Do it. It’s worth it.
Pay the price. Take the gamble.
You don’t pass on the chance to acquire a great player.
That’s the prevailing sentiment after the Buccaneers traded a third-round pick in next month’s draft for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
It was a good move. The right move.
Expensive? Sure. Risky? A little bit.
But that’s the cost of doing business in the NFL.
Or so we’ve been told.
By the team. By people who cover the team. By people who cheer for the team.
Here’s the thing: We’ve heard all this before.
Five years ago. When the Bucs traded for Darrelle Revis. They were coming off a losing season then, too, and jobs were on the line.
I know what you’re thinking: That is different. Not even close to being the same thing.
Revis was recovering from a knee injury. The Bucs traded first- and fourth-round picks for him. He had a higher salary.
All correct points. Revis, though, was regarded as the NFL’s best cornerback. To many of his peers, he was the best defensive player in the league regardless of position. When the Bucs acquired him, he was only 27 and had been named an All-Pro three times.
While Pierre-Paul has had an excellent career, he’s not as decorated as Revis was when he was traded. He’s also 29. That doesn’t mean his career is over, but there’s a good chance he is past his prime. If we account for resume and age, the price the Bucs paid for Pierre-Paul is commensurate.
And that price? It was steep.
In essence, Bucs general manager Jason Licht surrendered a third-round draft pick for the right to pay Pierre-Paul as if he were a free agent. Depending upon your perspective, that’s either a “win-now move” or an “act of desperation.”
The Bucs will pay Pierre-Paul $12.5 million this season, $14.5 million in 2019 and $12.5 million in 2020. By annual average salary, he’s one of the 10 highest-paid edge rushers. If he had hit the open market, he likely wouldn’t have fielded similar offers. That’s No. 1 defensive end money, and he might no longer be the game-wrecker he once was.
We know his salary isn’t in line with his production because the Bucs just signed a more productive player to a less expensive contract. Vinny Curry, who played for the Eagles last season, had more combined sacks and quarterback hits than Pierre-Paul. The Bucs will pay him $6.5 million this season.
The Bucs do have an out, though. There’s no guaranteed money left on Pierre-Paul’s contract, so they could tear up the deal after this season and not owe him anything. That flexibility is nice, but that’s not a reason for making a trade. You don’t trade a third-round pick for a player whom you’re open to cutting. You want to fill a need for the next two or three seasons, not put yourself in the same situation a year from now.
The money could be a problem down the line, but it’s the loss of the No. 69 overall pick that stings most. A fourth-round pick swap (the Bucs get No. 102, the Giants get No. 108) softens the blow a bit, but let’s not overestimate it. In terms of net draft capital, it’s as if the Bucs traded the No. 73 pick.
It doesn’t seem like much of a loss now. That’s because we prefer known risks (“proven” players) over unknown risks (draft picks). We have some idea of what Pierre-Paul might do; we have no idea what a third-round pick will do. That aversion is justified, to a point. The likelihood of the Bucs drafting a player in the third round who has a career as good as Pierre-Paul’s is slim.
That, by the way, was the same argument people made in favor of the Revis trade. The cost of doing business, they said. And indeed it is. If you don’t mind paying extra for sizzle.
Here’s an exercise: Say you knew that the third-round pick would have a career like Charles Sims’ (the running back the Bucs drafted at No. 69 overall in 2014). Would you make the trade? Without hesitation. Now say you knew the pick had the promise of Chris Godwin (the receiver the Bucs drafted at No. 84 last year). You’re not making the trade.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the draft’s high bust rate is exactly why teams should hold their picks a little tighter. Teams miss all the time. That’s not reason to stop trying, though. It’s a lottery, and the only way to increase the odds of winning is to buy more tickets. The teams that sit out the lottery are left to fill needs via free agency or trades, and that’s not the path to building a team that can sustain success.
Licht knows this, of course. “The draft is our main meal ticket to success in the future,” he said earlier this offseason.
One way to justify the trading of the third-round pick is to suggest that the Bucs could regain one if they were to trade their No. 7 overall pick next month. That’s certainly possible, but we should be careful not to conflate the two decisions. One shouldn’t necessarily dictate the other.
Think about it this way: You want to buy a new car. You and the salesperson can’t agree on a price. He asks you what you’re driving now and whether you’re planning on trading it in. He lowballs you on the value of your trade-in and applies that figure to the price of the new car. You’re not getting a good deal; you’re getting two bad ones.
One key difference between the 2013 and 2018 offseasons: Licht hasn’t pushed all his chips in on one player. He also added Curry, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein on defense, giving the Bucs their deepest line during his tenure as general manager. The pass rush and run defense should be much more formidable.
We don’t know how Pierre-Paul’s career in Tampa Bay will unfold. Here’s what we can predict: At some point — next year or the year after or five years from now — we’ll hear the same argument we’re hearing today.
Do it. It’s worth it.
Pay the price. Take the gamble.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.