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Previewing Potential New England Patriots Salary Cap Casualties

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The Patriots can create considerable cap space by releasing or restructuring the following players.

Falling out of favor?
Falling out of favor?
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2016 offseason, the New England Patriots are in good shape: virtually every important member of this year’s 12-4 squad will return next season as the team’s biggest free agent is defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who was acquired via trade midway through the regular season.

This means that New England’s front office can concentrate on keeping its defensive core intact. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Malcolm Butler have become the cornerstones of a young and very talented unit. One, the team needs to keep intact as long as possible.

In order to do so – and to possibly upgrade other positions via free agency – the team needs money. Currently, with the 2016 salary cap expected to be at around $154 million, the Patriots have $5.6 million to operate. While this number does not look like a lot, the team can easily create more cap space by releasing or restructuring some of its players.

Let’s take a look at those potential cap casualties (all numbers via patscap.com, the best source for Patriots salary cap information):

LB Jerod Mayo (age on 2016 opening day: 30)

2016 cap number: $11,400,000
2016 cap savings: $6,400,000

New England can more than double its current cap space by simply not picking up Mayo’s $4 million roster bonus option on March 9. While the soon-to-be 30-year old has been one of the best linebackers early in his career and it is a locker room leader, injuries have taken its toll lately: Mayo ended each one of his last three seasons on injured reserve. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the team captain won’t be back in 2016 – at least at his current price.

WR Danny Amendola (30)

2016 cap number: $6,804,166
2016 cap savings: $3,545,832

Last year – after an inconsistent regular season but a very good postseason – Amendola restructured the contract he originally signed with the Patriots in 2013. However, entering the 2016 offseason, he is still scheduled to be New England’s highest paid offensive skill position player. The Patriots can save a considerable amount of money by cutting the 30-year old prior to June 2, but would be left without one of their most productive 2015 offensive weapons. Therefore, another restructure would not be a surprise.

OT Sebastian Vollmer (32)

2016 cap number: $5,208,834
2016 cap savings: $2,525,000

Ever since being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, Vollmer has been one of the better right tackles in the league. However, with him getting up there in age and the entire offensive line struggling in 2015, Vollmer might be a cap casualty because of the $2.5 million the team would save by cutting or trading him. With no replacement currently in sight, though, a restructure might be the most realistic option.

OT Marcus Cannon (28)

2016 cap number: $4,754,168
2016 cap savings: $3,250,000

If this season showed one thing, it is that Marcus Cannon is no starting-caliber tackle. However, he is a valuable back-up, having played considerable snaps in place of an injured starter in both 2013 and 2015. Is he worth $4.8 million, though? Probably not. Therefore, the team has to decide whether to let Cannon go or restructure his contract.

WR Brandon LaFell (29)

2016 cap number: $3,675,000
2016 cap savings: $2,500,000

After spending the first five weeks of his 2016 campaign on the physically unable to perform list, LaFell returned and had a disappointing season after a very good first year with the team in 2014. While we do not know the extent of the injury and how much it led to the 29-year old struggling, we do know that his cap hit might be too high for the team’s liking – especially, considering that Keshawn Martin, who leapfrogged LaFell on the depth chart late in the year, costs around $2 million less.

TE Scott Chandler (31)

2016 cap number: $3,050,000
2016 cap savings: $1,525,000

LaFell was not the only pass catcher to disappoint in 2015: after a promising offseason, Scott Chandler did too. Inconsistent performances led to the tight end’s inconsistent playing time, which in turn might lead to Chandler finding himself out of job soon. Unless the team believes that he could turn the corner and become a valuable number two tight end, Chandler’s tenure in Foxboro might be over after only one season.

DT Alan Branch (31)

2016 cap number: $2,750,000
2016 cap savings: $1,800,000

Just like Jerod Mayo, Alan Branch has a roster bonus due on March 9. While his bonus is only $800,000, there is a chance that the Patriots do not pick it up to ultimately save $1.8 million against the cap. With a young and talented core at the defensive tackle position, the team might rather spend the money to retain free agent Akiem Hicks, who is five years younger than Branch.

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Releasing or restructuring the players above is not the only way to create cap space. The team can also get more money via extending Chandler Jones and/or Dont'a Hightower, who currently have 2016 cap hits of $7,799,000 and $7,751,000, respectively. Any contract extensions would probably lower those numbers – and in turn create more cap space for the Patriots.