In the middle of the NFL off-season, while most fans and media members alike are focused on working in the yard, checking things off the to-do list and anything but football, comes one of the more important deadlines on the NFL’s calendar.
Why? Because of the post-June 1st designation. Under the terms of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the salary cap accounting for bonuses is broken up into two periods: Pre June 1st, and post. According to OverTheCap.com, “[w]hen a player is removed from a players roster prior to June 1st all his remaining unamortized bonus money immediately accelerates onto the salary cap.”
But if you wait until after that deadline, things change.
Again, according to OverTheCap.com: “After June 1st only the current years expense remains on the books after the player is released. The balance accelerates onto the following years salary cap.”
This rule can have serious implications for both players and teams. Take, as an example, one of the players most associated with a post-June 1st move: Julio Jones. According to his contract page at OverTheCap.com, a trade of Jones prior to June 1st would cost the Atlanta Falcons $23.250 million in dead cap, and cost $200,000 against their salary cap. But if he is traded after this deadline? The franchise absorbs just $7.750 million in dead cap but also sees a cap savings of $15.3 million.
Of course, the financial implications do not just disappear into thin air. After all, as pointed out above the balance “accelerates onto the following year’s salary cap.” But with the salary cap expected to rise next season, teams are likely going to be in a better position to absorb those implication in 2022 rather than 2021.
With the ground rules in place, let’s dive into some of the potential post-June 1st trade candidates and potential destinations, moving from least-likely to most-likely.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
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A few months ago, the potential “big move” on the NFL landscape was a rumored Deshaun Watson trade. The quarterback was reportedly unhappy with the direction of the Houston Texans and according to Adam Schefter requested a trade from the Texans. Now, obviously a legal situation has thrown a wrench into that potential move. Watson is currently embroiled in civil litigation over alleged sexual assault towards nearly two dozen massage therapists. Through his attorney the quarterback has denied all allegations, but this situation is ongoing and as anyone who has practiced civil litigation will tell you, that system does not move at the speed of light. Still, if you look at the financial implications, there are reasons to think that if the organization is inclined to move the QB, a post-June 1st landscape is the time. If Watson is moved after this deadline, the Texans would absorb a dead money hit of $5.4 million, and save over $10 million in cap space for the upcoming season. Prior to the allegations, the Carolina Panthers were rumored to be in the mix for Watson. Since then the team moved in a different direction, acquiring Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. Still, quarterbacks with Watson’s skill-set do not become available every day, so the Panthers might still be looking to make such a move. Whether they entertain such a deal with the ongoing civil litigation lingering, however, is a different question. It is hard to imagine Carolina trading for a player who is staring down at a minimum the Commissioner’s Exempt List, if not harsher penalties.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
When the Deshaun Watson rumors died down due to his ongoing legal situation, another quarterback helped fill the content void for the football media world as the off-season began. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers began to make his own dissatisfaction with his organization known, to the point where it is believed that he simply will not return to Green Bay. What are the financial implications of a Rodgers trade? From the Packers’ perspective, they are a bit easier to swallow in a post-June 1st world. Under his deal with the team a pre-June 1st trade would have saddled the Packers with $31.556 million in dead cap, whereas a post-June 1st trade drops that number to $14.352 million, with a cap savings of $22.850 million for the 2021 league year. Again, those numbers get folded into the 2022 league year but with the cap expected to rise, the Packers could likely handle that hit. Potential suitors for Rodgers? You could make the case that only a handful of teams would not see a significant upgrade at QB with Rodgers under center, but the two teams most often associated with a Rodgers trade are the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders.
Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings
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Another player unhappy with his current employer is Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter. The defender is looking for a contract extension, but given that he is still under contract for three more seasons, the Vikings are not rushing to ink him to a new deal. That led to Hunter skipping OTAs last week. There is also the fact that Hunter missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. Still, if Hunter decides to holdout and the situation becomes more precarious, a post-June 1st trade does makes sense for Minnesota from a financial perspective. Moving him after the deadline creates a cap savings of $12.150 million, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even so, it is hard to view this current situation as anything but posturing. The Vikings are not in a hurry to move a player they still have under contract for a few more seasons, and Hunter is expected to play a big role for the Vikings’ defense in 2021.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys
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There are reasons why this deal could go down, and there are reasons it might not. Let’s deal with both. First, the Dallas Cowboys added at the linebacker position this off-season. Not only did they draft Micah Parsons in the first round, but they also added coverage linebacker Jabril Cox later in the draft. Beyond that, the organization added Keanu Neal in free agency, and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has stated that he anticipates using his former player in an off-ball linebacker role. With those three additions, Jaylon Smith could find himself the odd man out. However, the team also declined the fifth-year option for Leighton Vander Esch, meaning they’ll likely be down an off-ball linebacker next season. Even with the additions there is a chance one or more of them do not pan out, which could make Smith an integral part of the team in 2021 and beyond. Looking at the financial implications, moving Smith after the June 1st deadline would provide the Cowboys with $7.2 million in cap savings, and a dead money hit of just $2.6 million. If the organization loves the new additions, that could lead to a move. A team to watch? The Los Angeles Chargers. As Pro Football Focus pointed out, they are thin at linebacker and new head coach Brandon Staley would love an addition to the second level of his defense.
