The Stafford Trade Tells Us What a Cousins Deal Would Be

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback trades are fairly rare in the NFL. There is maybe one Alex Smith or Jay Cutler trade every year, but for the most part, NFL teams look to acquire their quarterback through the draft. The 2021 offseason could change all of that with Deshaun Watson requesting a trade, young QBs Sam Darnold and Tua Tagovailoa on the block, and this Saturday’s blockbuster QB swap between the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams.

Both teams also inherit their new quarterback’s contract, and it accelerates some prorated signing bonus in both cases. Jason Fitzgerald at OverTheCap broke down the details of that, but both teams incur a net salary cap cost in 2021. The Lions take on two years of heavy guarantees for Goff, while the Rams take on three unguaranteed years for Stafford.

Here are all of the guaranteed (or virtually guaranteed) costs for both teams:

Of course, the Rams will take on more costs when they extend him as expected, but we’ll leave that part blank for now. Suffice it to say that both teams have glued themselves to their new quarterbacks for at least two years and more if they want it.

Either way, the deal can help us define a largely undefined market. If we can properly analyze this trade, it can give us a hint at the trade prices of other, similar quarterbacks. The Vikings have their own 32-year-old quarterback with limited postseason exposure on a market-rate contract. If you’re interested in trading Kirk Cousins, this should help calibrate your expectations.

There are a lot of differing opinions on both Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford. Scheme and surroundings obfuscate the raw value of a quarterback, but we can leave that alone. This trade treats Stafford as a much more valuable asset than Goff. If you disagree, that probably colors who you think won the trade. But agree or disagree, we can hop into the headspace of the two teams to sort out their price tags.

Goff came with a ton of guaranteed money that the Lions take on. Much like the Brock Osweiler trade of 2017, the Rams added extra draft capital in order to soften the blow for Detroit. They’re paying the piper on a bad extension, which comes at a cost. Justis Mosqueda (quoted below) has compared previous cash swap trades to come up with an “exchange rate” of sorts for draft picks and salary.

Going by Mosqueda’s numbers, a first and a third account for the salary. Those 1st-round picks are delayed, however. The rule-of-thumb on deferred picks is to treat them like they are one round lower, so imagine two 2nd round picks and a 3rd in 2021. Call it the cost of doing business with a team that has already traded away its 2021 1st-rounder.

After adjusting for Goff as a liability and not an asset, plus the deferred value of draft picks, Stafford is worth about a high 2nd-rounder. Let’s take that and apply it to some possible Kirk Cousins situations.

Deshaun Watson is likely out of the question for Minnesota.┬áIf Cousins on his deal is similar to Stafford, it doesn’t make too much of a dent in a possible Watson trade. That value would look something like two firsts, Cousins, a 2022 2nd, and maybe Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. That is a much smaller package than what other teams with youthful quarterbacks and top 5 picks can offer. Plus, Houston isn’t interested in a spendy veteran quarterback. Still, there’s no harm in picking up the phone.

Much has been made of Kyle Shanahan’s relationship with Kirk Cousins. Jimmy Garoppolo‘s contract only carries $2.8M dead if cut, so taking on Kirk’s contract would be easy for them. With that in mind, pick No. 43 would align with the Rams’ price for Matt Stafford.

Unlike the Lions, the Vikings would have the option to walk away from that trade negotiation. Add some mid-round capital, and you may be able to make pick No. 12 a reality. Perhaps that enables a trade-up, however, it’s difficult to imagine the QB-needy teams in the top 3 abandoning that position.

George Paton in Denver may have some interest in Kirk Cousins if Everson Griffen is to be believed. They’d have to make some room under the 2021 cap or add a veteran into the trade to offset the salary. Bryce Callahan carries about the right price tag but is valuable enough to cut into the draft compensation. That wouldn’t get the Vikings very close to their next quarterback, but it would get them out of their Cousins entanglement.

Either way, the Goff-Stafford trade sets a more deflated market than it appears at first glance. The Rams paid more to get rid of Goff than they did to acquire Stafford, and that sets an example. It’s plenty unlikely that the Vikings participate in this QB carousel, but if they do, we know much more about how that would transpire.

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