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The Kenny Stills Trade in Retrospect

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The Saints plan to waive Danell Ellerbe after two unimpressive seasons. Two years later, we examine the trade that sent fan favorite Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins for the reclamation project linebacker and a third-round pick.

Dallas Cowboys v Miami Dolphins Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

During the 2015 offseason, the Saints were trying to press reset, clean house, and stock pile some draft picks for once. They cut their second-best pass rusher Junior Galette after one too many red flags.

They traded All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick, who later became up and down linebacker Stephone Anthony. Plenty has been written about that trade over the past two seasons.

But the other Saints trade in March 2015 had a chapter abruptly close with the news of Dannell Ellerbe’s impending release. In another effort to turn present assets into future treasures, the Saints traded their fifth-round steal of a wideout Kenny Stills for oft-injured and soon to be released Dolphins linebacker Danell Ellerbe along with a 2015 3rd Round pick.

In the past two years, Kenny Stills has performed well in Miami. His durability has only improved. After missing one game over two years in NOLA, he’s missed zero with his new team. In 2015, he collected 27 receptions, 440 total yards, and 3 touchdowns while averaging 16.3 yards per catch. In 2016, he gathered 42 receptions, 726 total yards, and an NFL receiver 6th-best overall nine touchdowns while again averaging an impressive 17.3 yards per catch.

Though Stills had more receptions (63) for more yards (931) and more yards per game (62.1) catching passes from Drew Brees, his sophomore season than in either of his seasons with Ryan Tannehill, his heightened ability to reach the end zone became evident this past season in Miami. His pension for creating the big play allowed him to reach a four-year, $32 million extension ($20 million guaranteed) with the Dolphins this past offseason.

So, let’s look at what the Saints’ side of that deal has accomplished. For fairness sake, I’m taking only the time from the trade to today in consideration.

In 2015, Ellerbe played in six games, made 39 total tackles, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble, one pass defended, and no sacks. In 2016, he played in nine games, made 44 total tackles, two passes defended, and four sacks. Currently, the Saints are waiting for Ellerbe’s recent foot injury to heal before waiving him after two injury plagued seasons.

If we were comparing Stills’ production to Ellerbe’s over the past two years, it’s pretty obvious who won the trade, but another piece from that trade still resides on the Saints roster today. 2015 third-round pick (78th overall) cornerback P.J. Williams from Florida State was the byproduct from this trade.

Let’s be clear. Hopefully the Saints weren’t totally played in this trade and originally thought of Ellerbe as a simple pot sweetener for a future third-round pick who would eventually help the team more than the “immature” Stills. But if that’s the case, this really didn’t work out.

Williams missed his entire rookie season with a torn hamstring. Then, after wowing during his second training camp and preseason, Williams left the second game with a season ending concussion that landed him on IR. There is still much hope for the talented Williams, but in a two-year fishbowl, this trade, based solely on production, was an epic fail.

That covers production, so let’s look at value of return next. Stills was due base salaries of $585,000 in 2015 and $675,000 in 2016. Ellerbe was due $8.425 million in 2015, $6.45 million in 2016, and $6 million in 2017. The Saints restructured his deal by chopping his 2015 base salary to $1.1 million with $4.9 million in signing and roster bonuses, and then trimming his pay over the last two seasons of his contract by more than half of its original value.

Meanwhile, Williams has cost the Saints very reasonable rookie scale cap hits of $494,654 (2015) and $726,654 (2016) over the past two years. Well, reasonable if he had been able to play more than 2 games in 32 games, but I digress…

I think it’s abundantly clear that the Saints cut bait with a highly productive, young, durable, and cheap asset so they could acquire not one, but two, incredibly talented yet injury prone players whose play hasn't been worth the ink used to sign their contracts.

I feel like this trade went down like the Dolphins were Kevin Costner and the Saints were “Wind in His Hair”.