The purpose of this fan post is to examine the Patriots cap situation over the next few years, and to project how much space they would have for aggressive moves to try and maximise our chance at the franchises 4th and maybe 5th ring. I think it is clear that we can't count on Brady being his super self past the end of his contract extension, and so whether his window is two, three or four years, it is probably coming to a close, and would make sense for us to maximise our chances while we have a first ballot Hall of Famer under centre, because as you may know, they don't come along every day. But while we may want to dream about trading for Fitzgerald, and signing Mack, Boldin and Hardy, we need to try and figure out what space we have to work with.
To do that I'll first break down the cap situation for the next four years, while detailing the possible cuts, resignings and restructures that we could do. This will give us some cap figures to work with. Onto that I'll project the space we could free up for further FA signings, and how long we could keep deferring the hit, until we have to blow things up.
With all that in place, I'll offer some thoughts on our situation, before following up with some suggested moves and my analysis on what the best moves might be in a later fan post.
Predicting the League's Cap Figure
So the first task is to come up with realistic figures for the cap the next few years. It has been widely reported that teams have been given an estimated figure of $126.3m to work with for 2014, which would equate to a 2.68% rise. From there after it is trickier to project. But based on a longer term analysis of how the cap will change that the league realised in 2012, it seems the cap will stay fairly flat for the next few years, before starting a slightly larger growth with the bigger media money kicking in.
Due to the new CBA paying the players a lot more in benefits, the cap should have actually decreased the last few years, but was given a small boost instead, that the owners will recoup by taking it off of future caps. Given this I've elected to have the cap rise by 2.68% again for 2015, and then rise by 4% the next two years.
This leaves the league cap figures as: $123.6m for 2014, $129.7m for 2015, $134.9m for 2016 and $140.3m for 2017.
Introducing the Spreadsheet of Wonder
Before we move on, I need to shift from the limited format of the fanpost, to the number crunching superiority of Excel. So here is a link to a Cap Tracker Spreadsheet. Now before you get put off, if you don't care about the working, then you don't have to look, and you can just take my figures as given. And if you've already got bored, then skip ahead for the TL;DR at the bottom, under the year summary headings. But if you would like to indulge your inner geek in a cool sporty way, then I have a separate fanpost breaking down how the spreadsheet works.
But now for some figures:
If the Patriots made no moves to sign or resign any FAs, and didn't draft any players or change any contracts, we'd then be left with $5m of cap space for 2014, $46.4m of cap space for 2015, $68.7m of cap space for 2016 and $100.8m of cap space for 2017.
The trouble is that's not very much this year, and despite the riches available in 2017, we'd only have four guys on the roster. So I have projected some changes.
Trimming the Fat
First I look at cutting players, and cut anyone who I thought was surplus to requirement, or mediocre and overpaid, or overpaid who I'd like to restructure. The guys I thought we could do without were, Isaac Sopoaga, Adrian Wilson, Jake Bequette and Chris White. Those I thought were overpaid and upgradeable were Dan Connolly and Steve Gregory, and those I wanted to extend and save money on but keep were Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski, Tommy Kelly and Matthew Slater.
Restructuring Good Performers
Cutting all of those guys would leave us with $34.5m worth of cap space. Now that is a decent amount to work with. Of course it would be a shame to lose those last five guys, so I worked out deals I thought might work to restructure their deals. These were all guesses, but designed to be realistic, with a team friendly bias (and round numbers where possible to keep the maths easier) and you can view the breakdowns on the spreadsheet. These deals were all structured with a signing bonus of around 30-40%, and rising yearly contracts starting at $1m for year one, and getting higher and until a large last year. This seems like standard practise across the league, as the player gets his signing bonus straight away, and then bigger salaries in later years. By having the last year much bigger, but with little dead money. The team can cut the player, or restructure them then, with little penalty. I also worked out the deals for Connolly and Gregory, and left them as optional, with both guys currently not on the roster and so not affecting the final cap number.
But we don't only have restructuring to do, we have some FAs to resign too. This is a bit trickier, as people's opinions differ, and so I split the guys up into four categories. Key Resigns (Aqib Talib), Backups (Michael Hoomanawanui and Dane Fletcher) and Luxury Resigns (Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount) and Extra Depth (Andre Carter, Austin Collie, Ryan Wendell, Will Svitek and Brandon Spikes). I then predicted contracts for them, just like with the restructured guys, and added the Key Resigns and the Backups to the cap, and left the other guys as optional.
Adding Draft Picks
This left just one more cap matter to take care of, and that is signing our future prospective draft picks, with catchy names such as '14 R6a'. To do this I used our round position this year, and gave them the same contracts as guys in the same (ignoring comp picks) draft slots got last year, plus 1% inflation.
Adjusting for the Rule of 51
Before I added this all together, I counted all the players I had on the roster, and made a small adjustment to work out the cap space after the top 51 players had been taken into account, as by rule only they count against the cap. With all those deals done we have $13.2m in cap space remaining, and for each player we add, we need to take his cap hit away from the space, minus $495,000 (standard cost of the cheapest contracts) which is being paid to the guy who now has the 52nd most expensive contract.
With Talib kept, and Hooman and Fletcher for depth, as well as our draft class signed, and some restructuring, we have $13.2m in cap space to spend on other FAs. That space could be used to bring back Wendell, Connolly, Gregory, or other mediocre starters, as well as quality performers in Blount and Edelman. Or some exciting FA additions.
I'll now tackle future years in a similar vein.
By resigning Nate Solder, and restructuring Logan Mankins, as well as keeping Markus Zusevics and Sealver Siliga for depth, we'd have $16.4m of cap space, which we could spend on resigning guys like Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Marcus Cannon. We could also keep a restructured Amendola, who I choose to cut for this projection.
We can resign Chandler Jones and Alfonzo Dennard, as well as Armond Armstead and Kenbrell Thompkins for depth, and restructure Mayo's deal and be left with $25.3m to resign guys like Dont'a Hightower and Ryan Allen. We could also restructure Kyle Arrington's deal, which I have left cut in the projections.
So what is the state of play with the Pats Cap going forward? Well, assuming all my deals come off, we have $83.6m of cap space over the next four years, which we can play with, without harming chances of us resigning key guys. Starters that we'd have lost, or need to pay with that money, over that time would include in 2014: Edelman, Blount & Spikes. In 2015 Vereen, Ridley, Cannon and Amendola. In 2016 Hightower, Allen, Arrington and Kelly, and in 2017 Wilfork, Vollmer, Ninkovich, Ryan, Harmon and Boyce.
But it seems that we have some flexibility to bring back a few of those guys, and/or superior replacements from the FA world. Plus we may get as much as an extra $7.5m back from the Hernandez situation. Still, even without it, we have an average of $20m free each year, with which to keep some more of our guys, while supplementing with some missing pieces here and there.
In the next addition I'll look into how we might be able to get some of that money earlier, or even borrow from 2018 onwards, if we really wanted to push all our chips in.