With news breaking today that the NFL Lockout is officially over, teams and media alike have had a chance to look at some of the basic premises of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Under the new CBA, the salary cap will be set at $120.375 million. In 2011, the salary floor will be 99% of the cap. In subsequent years, that number will drop, with 89% being the magic number between 2013 and 2020. Teams can also "borrow" $6.5 million in future salary cap money to pay for veterans. This means that if teams want, they can essentially "stretch" the salary cap to close to $127 million in 2011.
Where do the Patriots stand in all of this?
According to agent JR Rickert, the Patriots are projected to be $7 million under the salary cap in 2011. The site PatsCap.com has the Patriots projected with about $8 million in cap room.
Of course, part of that space is going to be dedicated to signing undrafted free agents as well as the team's own draftees. However, it looks fairly certain that the team should have a decent amount of wiggle room to work with when it comes to free agency, whether the team wants to sign someone from the outside or bring back one of their own.
In addition, there is always the possibility that the Patriots let go of someone for salary cap reasons. There are several candidates here, including Nick Kaczur, James Sanders, Tully Banta-Cain, and possibly Leigh Bodden or Ty Warren. While I don't expect the latter four to be cut, Kaczur could be in considerable risk, considering he would save the team over $3 million if released. His future is likely tied to that of fellow tackle Matt Light, who is an unrestricted free agent. I could envision a scenario where Light walks, Kaczur is released but then comes back at a lower price as insurance for rookie Nate Solder (with Sebastian Vollmer having the ability to flip over to the left side).
The team could also save money by coming to a long term agreement with Logan Mankins. Currently, Mankins is scheduled to make over $10 million under the franchise tag designation. A contract extension worth an annual average of $7-$8 million that is backloaded could save the team money in the short term and allow the team more cap flexibility.
In the grand scheme of things, the Patriots find themselves in a very enviable position heading into 2011. Unlike many contenders, they have a significant amount of cap room which they can use to further improve their team. In addition, the fact that the team only has one significant unrestricted free agent (Matt Light) means that the process of building camaraderie and chemistry will be that much easier for the team.