Trade for Saints: I’m a little confused why the Saints wanted to move Kenny Stills. I understand why they wanted to move Jimmy Graham and Ben Grubbs. The Saints were in salary cap hell and needed to get expensive players off their books. Stills, however, was still on a rookie deal, so he wasn’t taking up much cap space. He was also a valuable young asset in their receiving corps and someone they’ll have to replace (Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks are their only even somewhat proven wide receivers right now). They could do so with the 3rd round pick they received in this trade and if they do that they’d get someone under team control cheaply for 4 years instead of 2 like Stills, but there’s no guarantee that whoever the Saints draft in the 3rd round can be any good.
On top of that, the Saints took on Dannell Ellerbe in the trade. The Dolphins were desperate to get rid of Ellerbe and his 8.425 million dollar non-guaranteed salary and I’m shocked that they found a taker through trade. The Saints won’t be paying Ellerbe 8.425 million this season, as he renegotiated his contract as part of this trade, but they’ll still be paying him 4.8 million in 2015, fully guaranteed, which is too much for him.
Ellerbe was about as bad as a free agent signing can be. Ellerbe signed a 5-year, 34.25 million dollar deal with the Dolphins two off-seasons ago and proceeded to grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He moved to outside linebacker for 2014, but ended up missing all but 18 snaps with a hip injury, which actually probably helped the Dolphins, considering how bad he was in 2013 and how well Jelani Jenkins played in his absence in his first season as a starter. Ellerbe was essentially 14 million guaranteed down the toilet.
The deal didn’t make any sense for the start. Ellerbe, a 2009 undrafted free agent, maxed out at 456 snaps in a season from 2009-2011, but he had a solid 2012 season, grading out 14th among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus on 667 regular season snaps and then followed that up with a strong post-season, en route to a Super Bowl victory by the Ravens. That’s what got him paid, but he was a one year wonder that wasn’t worth his contract even at his best.
He remains a one-year wonder to this day, but it’s still getting him paid, even going into his age 30 season. In addition to 4.8 million guaranteed in 2015, he has non-guaranteed salaries of 5.2 million in each of the next 2 seasons, making the total value of this deal 15.2 million over 3 years. If the Saints had signed him to this deal in free agency, I probably would have given it a C or a C-. When you couple that with the swap of Stills for a 3rd round pick, this was not a good trade at all for the Saints.
Trade for Dolphins: This trade was all about getting lighter for the Dolphins, as they have to fit Ndamukong Suh’s contract under the cap going forward. Obviously, getting rid of Ellerbe’s contract was a big deal, as that saves them 5.65 million on the cap immediately and gets him off their cap completely by 2016. They would have cut him anyway, but credit them for somehow finding someone who saw him as a value through trade, even at a reduced salary.
Bringing in Stills to replace Mike Wallace is the bigger benefit of this deal. This move allowed them to trade Wallace to the Vikings (along with a 7th round pick) for a 5th round pick, a move that saved them an additional 5.5 million on the cap for 2015 and gets him off their cap completely by 2016. Between getting rid of Ellerbe and Wallace, they save over 11 million in cap space immediately and even more long-term.
The cost of a 3rd round pick is fairly steep, but Stills is more than worth it (especially since they picked up a 5th rounder in the Wallace trade). Kenny Stills caught 32 passes for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns as a 5th round rookie in 2013. While he graded out below average as a rookie, he became a much more complete receiver in 2014, catching 63 passes for 931 yards and 3 touchdowns and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked wide receiver.
He could immediately be a significantly cheaper upgrade on Mike Wallace, who hasn’t graded out above average since 2011. And the best part is, Stills is only going into his age 23 season, so he should only continue to get better. Even taking all the other financial stuff of it, the odds were low that the Dolphins were going to find someone with as bright of a future as Stills in the 3rd round of this year’s draft and that more than makes up for the fact that Stills is only under team control cheaply for 2 more years, while it would have been 4 for a rookie.