Sources: Everywhere. Everyone from Jason LaCanfora to Chris Mortensen is talking about how the league and the players are gaining traction and momentum and are getting closer to a deal. Some are even saying that we might see a deal before the end of the week. Now while that sounds entirely overly optimistic, all this discussion means that the two sides are getting closer to a deal. Progress is being made. Now I'm not going to expect a deal by the end of the week- although I would be ecstatic. I believe more notable progress will happen in the next week and that there will be a deal before the last week of July.
Currently, the hubbub is over the agreement of a rookie salary cap between the players and the league. The two sides are finally starting to come together and the hope is that this agreement will be the first of many to usher in a new deal. However, there are some factors that the Patriots have to take into account if and when a new deal is finally reached.
1) The salary cap will be $120m. According to Patscap, the 76 players currently signed with the Patriots reach a total of $113,826,578. Keep in mind that this number includes the offers on players like Logan Mankins and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, which means that the front office has done a phenomenal job of preparing the team to succeed in 2011. Not only will there be space to sign all the rookies to their typical contracts, but they'll also be able to sign Mankins to a lucrative long term contract, as well as potentially bring back Matt Light and/or additional free agents.
This means that the Patriots can bring back their 2010 squad and add new pieces. Other teams are not as lucky; the Jets currently have around $101m against their cap limit, which means they have to spread $20m amongst their rookies, their 2010 starters in Shaun Ellis, Brodney Pool, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Cromartie, as well as their top depth players like Wayne Hunter, Brad Smith, James Ihedigbo, and Drew Coleman. They won't be able to bring all of those players together and the Jets definitely won't be able to bring in many free agents.
The Patriots are in position to take another step forward while rivals either move laterally or step backwards. Let's hope the Patriots can jump forward.
2) Teams will have three days to sign their FAs. Looking at the Patriots' free agents, the players can be split up into three categories:
1. Priority Signings
LG Logan Mankins - Mankins sits alone as the only priority signing. He's arguably the best LG in the league and he brings attitude to the offensive line.
2. Luxury Signings
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Preferred? Yes. But with the drafting of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, as well as the new contract of Danny Woodhead, BJGE is technically a luxury. I'd bet the house he'll be back, but he's still not a "priority".
S Jarrad Page/Brandon McGowan - I group these two players because I can see the Patriots only bringing back one of the two. I prefer Page to McGowan and I believe that Page will get the offer- but with young Sergio Brown playing well in his short amount of time, these two safeties are potential luxuries.
CB Kyle Arrington - Arrington is a special teams stud so you can pencil in his name with a contract. He's an exclusive rights FA so he's pretty much already back, but just in-case something unexpected happens, I'll put Arrington as a luxury. With Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Darius Butler, and Jonathan Wilhite under contract, and with the draft pick Ras-I Dowling receiving a contract, Arrington is a luxury at the cornerback spot.
RB Kevin Faulk - Faulk will be given a one year contract. Guaranteed. He's a luxury to bring back, but he'll be back.
LT Matt Light - Light has held down Tom Brady's blind side for a decade, but that run may be coming to a close. A lot of teams could use a stop-gap left tackle (Patriots included) and Light is one of the best available. I expect the Patriots to offer him a 2 or 3 year deal in order to groom draft pick Nate Solder, but they won't challenge other teams if they raise the price.
G/T Quinn Ojinnaka - The Patriots acquired Ojinnaka with a draft pick and he rarely saw the field. However, with the injuries to Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur, as well as the hold-out of Logan Mankins, the Patriots' can't really be blamed for going after an interior lineman. I doubt he'll be back.
DE Gerard Warren - Warren was a great surprise last season, but he's unable to be a full-season contributor. As the Patriots pick up additional youth on the defensive line, look for Warren to be a mid-season bring-back, or look for him to sign with another team.
ST Tracy White - White is a phenomenal special teams player and I'd expect him to be back next season for a reasonable price.
3. Not Desired
K Shayne Graham - Graham will be gone with the return of Stephen Gostkowski.
RB Sammy Morris - Morris will be gone with the draft pick of Stevan Ridley.
RB Fred Taylor - Taylor will be gone with the emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
So analyzing the free agents priority tiers in conjunction with the three day period, it's clear that the Patriots have a few players they need to get under contract as quickly as possible:
1. LG Logan Mankins
2. LT Matt Light
3. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
4. S Jarrad Page
5. CB Kyle Arrington
I don't believe that many teams will be chasing after Kevin Faulk's services, nor do I believe that he will be looking to leave New England. I also believe that Tracy White will be signed in the three day grace period, but I don't believe that he's a priority due to his position.
The Patriots are in a position to take advantage of this new deal and start moving forward while other teams scramble to create a basic roster. Hopefully, this advantage will begin in the next week.