The New England Patriots’s most experienced offensive lineman will be playing elsewhere this season. The team will trade tackle Marcus Cannon to the Houston Texans once the new league year officially begins on March 17, parting ways with a player who appeared in 134 games for the organization and won three Super Bowls.
Despite his impressive résumé, the writing was already on the wall that the Patriots would move on from Cannon this offseason. Coming off his Coronavirus opt-out, he did not report back to the team for his end-of-year physical and workout and was also scheduled to hit New England’s salary cap with $9.6 million this season. Add all of this up, and the 32-year-old not being part of the Patriots’ plans in 2021 is no surprise.
What was somewhat surprising, though, is that the team did not have to cut Cannon but was able to get something in return for him via trade: New England and Houston will swap selections in the fourth, fifth and sixth round of this year’s draft. While that return may seem a bit slim for a player with considerable starting experience, the trade itself can be considered a win for the Patriots.
Cannon’s role on the 2021 Patriots
After Cannon’s opt-out last summer, New England first turned to Jermaine Eluemunor as its starting right tackle. The former trade acquisition was part of a rotation alongside sixth-round draft choice Michael Onwenu, however, with the latter eventually taking over the job after Eluemunor suffered an ankle injury in Week 6.
Onwenu never looked back and finished the year as one of the better rookie performers in the NFL. Meanwhile, Eluemunor was relegated to backup duty.
With Onwenu a candidate to move to guard and Eluemunor headed towards unrestricted free agency, Cannon might have returned to his starting gig in 2021. However, the Patriots bringing back Trent Brown via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders last week added another layer of intrigue: with Brown basically guaranteed a starting spot, and with left tackle Isaiah Wynn also expected back, Cannon suddenly became a luxury along the O-line.
He either would be an experienced but high-priced backup option in 2021, or become a cap casualty. The latter outcome was always the more likely one, and the trade with Houston now serves as confirmation: Cannon simply had no place on New England’s roster moving forward, especially at his price tag.
The financial perspective
Speaking of Cannon’s price tag, his salary cap number for the 2021 season was the fourth highest on the team: only defensive starters Stephon Gilmore, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty were scheduled to have a higher cap hit than his $9.6 million. Having a starting-caliber offensive tackle at that number is nothing unheard of, but the composition of New England’s current roster meant that the value was just no longer justifiable.
Trading Cannon and having another player take his spot on the top-51 roster — only a team’s 51 highest cap hits are counting against the cap during the offseason — gives New England an additional $6.28 million in cap space to work with this spring. In turn, the Patriots’ available cap space increases to $65.25 million, according to Miguel Benzan (the Trent Brown and Justin Bethel deals not yet included).
Even though trading Cannon to Houston also creates a sizable dead cap charge of $2.57 million, the savings alone make the move worth it from the Patriots’ perspective.
The actual return
As noted above, seeing New England simply cut Cannon at one point would not have been a surprise. However, the team was still able to generate some return for the long-time starter by improving the draft position in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds this year.
The trade in itself looks as follows:
- New England gets 4-109, 5-147 and 6-187.
- Houston gets 4-120, 5-158 and 6-196, plus Marcus Cannon.
While moving up the board thrice on Day Three does not seem to be a significant improvement of draft position, Rich Hill’s trade value chart shows that New England gained the equivalent of a mid-fifth rounder: the Patriots’ draft portfolio is now worth 10.11 points more than it was before the trade, roughly the same value as the 157th overall draft pick.
Basically getting a fifth-round pick for a player who was expected to get cut anyway is certainly a positive for New England, especially when using the Trent Brown trade as comparison: acquiring Brown, who is younger than Cannon and a candidate to take over his job, cost the Patriots’ a fifth-round pick in 2022; they also got a seventh-rounder back as well.
While the eventual impact of the players, draft picks and monetary savings involved cannot be properly assessed until further down the line, both of those trades turned out very favorably from New England’s point of view.