Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today.
On August 13, the NFL formally approved the trade the sent Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy to the New England Patriots for a conditional 7th-round draft pick pending him passing a physical.
At first glance, it seems like a simple trade that sent a player who had no chance of making the team to another one where he may have a shot. Since the Packers didn’t have Worthy in their plans, the possibility of gaining a low-round draft pick was worth the chance.
However, upon closer inspection, the trade looks a little more interesting.
It’s unusual for a team to give up so quickly on a highly drafted player, and the Packers did seem to pull the plug quickly on Worthy after showing tremendous patience with others in the past.
Is there something more to this?
Worthy injured himself in the off season, which landed him on the non-football injury list. While a player is on that list, he is not allowed to practice and the team is not obligated to pay him (but may chose to, and in most cases do pay them according to mutual agreement and disclosure of the injury, which then counts against the salary cap).
If a player ends training camp on the non-football injury list, he cannot practice for the first six weeks of the regular season. After six weeks, the team must activate him, place him on injured reserve, release him, or allow him to practice for the next three weeks while they decide his roster fate. Many players beginning the regular season on the non-football injury list do count against the salary cap. All players on injured reserve do count against the salary cap.
To make things more complicated, if a player is taken off the non-football injury list, but should re-injure himself during team activities, then the team is obligated to honor the whole salary if the player lands on injured reserve, or part of it if the player lands on injured reserve with a split contract or reaches an injury settlement contract termination.
Worthy had not practiced at all during training camp, which suggests the Packers’ medical team would not clear him to return to the field. The Packers may have been facing a decision if Worthy would enter the regular season on the non-football injury list. Depending on their agreement with him, they may had to pay him and take a cap hit for no on-field production.
What is curious, however, is immediately after arriving in New England, the Patriot’s medical staff passed Worthy on his physical, which suggests he is cleared to practice.
Furthermore, the Patriots do not currently hold a 2015 7th-round draft pick to return to the Packers should Worthy make the Patriots’ final roster. It’s possible the Patriots could acquire a 7th-round selection as the product of another trade or they could default to a 2016 7th-round pick for the Packers.
In any event, based on this information, it seems very unlikely that Worthy has much faith from the Patriots’ brass to make the squad.
So, why did this trade happen at all?
It’s very possible that this was salary dump by the Packers. His 2014 salary is $748,928. If Worthy completed training camp on the non-football injury list, some or all of this would likely count against the 2014 cap. Also, if they were to activate him, and then he got hurt again, the Packers would be on the hook for all his 2014 salary because it’s unlikely he has a split contract.
Looking at spotrac, the Packers have already paid all of Worthy’s guaranteed money, which was his singing bonus of $1,311,420 and his 2012 base salary of $390,000, for a total of $1,701,420.
By trading Worthy, the Packers still have the same cap figures of $327,855 in both 2014 and 2015 from his prorated signing bonus that they would have even if he remained in Green Bay.
I’m purely speculating at this point, but it may be a simple case of the Packers trying to save a few dollars of actual payments by making Worthy a member of the Patriots. Since Worthy passed his physical, all or part of his 2014 salary of $748,928 is now the responsibility of the Patriots and their salary cap if he makes the team, goes on injured reserve, or receives an injury settlement.
In the end, the Packers washed their hands of Worthy’s contract and minimized any further risk of dealing with an injured player. They kept his entire 2014 salary off of the cap, which wouldn’t have been the case if he stuck around on the non-football injury list, ended up on injured reserve, or received an injury settlement.
With a potential and expensive contract extension looming for Randall Cobb, every dollar counts.
If they happen to get a draft pick, that’s just gravy.——————