Free agency opened with a bang this year as the Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly traded their stud defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens for a fifth-round pick.
At the time, it was a pretty big deal. But, like all things in the NFL, it was quickly beaten by the Tennessee Titans reportedly trading their veteran defensive tackle Jurrell Casey to the Denver Broncos for a seventh-round draft selection.
What is going on here? Why aren't 31 teams trying to make these trades? Why didn't the 30 other teams successfully make this grade? And why were the teams actually trading in the first place?
For both deals, the players’ existing contract is taken as the consideration. Campbell was due $15 million in 2020 from the tanking Jaguars, who likely saw little utility in paying a veteran defensive lineman in a year where they are unlikely to compete only to lose him in 2021. The money could go towards securing younger players who are part of the future in a new winning window beyond this upcoming season.
But for the Titans, even with the weight of Casey's contract considered, this decision makes little sense relative to the window they find themselves in. Casey is due $39 million across the next three seasons with essentially no guaranteed money remaining on his contract. Tennessee could have cut him for a minimal cap hit if it didn't want to keep him on the roster. But if that was the case, why not then trade him and get what you can? The Titans did and it’s why they only got a seventh-round selection in return. Casey likely would have been cut for the $10 million cap relief.
But that answer doesn't make sense of the biggest issue: Why are move on from Casey in the first place? Why pay Jurrell Casey $13.4 million in 2020 with Derrick Henry on the franchise tag, and one year left on Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith and Adoree' Jackson's rookie deals? Casey is a tremendous interior rusher with the 16th-highest average cap hit among all defensive linemen. It’s not only appropriate value for a player of Casey's caliber, but it's a perfectly fine pill to swallow for the Titans, who were just in the AFC Championship Game and would likely want to return.
The Titans could have restructured Casey's deal. Since there is no guaranteed money remaining on Casey's deal, he likely would have been interested in securing more of it approaching the age of 31. By guaranteeing Casey's 2020 salary and turning it into signing bonus, Tennessee could have prorated the money over three years, making his 2020 cap hit $7 million less and still have the ability to cut him in 2021 or 2022 for significant cap savings.
One of the only ways this trade makes sense is if the Titans tried to restructure and Casey denied it, knowing it meant he was going to play elsewhere in 2020. Otherwise, the Titans created cap space I'm not convinced they need by losing a player I'm not sure they could afford to lose.
With Jack Conklin also out of the building and Logan Ryan seemingly on his way out, Tennessee still needs starting cornerbacks and offensive tackles while creating a defensive tackle need opposite last year's first-round pick in Jeffery Simmons.
Unless a corresponding move is coming — Ndamukong Suh is currently a free agent as is Mike Daniels — the Titans are doing the opposite of free agency here. They're creating needs for themselves instead of solving them before the draft. And the Broncos? They just drafted Jurrell Casey in the seventh round, so that's pretty good.