Every so often a reporter asks head coach Bill Belichick a question that allows the Patriots head honcho to go on a riff about some topic that most people would find boring. I love it.
An intrepid Eagles writer asked Belichick whether or not the development of defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon led the Patriots to feel comfortable letting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner walk in free agency.
Belichick didn't disappoint (emphasis added).
"I think in the overall management of your team, players that are on rookie contracts, their costs are relatively fixed, so for the most part there are not a lot of major salary cap implications with those players, at least until the first-round guys get into that fifth option year.
"If a player is not in that situation, the cap implication as a percentage of the overall cap is relatively small, so I don't think that's a big overriding factor. If you can't afford those guys, then you've got a lot of problems.
"When you start signing veteran free agents, like some of the players that you mentioned, then what that gets into, what the commitment is and all the other things that go into it, the whole UFA negotiation because there are other teams involved and so forth, that becomes really a lot different matter.
"I don't think it's about, whether you have a player who is in a rookie contract on your team, I think those negotiations are much more influenced by the negotiation itself or what your other options are with that contract or with that level of contract, what other players you could get for comparable contracts. I don't really see those two roads coming very close together. I think they're pretty separate."
Essentially, Belichick is saying that the decision to let Revis and Browner walk was less about the team feeling comfortable with the depth on the roster, and more about whether or not the money going to Revis and Browner could be better spent elsewhere.
The answer is a resounding yes. While Revis is getting paid $17 million by the Jets in 2016, the Patriots will probably be able to sign both star linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower for $17 million combined. Also factor in that pass rusher Chandler Jones will need a payday and cornerback Malcolm Butler can be extended alongside Collins at the end of the 2015 season.
Just this past offseason, the Patriots were able to sign edge defender Jabaal Sheard for roughly the same amount of money that Browner received from the New Orleans Saints.
So would you rather have the 31-year-old Revis and 32-year-old Browner in 2016, or how about long term extensions for the 26-year-old Chandler Jones, 26-year-old Jamie Collins, and 26-year-old Dont'a Hightower?
The decision to let Revis and Browner walk wasn't really about the comfort of knowing Butler was on the depth chart. It's that the value of keeping the Patriots defensive core together is far greater than retaining a pair of aging cornerbacks.