Rob Ninkovich, Julian Edelman, Stephen Gostkowski. When ranked by their 2016 salary cap hits, the three veterans come in 12th, 13th and 14th. All three are vital members of the New England Patriots, providing veteran presence, leadership and playmaking ability on defense, offense and special teams.
The same can not be said about the man ranked just above the three on the list: offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.
Cannon's 2016 cap hit is $4.75 million as the 27-year old enters the final season of his contract. The offensive tackle signed said contract in December 2014 and as a consequence will get a $3.4 million salary this season, plus $1.07 million in signing bonus proration, a $187,500 roster bonus and a $100,000 likely to be earned weight clause bonus. Of those numbers, only the signing bonus is guaranteed, which could lead the Patriots' front office to ask the following question.
Is Marcus Cannon, backup tackle, worth a cap number of $4.75 million?
It is certainly possible that the team answers this question with "yes". After all, Cannon is number three on New England's offensive tackle depth chart and has appeared in 65 games (an average of 13 per season) since getting drafted by the team in 2011. Furthermore, he is a versatile swing-tackle, having started games at both tackle spots (16 overall) as well as at left guard (3 in early 2014). Most importantly, though, Cannon has the support of the man who was responsible for drafting him; the man who will "very likely" become the Patriots' new offensive line coach: Dante Scarnecchia.
While those points cannot be left out when evaluating Cannon's worth, his on-field performance cannot be ignored either. When asked to start, the veteran struggled mightily in both 2014 and 2015. How much of a factor his toe injury was this year is only known by the team but he was plagued by the same issues ever since 2013: being unable to sustain blocks while not showing fluent moving skills. If the coaching staff deems those errors as correctable, Cannon could be back next season. Given his performance, probably not at his current price, though.
Putting all this into account, what are the Patriots' options to lower Cannon's cap hit?
New England could choose to simply cut the offensive tackle, which would result in a relatively modest dead-money cap hit of "only" $1.07 million (the signing bonus proration). Because Cannon does not have an option bonus in his contract, the team could release him anytime it wants and the cap hit would change just slightly because of the installments in which his $100,000 weight clause will be paid ($30,000 in April, $35,000 in June, $35,000 in July). No matter when the team opts to release Cannon prior to the start of the regular season, the move would create more than $3.0 million in cap space.
Those numbers would also be the same if the team is willing and able to trade Cannon. However, because he enters the final year of his contract and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017, the chances of a team giving up a draft pick for the 27-year old are rather slim. The most plausible trade-scenario would therefore be be a player-for-player swap.
If the Patriots decide to keep Cannon, they have only one realistic option to lower his $4.75 million cap hit: an extension. Given his recent performances, such a move would be a surprise, but it would not be from a team management perspective – especially if the coaching staff believes that Cannon is able to bounce back under a new offensive line coach – because of the following reasons: starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be 32 years old next season (and has only played 16 games once, 2010), starting left tackle Nate Solder is coming off a season-ending injury, and no other viable and/or proven backup tackles are currently on the roster.
Of course, this scenario is influenced by a) the free agent offensive tackles, b) the potential the coaching staff sees in LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming and c) the 2016 draft class. If the team is satisfied by putting its trust in one of those factors, the chances of an extension for Cannon decrease – but they do not disappear. After all, the team could keep a known commodity in the fold for the foreseeable future while also lowering the tackle's 2016 cap number. It all depends on how the Patriots evaluate Cannon and his potential for growth.
As can be seen, New England's front office has various options when it comes to approaching Marcus Cannon and his current contract, ranging from a release to a trade to even an extension.
If you were the Patriots, what would you do with the offensive tackle?