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It seems like every season there are those rumors. You know the ones. A player gets injured, has a bad game, or is just closing on the end of an expensive contract, suddenly there are reports that the team is trying to trade or move on from that player. Sometimes it’s due to a backup, potentially a cheap buy, on another team having a good game.
This “grass is always greener” mentality has always been humorous to me due to the extensive historical data showing that such knee jerk reactions have always ended poorly. The Detroit Lions trade history is full of examples of this, most recently the Mike Thomas debacle. Still, history aside, there are several very real, financial reasons why trading a big name, big contract player would be disastrous for the team.
This isn’t your grand dad’s NFL. The internet and a dedicated base of some of the most rabid, information seeking fans in the history of anything have created the sources we would need to research the sort of things that would normally be left to back room dealings. I’m talking specifically of contract information. NFL contracts are extremely complex and impossible to cover all of their potential individual parts on a simple article such as this one. What’s important to understand on a basic level are two overarching parts of contracts: Salary and Guarantees.
Contract Salary can be partially or fully guaranteed, but in general that is irrelevant to trade situations (Important for cuts, however). The salary is normally the money that is recouped when a player is cut. If you have a player with a $1 million contract who is cut prior to week 1, the team regains 1,000,000 in cap space. Fairly simple. This amount is prorated if we’re further into the season, as it’s money already paid. So if that same player is cut after playing four games, it will be a savings of less than 1 million due to the game checks already paid out.
Guarantees are more complicated, but the easiest way I’ve found to explain them is that it’s money already paid. This money cannot be recouped by the team in trade or cut (Because it’s already been paid), only spread out. There are certain situations where a cap penalty can be spread out over this season and next, but those only exist when a player is cut after June 1st. There are great explanations on how the Cap works on Overthecap.com and Spotrac.com, the best sources online for contract information.
Read on for more specific Detroit Lions trade scenarios that are unlikely, but reported on anyway.