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Bears trade frees up cash for Cutler

Bucs-Bears deal has impact for both sides. Andrew Brandt

Print This October 19, 2009, 11:56 AM EST

First, a shout-out to a longtime friend who just became the all-time leading receiver in Green Bay Packers history. Donald Driver arrived in Green Bay in 1999 -- the same time I did -- as a seventh-round pick in 1999 with little chance of making the team. Even as a receiver buried on the depth chart, Driver was special. While bigger and stronger receivers would get banged up and broken down, he endured and outlasted them all, from Antonio Freeman to Billy Schroeder to Corey Bradford to Terry Glenn to Javon Walker and more. He would constantly tell me that he would break this record, and I would politely smile. He did. I’ll have more on this unique player later in the week. Kudos to Donald....

The NFL trading deadline has spurred a deal, with the Bucs sending Gaines Adams to the Bears for a second-round pick in 2010. Although the deadline usually creates a lot of smoke and very little fire, this trade involves many interesting factors that worked toward a significant result for both teams. Let’s take a look:

The haves and have-nots

The NFL -- in response to those clamoring to put some pizazz into the element of trades -- has always resisted moving the deadline to later in the season. The rationale has been to avoid the pattern in Major League Baseball, where teams that are out of playoff contention can trade front-line players to contending teams for the stretch run, usually receiving prospects in return. The feeling in the NFL was to not allow teams to “play for next year.”

That theory, however, is betrayed by what’s happened early this season. More so than any time in recent memory, there appear to be a handful of teams with no chance of contending for playoff spots, even at this early stage of the season. One of those teams is the winless Bucs, who traded the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft for a player to be named later (in April 2010).

The Bears certainly hope to be playing into the postseason. They forfeited their top pick in the 2010 draft for quarterback Jay Cutler and now their second-round pick for Adams (they’ll have another day of leisure on the first day of the draft). In a change of philosophy from the formerly draft-is-king mode of Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, the future is now for the Bears.

The player

Adams, the fourth pick in the 2007 draft, is not a Pro Bowl defensive end, but he had solid production for the Bucs. With 38 tackles in each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons and 12½ sacks, Adams was certainly a productive player.

With Pro Bowl defensive ends receiving contracts averaging over $10 million a year with more than $30 million guaranteed, this is certainly a premium position. Adams is not at that level, not yet, but it’s instructive to show how much teams will pay for that position. Even continuing the level of performance Adams has had so far in his career, he would be in line for an impressive payday in the next couple of years. That time, however, can wait, with almost four years left on his contract.

The players affected

Two defensive ends currently playing for the Bears are in the last year of their contracts, an obvious consideration in the Bears’ acquisition of Adams.

Adewale Ogunleye will be an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires after this season. He’s 32 but currently leads the Bears in sacks with four. With age and cost a potential concern, the Bears can judge Adams’ progress as a factor in how they approach Ogunleye.

Mark Anderson is also in the last year of his contract. Unlike Ogunleye, however, his status is unclear. As we presently stand, without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or a salary cap in 2010, Anderson will be a restricted free agent whose rights are controlled by the Bears. If a new CBA is negotiated with the same guidelines we’ve had in the NFL, he would be an unrestricted free agent. So the Bears are also able to wait and see on Anderson while evaluating Adams.

The contract

Adams is in the third year of one of these rookie contracts at the top of the draft that draw so much attention as financial anomalies that need to be addressed in the next CBA. The Bucs have already paid him $16 million in the following payments:

Signing bonus: $13M
2007 roster bonus: $2.1M
2007 salary: $285,000
2008 salary: $370,000
2009 salary: $265,000

Adams will be paid the balance of his 2009 salary ($635,000) by the Bears this year. They also assume the remaining salaries of $1.08M in 2010, $1.1M in 2011, and $1.15M in 2012. The salaries for this year, 2010 and 2011 are guaranteed for injury only. These are extremely reasonable numbers for even a mediocre defensive end.

Adams has a large number of incentives and escalators in the contract, mostly involving sack production starting at 8½ sacks and making the Pro Bowl, maxing out at $13.4M. He has earned none so far and will certainly not earn any this year, with the chances in coming years very slim.

Comparing value and future cost

From a value standpoint, giving up a second-round draft choice is a truly valuable asset to give up, and personnel people can debate the value of Adams against a 2010 second-round pick. The financial terms, however, skew toward Chicago, which acquired an extremely reasonable contract -- the bulk of the money having been paid by the Bucs -- for a prime position on the team and hedging against paying their existing defensive ends a high market value.

The Bears will need their money. If Jay Cutler progresses as expected, they’re looking at rewarding him with an APY (average per year) of $15M and a guarantee over $30M, based on recent deals by Matt Cassel, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning.

As for the Bucs, a low second-round pick will cost them approximately $1.5M in guaranteed money next year. Adding in next year’s rookie minimum salary -- $325,000 -- their $1.825M commitment in 2010 to the player acquired for Adams is about equal to the amount saved in trading Adams, his $1.08M salary plus the $635,000 in salary that they’re not paying Adams this year, for a total of $1.715M. Thus, on a cash flow basis, trading Adams for a 2010 second-rounder cost the Bucs a little over $100,000 in short-term cash.

The bigger issue, of course, is the $16M already paid to Adams.

The trade illustrates the truth about top rookie contracts: Unless escalators are kicking in later in the contract, the bulk of compensation of these deals is paid in the first two years, leaving the later years as very reasonable prices for players early in their careers and potentially years away from free agency. If Adams is a player for the Bears, he may be one the best values in the NFL in the next couple of years since the bulk of his pay came from Tampa Bay.

The cap hit

The Bears simply added $635,000 to their 2009 cap and took on future injury guarantees in 2010 and 2011.

The Bucs, in trading a player with huge acceleration in the contract, have used this trade to eat up a large chunk of their considerable cap room. With a $13M signing bonus, the Bucs now will have over $11M in a cap charge on Adams -- between salary paid, present proration and future acceleration -- on their 2009 cap. Without an ability to roll cap room over from 2009 to 2010 due to the expiration of the cap, teams either use their cap room or lose it. The Bucs are now using a good majority of their 2009 available cap room for a player now playing for the Bears.

Trades in Major League Baseball have come to the NFL. A team out of contention, the Bucs, has sold a once-prime asset to a contender, the Bears, for a prospect (second-round pick). And like baseball, the trading team has taken on most of the financial burden for the player, making the deal even more attractive for the acquiring team. Early trade deadline or not, the sell-off trade has occurred in football.

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