This article is part of our The Reddit Madden League series.
We’re just about halfway through the RML 2020 season and we’ve yet to really see teams unload players to alleviate cap concerns. Whether it’s because teams are content with the rosters they have, or simply don’t care to let their older talent hit the open market, there’s been a sporadic amount of wheeling and dealing to date. However, a trade between a perennial playoff team and a possible contender in years to come (you heard me) has piqued my interest.
LE JJ Watt, 99 overall, 31 years old
HB David Johnson, 98 overall, 28 years old
HB Tevin Coleman, 88 overall, 27 years old
LE Taco Charlton, 81 overall, 25 years old
SS John Johnson, 80 overall, 24 years old
Generally when I analyze trades, I tend to look at who got the best player overall. Situations can certainly vary, but for the most part, the winner of the trade is the one acquiring the stud. Following conventional logic, it’s fairly clear the Eagles got the better end of the stick. In fact, you could argue the 49ers might have gotten too little for either player, much less both put together.
Let’s take this step by step, starting with JJ Watt. After acquiring the second best NFL player to ever come from the University of Wisconsin (behind Joe Thomas, of course) in the 2019 season from the Chargers, there has hardly been a more dominant defensive lineman in RML. Watt registered 21 sacks in 18 games (not including playoffs) with San Francisco, acting as one third of a fearsome pass rush that put up top-5 sack numbers for the better part of two seasons. What’s more impressive – Watt was hardly controlled throughout the whole process, with the 49ers owner opting to use DT Sharrif Floyd as his primary pass rusher of choice. The 31-year-old is also one of only two defensive lineman to have at least a 90 overall rating in each of the four major categories: strength, blockshed, power moves and finesse moves (the other being Buccaneers godly LE Solomon Thomas). While Madden regression will surely make that a one-man party in 2021, it’s safe to say Watt will be a formidable pass rusher for at least two more seasons.
And while Madden inexplicably tabs David Johnson as more of a power running back as opposed to his real-life dual capabilities, the 28-year-old is still tied for the fastest 90+ overall running back, slotting in alongside Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley with 92 speed. Johnson’s agility and acceleration are both lower than each of the other aforementioned backs, but not by a noticeable amount. Indeed, the 49ers owner ran for over 5,838 yards with Johnson over the course of three and a half seasons, including a 2017 campaign in which the running back clearly better than Jay Ajayi finished with the third-highest RML rushing figure of all-time – 2,326 yards. It’s not as if Johnson’s lack of burst was a hindrance.
But is JJ Watt or David Johnson really the best player being exchanged in this deal? There’s two ways two ways to look at this, and we will start with the “extracurriculars” of the above players. I’ve already addressed Watt’s other-worldly pass rushing stats, but he’s primed for a regression hammer heading into his age-32 season. Generally speaking, players at this point start to lose two points in many of the major categories pertaining to their specific skillset. While I wasn’t about to simulate ahead four seasons to find out if this would be the case, it’s safe to assume Watt will lose at least one in each of the four major pass rushing categories, as well as other things like awareness, play recognition and speed. Unfortunately, the same can be said for David Johnson – and unlike Watt, Johnson’s dip in speed, acceleration, agility, etc. could bring him from “elite” to “whatever the range Philip Rivers is in real life.” What’s more, both players’ contracts expire the following season. While this probably isn’t an issue for Watt given he won’t be much of an asset in two seasons, but will still request the money as if he was (assuming he doesn’t retire), that won’t be the same for Johnson as he’s still young enough to reasonably sign him back to a smaller deal. However, that will limit available money in future years, or at the very least, tie up enough cap space this upcoming offseason to the point where the Eagles will be unable to spend on what should be an intriguing group of talented free agents, albeit on the older side. You could argue it as a low-risk move to vault into RML contention, cutting bait after both players’ final years, but is the allure of competitiveness worth torpedoing a relatively healthy cap situation for two seasons, at least?
And that doesn’t even touch on the players acquired by the 49ers – namely Tevin Coleman. While the primary running back for San Francisco isn’t an all-around better RB than David Johnson, he’s at least fast enough to be one. Coleman is tied for the third-highest speed rating of any RB in RML, and is the only one with a 94 or higher speed rating that also has 90+ agility and acceleration attributes. He’s also locked in on a solid enough five-year deal, which will pay him in access of $18 million over the course of three seasons. Compare that to Johnson, whose final season sits at $14.4 million, and the price appropriation has the two on a similar playing field. It’s not ancillary, but it’s worth mentioning because I can – Coleman is also a really, really good “Madden” back. For whatever the reason, there are just some players who perform better in this game than their attributes would perceive. Maybe it’s due to the speed, maybe it’s due to his size, maybe it’s just Madden being Madden, I’m not sure – all I know is, Coleman was widely regarded as one of the best MUT RBs in Madden 18 and continues to be in RML as well.
While both John Johnson and Charlton were signed to solid contracts themselves, even before you factor in the erased signing bonuses, which Madden inexplicably accelerates portions onto the base salary upon trade, their age and relative lack of standout attributes don’t trigger the excitement meter too much. Still, acquiring two starters for well below their open market price can’t be understated, making this one of the rare times a deal could be considered a win-win for both parties.