The only problem is this would’ve spread the dead money from Osweiler’s bonus around. Houston would’ve paid $19 million in dead money this year, $3 million next year, and $3 million in 2019. Future cap space doesn’t matter, however, since Houston will have at least $50 million in space next season regardless of whether they traded or cut Osweiler. They can cut players like Jeff Allen or Brian Cushing to create even more space next offseason if needed. $6 million in dead money over the next two seasons means nothing with the rising salary cap and the future space Houston has.

Cutting Osweiler creates cap space for next season, just like the trade did. The benefit of trading him was creating space for this season, which Houston didn’t use. The Texans could’ve gargled away that same sour taste by releasing Osweiler and still had a second-round pick in 2018 to show for it.

2.) It Opened the Door for Tony Romo.

This one is the murkiest of the bunch. It’s all hypotheticals and media hearsay. Tony Romo was released by the Dallas Cowboys since teams didn’t want to trade for him and take on his 2017 contract (worth $14 million). This makes sense. I get it. He’s older, has been injured each of the last two seasons, plays a style filled with risk and improvisation, and would have to learn how to play the game differently. When he retired, Romo said the Texans were at the top of his list. Instead Romo decided to take an utilitarian approach and have his actions provide the greatest good for the greatest number by replacing Phil Simms in the booth.

I don’t know how badly Houston wanted Romo, or the extent of their love for him, but if the point of the trade was to create cap space to sign Romo, you would think the Texans would have done everything they could to sign him. Whatever Romo’s dollar figure was, it wasn’t an issue for Houston this year, and it wouldn’t have been next year either. If Romo truly didn’t want to play anymore, okay. Even then, the Texans probably could have made the Osweiler trade after Romo had his epiphany. But if Romo didn’t want to play anymore for the price that was offered, it makes zero sense. Why Romo retired, I don’t know, but the results add confusion why the Osweiler trade was ever made in the first place.

3.) It Creates Flexibility During the Season.

Teams need money during the season to operate. Players are going to get injured. They need money to sign the Guitar Hero clicking, unemployed players to fill in for the battered and broken. Antonio Smith last year is a perfect example. Once J.J. Watt was lost for the year, Houston needed an extra defensive end. They signed someone they knew, someone they liked from the past. Smith signed a one-year contract worth $985,000.

Teams don’t need $28 million to stay flexible during the season. They need somewhere between $5 and $10 million to bring in guys like Smith when injuries occur. The Osweiler trade doesn’t allow Houston to make in-season signings that they wouldn’t have otherwise been unable to make.

4.) It Saves Bob McNair From Having To Pay Osweiler’s Guaranteed Base Salary.

Houston owed Osweiler $16 million for his guaranteed salary and $12 million for his signing bonus. By trading Osweiler, Houston paid the bonus, but were off the hook for his guaranteed salary this year. By trading Osweiler instead of cutting him, Bob McNair saved $16 million in cash.

McNair has stated the goal is to win titles, not division titles. That’s the main focus at this point of his life. You have to win games to win a championship. To win games, you need good players. To get good players, you have to either draft them or pay for them.

This trade accomplished neither. It gave away a potential starter. Someone like Xavier Su’a-Filo, Nick Martin, Benardrick McKinney, or Zach Cunningham. It hasn’t, and probably won’t, bring in a single starting caliber free agent. Based off McNair’s motivation, it doesn’t seem like someone who’s worth $3.5 billion and wanting a title would’ve agreed to a trade so he could save coins under his couch cushion.

5.) It Creates Space to Extend DeAndre Hopkins.

This angle I can kind of get behind. The $28 million available allows Houston to re-sign DeAndre Hopkins to whatever extension the two sides agree to. Houston likes to re-sign players the summer before they hit the open market, and now they have the cap space to do so easily.

By re-signing Hopkins now, the Texans could potentially pay less than they would next season, and they can lock him up in case another quarterback disaster occurs. Hopkins had an awful year last year because of how he was used and the quarterback play. Film-wise, he was the same, but numerically he wasn’t, which tends to drive contract negotiations. With below average quarterback play, Hopkins was incredible. With some of the worst quarterback play in the league, he was still pretty good. With a talented rookie quarterback, years like last year shouldn’t happen again. Last season should be an aberration and an outlier, not a worry for the future.

However, Nuk’s new deal is something they could have gotten done after the 2016 season, or this season regardless. Next year the Texans are going to have a Jacksonvillian amount of cap space. The salary cap is going to continue to rise. Post-2017 deals are going to seem like bargains three years from now. Even then, Houston could have re-signed Hopkins post June 1st without having to be all that crafty. Smith could have matched Hopkins’ 2017 base salary of nearly $8 million or paid a little more and increased the guaranteed amount for future seasons to convince him to re-sign.

Of these secondary reasons, this is the only one that holds up. No matter the contract, the Osweiler trade has allowed Houston to keep DeAndre Hopkins. It still isn’t something you give up a second round pick for. Starting caliber talent on a cheap contract is worth more than being able to re-sign a player to whatever extension is desired.

The main driving point of the trade was to create cap space to sign players to make the 2017 team better. Houston didn’t do that. Except for the new draft class, the team is nearly identical to what it was before the trade. The Texans took advantage of an opportunity without having a clear purpose afterwards or, if they did have a plan, they failed to execute it. All Houston did was lose a valuable asset and create goodwill they never did anything with. The Brock Osweiler trade is dumb as hell.