1. Per USA Today's Tom Pelissero, the NFL is expected to raise the salary cap to $155.27 million, an increase of $12 million over the 2015 salary cap of $143.28 million. That's a lot of cash and it marks the 2nd largest increase in cap space in NFL history (the first cap not included).
The largest was between 2005 and 2006 when the cap increased $16.5 million on the heels of an extended Collective Bargaining Agreement that increased revenue sharing among big- and small-market teams, with a greater share of team revenues going to the players. This one one of the last acts by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue before leaving the office.
2. What does this mean for the Patriots? Per Miguel from PatsCap.com, the Patriots are now sitting with $13.6 million in cap space. While it might sound like a good amount, the cap space ranks in the bottom ten of the league per Spotrac. A few obvious moves with Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Marcus Cannon, and a few others could help double the available cap space, moving the team towards the league average.
But ultimately it means that the Patriots aren't in a place to be big spenders in free agency, other than by providing contract extensions to those already in-house. Extensions for the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, and Jamie Collins should be considered a win this offseason. Maybe there will be enough left over for Akiem Hicks.
3. It looks like the fact that the owners were found hiding revenue from the players helped boost the cap by ~$2 million.
4. With so much depth at defensive tackle in both the draft and in free agency, I have a hard time seeing the Patriots paying more than necessary for Hicks. Anything beyond what the Patriots would pay for Hicks would likely result in a 5th round compensatory pick in the 2017 draft, and those picks are expected to be tradeable. There's plenty of value in that pick.
Of course, if you asked me if I'd trade a 5th round pick, I'd say "heck yes" and not even check his contract. I think Hicks is going to elevate his play to new heights next year if he remains with the Patriots. He, Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Sheard, Jones, Hightower, and Collins would form one of the best defensive front sixes in the entire league.
5. The more I look at the team, the more I think the only change in the Patriots offensive line will be the addition of a young tackle in the 2nd or 3rd round to take the place of Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle in the depth chart. I think Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson, Bryan Stork, and David Andrews will all return and join that rookie.
Andrews was the only player not going through a serious injury last season, and Kline, Mason, Jackson, Stork, and Andrews all will benefit from experience in 2015.
A Solder-Kline-Stork-Mason-Vollmer line is probably the ideal unit if everyone is healthy, with the young rookie tackle being groomed to eventually take over for Vollmer.
It might be hard to watch the same group take the field next year, but that's just my gut feeling.