TAMPA, March 10, 2017 — The NFL has seen some crazy trades over the years, but nothing that makes as little sense as what kicked off the 2017 free agency period. Case in point: The Cleveland Brown and Houston Texans may have made the most bizarre trade in NFL history.
Forget the Herschel Walker trade. That was one team fleecing another team. However, at the time, that trade made sense for both teams. The Dallas Cowboys needed a ton of players and were rebuilding from the bottom. The Minnesota Vikings felt they were one player away from the Super Bowl. What the Cleveland Browns did was just surreal. They traded for a player they have no intention of playing. Making things even more surreal is that their actions made sense.
It is easy to ridicule a 1-15 football team, but the Browns made a smart move once all the dots are eventually connected in a roundabout way.
On paper, the Texans gave up Brock Osweiler, their 2017 sixth round draft pick and their 2018 second round pick. The Browns gave up their 2017 fourth round pick.
Forget the lower picks. The Texans did not get rid of a starting quarterback in exchange for a high pick. They gave up the quarterback and the high pick.
For those who are still lost, you have good reason to be. This is the equivalent of a custody battle where each parent is begging the other parent to take the child.
The Texans needed to free up some salary cap space. The Browns have been hoarding cash and need a ton of draft picks. The Texans are a playoff team. The Browns are at the bottom. The Browns were willing to take a high pick, but as a condition had to take on Osweiler as well.
If you are Osweiler, the humiliation has to be staggering. Releasing him would have given the Texans nothing except a salary cap hit. They were so desperate to get rid of him that they settled for less than nothing. Only in the NFL could this defying of the laws of real numbers actually be possible.
The Browns bought the second round draft pick of the Texans for $16 million dollars. As part of the deal, they had to accept Osweiler. The Texans get to clear salary cap space to sign other players, such as Tony Romo from the Dallas Cowboys The Browns have so much money that they can absorb the hit.
Osweiler may never play a down for the Browns. If Cleveland cuts him, they are still on the hook for his salary as counting against the cap. They are too rich to care.
The Browns essentially engaged in the eBay equivalent of a Gray Market trade. People who were given airline vouchers used to be able to sell them on eBay. Then the airlines banned this practice. Sellers responded by a exploiting a clever but legal loophole. The seller could not sell the voucher, but they could give it away for free. So sellers began selling pictures of their dogs, cats or anything else laying around the house. The buyer bid on the picture of the animal. The seller would also throw in an airline voucher as a free gift to the winning bidder. People would pay several hundred dollars for Spot or Rover, and receive the airline voucher as well.
The Browns wanted a high draft pick. Buying draft picks is a violation of NFL rules. However, buying a player’s contract is legal. The Texans threw in the draft pick as a bonus. The Texans get rid of Osweiler, and the Browns get their draft pick.
While this may seem convoluted, it is highly unusual for one team to be so desperate to get rid of a player that they would pay another team to take him.
Two years ago Brock Osweiler earned a Super Bowl ring as a backup quarterback riding a great defense. Last year he was a $72 million starter for a playoff team with another great defense. Now he has been traded to the worst team in the league, and they do not even want him.
Only in the NFL could two teams both get better by trading a player that will play on neither team.
This is why in the NFL that we love so much, there is no off-season.