A little less than 9 months ago, the Arizona Cardinals made what was called by many, the blockbuster trade of the season, sending a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Kevin Kolb.
Kolb ultimately failed to deliver in 2011, and while Cards fans remain hopeful that he will improve in 2012 the team's weaknesses in pass rushing and on the O-Line have left many resentful of no longer having a second round pick.
Trading down, in the hopes of picking up a few additional draft picks, therefore, is a popular option in the eyes of many of the Bird Gang. Indeed, if, as predicted several mock-drafts, the top-tier O-Line talent is already off the board by the thirteenth overall pick, it becomes the favored option for most. But for the Cardinals brass, this brings more than it's fair share of difficulties.
The Cardinals off-season has been slow, to say the least. Their high-profile pursuit of Peyton Manning notwithstanding, financial concerns have effectively shackled the Arizona team in the free agency period, and will continue to have lasting repercussions as they prepare for the draft.
According to calculations by Aaron Wilson the Cardinals have just $8,795 in unallocated cap space. That's not a typo, the infamously frugal Cardinals have spent almost every single dollar of the $120.6 million allotted to them, with barely enough left over to even purchase a used Toyota.
To put it in perspective, at the time of the tweet, the next worst-off team, the Carolina Panthers, had nearly half a million dollars to spare, while the sixth-ranked Atlanta Falcons had more than $1.6 million in reserve.
But what does any of this have to do with the draft you may ask? Simple. Drafting a player isn't enough. Calling his name doesn't make him a Cardinal, you still have to pay him his salary. And unlike veteran contracts, which include more than their fair share of loopholes and wiggle-room to help deal with the salary cap, rookie contracts are effectively set-in-stone thanks to the new NFL Rookie Pay Scale.
Trading down in the first round, then, may seem like a good idea—the later in the draft we pick, the less we pay the player.
Unfortunately the reality is that the difference in pay between 13th and 17th or 18th—a realistic expectation in any trade scenario—is negligible, and certainly goes no distance at all to offset the additional salary concerns a second round rookie would add to the team.
Adding a second round pick would force the team to create find another million dollars in cap room for 2012, on top of the more than $2.5 million required to land their first round pick.
The Cardinals have already done practically all of the restructuring they can do for 2012, and while signing Calais Campbell to a long term deal—already a top priority—will undoubtedly free up some space, the Cardinals will still inevitably need to part ways with some players to create space to sign their draft picks.
While the difference in salary between a 13th and 18th overall pick may be negligible, the difference in skill rarely is.
It's that, even perceived, difference in quality which is why there will be takers for any such trade. The Cardinals will need to think long and hard before making any such deal, because it is no benefit to anyone to gain a second round pick, if they can't afford to pay him, or any of the later picks they make.