Michael Cohen didn't enter into a plea agreement with the Mueller investigation, nor with the Southern District of New York. A plea deal, it seems, would have required him to confess all his crimes, beginning with the Milky Way he stole from the corner store when he was nine years old. That would include criminal acts predating his employment by the Tr*mp Organization, and it's hard to believe there weren't quite of few of those.
His pre-Tr*mp income has been reported as $75,000 a year, which could have been low enough to get him drummed out of the Bar Association. How did he finance those taxi medallions, not to mention those investment apartments in Tr*mp Tower? Did his association with Russian mobsters from Brighton Beach have anything to do with it? It seems like a pretty safe bet. My guess is that he'd have ended up doing more time with a plea agreement than without it. I'm also guessing that the prosecutors from SDNY had pretty much the same idea – just not enough evidence to charge him – and that's why their sentencing recommendation was so unfavorable.
* * *Nobody expects James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense for much longer, but there may be a new requirement for his replacement: dropping charges against former Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, who confessed (on Fox News!) to murdering an Afghan civilian who already was in custody of the Army. The man had been fingered as Taliban by a neighbor – which, in Afghanistan, only means the neighbor had a beef with him. After watching a sympathetic interview with the Major on Fox and Friends, Tr*mp immediately began tweeting about a pardon.
"Bad optics" doesn't seem to bother Our President, but other Republicans are just a little bit more sensitive; so avoiding the presidential pardon may be a way to cram yet another desperate finger into the crumbling dike that is the current administration. It may be a futile effort – it's probable that Tr*mp really wants to use his pardon power in this case – but sea levels are rising, and the MAGA seawall looks shabbier every day.