Call made; team goes long
In the end, the Patriots’ stunning trade of Richard Seymour yesterday can be boiled down to this: If it already was determined that this would be Seymour’s last year in New England, is it worth trading him now for a lucrative draft pick, or should the short term take precedence?
The Patriots chose to go the long route, where the potential payout could be off the charts.
Acquiring the Raiders’ 2011 first-round draft choice is a major haul when considering how woeful that franchise has been, and that a new set of economic rules could be in place that limits the payouts to top first-round picks.
That chip, coupled with an impressive pile of high-round picks over the next two years, puts the Patriots in position to restock their roster to meet their goal of sustained success. So from a long-term perspective, yesterday’s shocker is easily understood.
Yet the risk is what it does for the here-and-now plans of contending for Super Bowl XLIV.
The Patriots are not a better team today without the 29-year-old Seymour, who, when he turns it on, remains a player offenses have to game-plan around. Yet they still might be good enough to win football’s ultimate prize.
That is the gamble they are taking.
Part of what makes this deal so compelling is all the factors that contributed to it - economics, labor uncertainty, a potential rookie salary cap, Seymour’s career trajectory, and how the Patriots plan on replacing him.
In trading Seymour, the Patriots clear $3.685 million off their salary cap. The club has been tight to the cap, so the breathing room helps. In past years, the team has created space by restructuring contracts, but the uncertain labor forecast has made such maneuverings more difficult.
The Patriots obviously figured this would be Seymour’s final year with them, which makes sense considering the large number of players with contracts coming due. Twenty Patriots players have deals expiring after this season, and another eight - including quarterback Tom Brady - are up after the 2010 season. Moving Seymour opens the possibility of addressing some of those contracts, perhaps starting with nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who is in the last year of his deal.
Although the Patriots could have assigned the franchise tag to Seymour in 2010 - which would have been around $12 million on a one-year deal - they probably realized such a move more than likely would send both sides down a path they didn’t want to go. So they cashed in early, as if they were selling a stock while it still had value to them.
Seymour’s career trajectory also had to be part of the consideration - he’s still a difference-maker (a career-high-tying eight sacks in 2008), but it’s been two years since his last Pro Bowl. While it’s still dangerous to leave him single-blocked, teams have felt more comfortable taking that risk in recent years, which ironically the Raiders did with some success last season with young left tackle Mario Henderson.
One of the underlying parts of the deal is the possible rookie cap.
The Patriots, like most teams, currently don’t view high first-round draft choices in a favorable light because of the significant economic risk. It used to be that a high first-round pick was a reward, but in recent years, the salaries for top rookies have grown so much the picks are considered more of a penalty.
Owners are pushing for a rookie salary cap, and by 2011, it could be in place as part of an extended collective bargaining agreement. If that goes through, as many expect, the value of the selection the Patriots received from the Raiders will skyrocket. If it doesn’t, the trade takes on a different look.
Considering the Raiders have been slotted at 7, 7, 1, 4, and 7 in each of the last five seasons, there is reason to believe the Patriots could be looking at a top-10 pick in 2011.
As for how the Patriots replace Seymour, it won’t be with just one player. They’ve been experimenting with schemes this exhibition season, playing a four-man line in addition to their base 3-4 alignment. Seymour played right end in both, and was projected to stay on the field as a tackle in passing situations.
Look for the Patriots to mix and match among eight-year veteran Jarvis Green, fifth-year man Mike Wright, and rookies Ron Brace and Myron Pryor to fill that void alongside returning starters Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren.
Will it be good enough in the short term?
The Patriots, rolling the dice with the long term in mind, are banking on it.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.