The Patriots top two priorities this off-season involve signing defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty to extensions. Revis is eating up too much cap space, while McCourty is a key player and a free agent.
Another priority seems to have surfaced: New England needs to spend a lot of cash, right now. Part of the new CBA requires teams to spend 89.0% of their salary cap in cash over a four-year span of time from 2013-2016; the NFLPA negotiated this factor to prevent teams from structuring contracts to keep money out of the hands of the players.
The Patriots are one of ten teams to fall below the 89.0% threshold, sitting at 82.7%. In order to meet the minimum requirements, they'll have to spend roughly 95.3% of the salary cap in upfront cash in each of the next two seasons.
Should the Patriots not meet the cash minimum, they'll be required to pay the difference in cash to the NFLPA, for the union to disperse to the players.
Fortunately, this need for immediate payment can be addressed with signing bonuses. Hypothetically, the Patriots could offer McCourty a $20 million signing bonus as part of a 5 year deal. The Patriots would be able to put $20 million on the books as cash payment in 2015, but the cap hit for this structure would be a $4 million hit for each season of McCourty's contract.
Essentially, the Patriots have an incentive to pay both McCourty and Revis with cash up front for the next two seasons, to meet the cash spending floor, while the remainder of their contract can take a different structure.
Of course, teams must spend another 89.0% of their cap between 2017-2020, so this is something New England will have to address again, some point down the road.