Trey Flowers, DE, Detroit Lions
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With the hiring of Dan Campbell as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions, as well as the move to new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, the Lions are shifting to a base 3-4 defense. That means that players like EDGE defender Trey Flowers are now going to be playing outside linebacker instead of defensive end. Now, this shift does not matter as much as you might think for a number of reasons. As you probably know most teams live in sub packages in today’s NFL, leading to the idea that “nickel is base.” Secondly, the difference between being a defensive end in a base 4-3 and a outside/SAM linebacker in a 3-4 front is minimal. In the former you’ll be on the edge with your hand in the dirt and in the latter you’ll…be on the edge perhaps with your hand in the dirt. The alignment might be a gap over, perhaps at a 9-technique instead of a 7-technique, and you might now face more coverage responsibilities, but depending on how the player is used by the defensive coordinator, things as a 3-4 OLB might be very similar to life as a 4-3 DE. Still, there are a few reasons why Flowers could get moved in the coming days. First is the emergence of Romeo Okwara, who notched an impressive ten sacks a season ago. Second is the financial situation. Flowers has an argument as the Lions’ best defensive player, but this season he accounts for just over ten percent of the team’s total salary cap number. Trading him after June 1st would create a dead cap hit of just over $5.6 million, and create a cap savings of $14.375 million. Now anytime a former New England Patriots player becomes rumored to be available, Bill Belichick’s squad is mentioned as a potential destination. We’ll have more on the Patriots in a second, but another team that could get in on a potential Flowers move might be the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas made a number of additions to their defense during the past draft, with additions at linebacker (Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox), defensive tackle (Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna) and in the secondary (Kelvin Joseph and Israel Mukuamu) this points to their need to improve on the defensive side of the football. Adding Flowers could be a big piece to completing that puzzle. Getting him in under the cap, however, might be the tougher part to that move.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
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Another player rumored to be available via trade in the next few days is tight end Zach Ertz. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler speculated that trade talks could heat up over the next few days: https://twitter.com/JFowlerESPN/status/1399722795903369222 Now, the cap implications with an Ertz trade are not as stark as they are with some of the other names discussed. Trading the tight end after June 1st would create $4.221 million in dead cap, and a cap savings of $8.5 million, which is nothing to sneeze at but not the kind of numbers we saw with other players. But there is also the fact that Ertz reportedly does not want to be in Philadelphia, along with the fact that at his current salary Ertz is the third-highest player on the Eagles. Put those together and you have a likely trade candidate. Two teams to watch? The Buffalo Bills, and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills have weapons everywhere but still face questions about tight end, and the Jaguars have a glaring need at the position, Tim Tebow notwithstanding.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
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This is probably the move we are most likely to see in the coming days. Putting aside the idea for a moment that moving Jones does not fit with what the Atlanta Falcons have done this off-season — passing on a potential QB of the future to try and contend now and then turning around to trade your star wide receiver does not seem like a good process — the Jones rumors have reached a boiling point over the past few weeks. Why? Because of the financial position. Under his deal (as outlined above) the team would see dead money drop to $7.750 million from $23.250 million with a post-June 1st trade. In addition, their cap savings would shift from a loss of $200,000 to an actual cap savings of $15.3 million with a post-June 1st trade. As alluded to earlier, the New England Patriots are rumored to be in the hunt for Jones. Sure they made a ton of additions this off-season already, but imagine the different in their expected 12 personnel offense with this move. Currently they are probably running out Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne/Jakobi Meyers at wide receiver with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry at tight end in that potential package. Now insert Jones for one of those receivers, and you can see why he might be welcome in Foxborough. But the Patriots are not the only team with a need at wide receiver, and perhaps the best landing spot for him is in Tennessee. The Titans lost Corey Davis in free agency and badly need a receiver opposite Corey Davis. It might be tough for general manager Jon Robinson to fit Jones in under the cap, but with the Titans players openly pitching Jones on coming to Tennessee you have to think Robinson is trying to find a way.