Checking in on the Patriots Mess of a Salary Cap Situation

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Some fans in Pats Nation are a bit salted that, to this point, the team has still yet to make any significant moves so far in free agency. To be fair, it hasn’t even been 24 hours since free-agent signings and new trades became official. The Pats were also able to resign one of their own top free agents in Jason McCourty as well as receiver Phillip Dorsett. Also, the news of Michael Bennett’s acquisition – which is by no means insignificant – broke almost a week ago.

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I am pretty stoked that at least J-Mac’s been officially locked up once again.

Still, the team has also lost it’s starting left tackle (Trent Brown) and defensive keystone (Trey Flowers) over the past few days along with some wide receiver depth. While Bennett can serve as a more than serviceable replacement for Trey Flowers, what about everything else?

Again, folks, it is still SUPER early in the offseason. Plus, there’s that whole draft thing that happens every April, too. Ya know, the one during which the Pats will have six picks within the top-101 selections? That’s likely where many needs are going to be addressed.

But with how much talent there is in this year’s free-agent class, especially at wide receiver, I’ll admit that maybe it is a little disappointing we’ve received nothing but radio silence from Foxborough, besides the McCourty news and a few other minor re-signings. The team also brought in long-time special-teams standout/emergency running back Brandon Bolden after his one-year stint in Miami. Other than that, though, absolutely nada.

(UPDATE: The Patriots signed journeyman wide receiver Bruce Ellington to a one-year deal on Thursday afternoon. But, honestly, who the hell cares? In my book, it’s still “nada.”)

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One of Belichick’s all-time faves, Bolden, is back.

Perhaps it isn’t entirely by choice, though. I mentioned the other day that we might not be paying enough attention to some of the team’s current contracts, which could potentially have the front office hamstrung, no matter what they actually might want to do. Right now, Spotrac has the Patriots’ projected cap space at about $9.6 million – but, and this is key to mention, that is without accounting for any of this week’s re-signings, as the terms of those deals have still yet to be announced. As you can see, the team really doesn’t have as many resources as some might like to think they do.

While I highlighted Julian Edelman’s current deal as a speculative problem, here are a few other very real salary concerns that are worth mentioning:

  • Gronk, who has a cap hit over $11 million for this year, has STILL yet to declare whether or not he’s coming back. Truthfully, it’s an incredibly selfish move on his part. That’s over eight figures just sitting there in limbo while some of the best names continue to fly off the market. Ironically, there’s a guy out there, Jared Cook, who the team is reportedly interested in and who could ultimately replace Gronk at tight end. But, until No. 87 decides what he wants to do, it might not matter. (He and the team might actually already know and just aren’t saying anything, but right now he looks bad.)
  • The right side of the offensive line – Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon – accounts for a combined 7.7 percent of the team’s total salary in terms of cap hit. While I will be the first one to sing the praises of the offensive line from last season, that does seem a bit high when comparing it to the rest of the roster. Especially when you consider that the O-line is more about how all five work together as a unit, and no one player really stood out above the rest, do we really need to be investing this much? Though I think Mason is one of the game’s elite young guards, moving Cannon – and his extensive injury history – would save the team about $4.7 million. (This one is very unlikely to happen due to the team’s almost non-existent lack of depth at the position, but it is an example of player maybe not entirely living up to his big contract.)
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After being ranked as PFF’s top-rated right tackle in 2016, Cannon has fallen back down to Earth quite a bit.

  • Adrian Clayborn was up-and-down in 2018 after signing with the team last offseason as the “big” free-agent addition. He really was a key contributor at times in terms of pressure, but at others he was entirely non-existent. The team might be thin at the position, but he’s just not worth an almost $6 million cap hit. Cutting him would leave $2 million in dead money, but it’s honestly worth it in my opinion. There is so much depth in terms of pass-rushers/edge defenders in this draft. And the team still has young guys like Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers, both of whom I expect to take big leaps in 2019 if they can finally each get healthy. We truly don’t need Clayborn at that price.
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Relative to expectations, Clayborn was a bit of a dud.

  • Devin McCourty is set to make over $13 million in 2019 and is in the last year of his deal. I know he allegedly toyed with the idea of retirement recently, but perhaps a nice little extension would show him that the team truly values his presence and knows how important it is to keep him around. His brother is also signed to be here at least through the next two seasons. Plus, it would allow the team to spread out the money a bit more and free up some much-needed space in the short term.
  • Literally the same exact thing can be done with Tom Brady, who is also set to become a free agent next offseason, and his $27 million cap hit.

There are others as well who could be extended, cut, traded, etc., etc., etc. But to me, these are the ones that stand out the most.

As I said, there’s still a lot of time left in the offseason, but the clock is ticking in terms of bringing in truly premier talent. Earlier today, the Golden Tate rumors started up again, and with the pretty cold market he’s been met with so far, the team could get him at a real discount. But the guy is only going to wait so long, and he is honestly about as perfect a fit as it gets for this team and its system. I would hate to see him sign for $7 or $8 million per with another team, because that would be absolute highway robbery for a player that good.

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Please, Bill, make this happen somehow!!!

(ANOTHER UPDATE: Aaaand now Tate’s gone after signing for $9 million per year over four years with the Giants. COOL.)

Maybe they have a few things lined up behind closed doors and we’ll soon be hit with a flurry of successive contract-related news. Or maybe the team’s brass is sitting in a big conference room and scratching their heads. I’ve never had anything but good reason to trust in this team and it’s roster-building mastery, but all I’m saying is they’ve definitely got their hands full this year.

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