LiveBall Transaction Analysis: Kevin Kolb Heads to Arizona
The single biggest, and most expected move of the 2011 NFL offseason saw the Philadelphia Eagles sell high on quarterback Kevin Kolb, dealing him to Arizona in exchanged for a second round draft pick and pro-bowl CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Cromartie, who had two years remaining on his contract, was unlikely to receive a contract extension offer from the Cardinals after they took CB Patrick Peterson 5th overall in the draft. One year from now, the Eagles will have a good idea whether DRC is going to be a long term Eagle solution at corner for them opposite Asomugha, or whether he is just a two year player for them. This analysis will assume the latter.
To be up front about it, it’s going to be tough to tilt the analysis in a way so that the light hits it perfectly enough to make it look like Arizona comes out on top. If there was an unproven player who was worth a cornerback like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick, Kevin Kolb likely wasn’t that guy. Kolb is a guy who is worth way more to Arizona than he was to Philadelphia. The agreed-upon price makes clear that this deal was done on Philadelphia’s terms. Philly comes out looking great in this deal, signing Vince Young to replace Kolb on their roster, and Young has a better track record than Kolb anyway.
But for Arizona, the deal is very fair. This makes them a better team. A second round pick doesn’t get you all that much in the quarterback market. It perhaps gets you Kevin Kolb at age 23 against Kolb at age 27. But for the Cardinals, the NFC West is wide open, and this is a team that just flat dominated the division both two and three years ago. In fact, think of it this way: the last three teams to finish above .500 from the NFC West were the 2009 Cardinals, the 2008 Cardinals, and the 2007 Seahawks. The last three teams to finish at least .500 were the 2009 Cardinals, the 2009 49ers, and the 2008 Cardinals. If you let 2010 shape all of your opinions about the hierarchy about this division, the Cards are hardly any more of a threat to the Rams or Seahawks now that they have Kolb than they were without him. The Cardinals were the worst, or second worst team in the NFL last year.
But widening the scope of the NFC West landscape shows that Ken Whisenhunt’s Arizona Cardinals are the strongest team in that division since Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks. And you could certainly argue that Kevin Kolb is a quarterback on part with Kurt Warner in his twilight years, when the Cardinals were winning divisions. Kolb isn’t a top ten quarterback, but neither really was Warner over the last couple years of his career. Even with an underachieving defense, this is the move that places the Cardinals back up around the top of the NFC West.
And as for the loss of Rodgers-Cromartie, it was certain that his value was going to diminish thanks to the selection of Patrick Peterson in the draft. Arizona traded him while he still had some value. From their perspective, it was to lessen the price of an unproven 26 or 27 year old QB who is about to hit free agency but who his current team wants to deal for value before that happens. The market rate, in the case of Matt Schaub and others, would generally be set at two 2nd round picks. To knock down that price to one second and a corner is a better price than the Cardinals are being given credit for.
There are two sticking points here: the personal evaluation of Rodgers-Cromartie as a top ten corner (or not a top ten corner), and the point that needs to be made about the quarterback trade market, contract extensions, and why it functions differently than other positions. Generally speaking, the price to acquire a player who is nearing the end of his contract is discounted for the team that is acquiring the player, because they are bearing the majority of the cost anyway. Prior to the acquisition, Kolb had a year left on his contract, and was already being paid like a starter by the Eagles (for obvious reasons).
If you think about it, that means there is value for the Eagles to simply get rid of Kolb’s contract (not dissimilar to the value for the Broncos to get rid of Kyle Orton’s contract). But it would appear that the baseline for the Cardinals acquisition was full price. The Eagles did not obviously give up anything to move Kolb’s contract to Arizona. They received full price. In fact, they were once asking for Rodgers-Cromartie and a first rounder, which would have been ridiculous. That would have been the best packaged received for a quarterback in recent memory.
The mammoth extension the Cards gave to Kolb is going to color people’s perception of the trade, but it’s really more of a function of what Kolb was already making with the Eagles. The Cardinals did not consciously decide that Kolb was worth this much to them, the Eagles and the rest of the NFL had already decided that for them. If the Cardinals had decided it was too rich for their blood and had gone into the season with some combination of John Skelton and say, Marc Bulger at quarterback, they would have been chided for being cheap and risk-averse at the quarterback position. The Cardinals have chosen to error on the side of aggression with the NFC West up for grabs, which is probably the better move.
Let’s face it, in another division, the best play here would have been to cheap out and go with full on rebuilding like the Seahawks and Bengals and Redskins have opted for. But teams like the Cardinals, Panthers, and Broncos are going a different route. It’s not full on rebuilding in these cities, it’s aggressive turnover at critical positions in the hope of taking advantage of a tight window of opportunity. If it works, credit these front offices for avoiding the allure of using time granted by their situations to rebuild. If it fails, well, credit the aggression anyway, but then also point out that the Cardinals dance with Kevin Kolb could easily end up setting the franchise back a couple of years, and that they’re in this a little bit blindly from the very beginning.