Desmond Trufant has been through a lot during his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons. There were some contract-related shenanigans that momentarily kept him from joining his very first training camp. He missed his chance to play in a Super Bowl. And then he’s endured all sorts of unfair criticism for doing what most working age adults regularly do: ask to be paid as much money as possible for the services they perform.
I’ve come to Trufant’s defense before, arguing that much of the criticism directed at him is misdirected and misguided. But there’s been some chatter lately about potentially trading Trufant. I’m not sure that’s actually in the front office’s plans or even on their radar as an option, but assuming the Falcons have a genuine interest in trading Trufant, what is the financial benefit?
Let’s start with the parameters of his current contract: He signed a 5 year, $69 million extension before the 2017 season. He’s under contract for 3 more seasons, and assuming he plays out his current deal, he’ll be a 32 year old unrestricted free agent in 2023. His base salaries over the next 3 seasons average just north of $15 million, which is admittedly a lot for a corner back that is good but not exactly elite. It’s also worth noting that $42 million of that $69 million extension is guaranteed. (Although most of that guaranteed money has already been paid out.)
So what happens if the Falcons find a willing trade partner? Well, trading Trufant, for dead money purposes, is the functional equivalent of cutting him. That means any deferred money becomes due and owing immediately. In Trufant’s case, that’d be $10.2 million with a 2020 cap savings of only $4.95 million. In other words, it’s not worth it. Given the financial inflexibility the front office is trying to navigate, going that route is simply cost prohibitive. If the Falcons keep him around for another year, they can cut or trade him and only be on the hook for $5.8 million in dead money with a projected cap savings of $10.35 million in 2021 and $12.75 million in 2022. That option looks far more palatable on its face.
There’s no denying the fact that Trufant’s exorbitant contract hasn’t produced an ideal return on investment. At this moment, his contract represents a whopping 7.41 percent of the 2020 team cap. Is it likely to go down as one of the worst contracts of the Thomas Dimitroff era? I don’t know. I think it’s too early to say, and that begs another question: what if he was paid slightly ($2-3 million) less? Would it still be such a bad contract? I’d honestly prefer Trufant’s contract over Devonta Freeman’s at this point. But make no mistake, Trufant is paid like a top 10 cornerback and he’s coming off yet another season that was derailed by injury.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s fair to wonder whether the Falcons overpaid, because they most certainly did. At the same time, he’s no schlub. Trufant may have only played 50 percent of the defensive snaps last season (50.7 percent to be exact), but he made good use of that time, intercepting 4 passes on his way to Pro Football Focus’ 40th best coverage grade. Is he elite? No. Is he good? Yes. I doubt Trufant is given the opportunity to play out his current deal and there’s a real possibility the Falcons move on from him in 2021. But like it or not, trading him makes little financial sense in 2020.