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2016 NFL League Year Begins Today: What Can We Expect From Patriots?

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Free agency and the new league year are set to begin today. Let's take a look at what this means.

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Happy new year! Today at 4:00 p.m. ET, the NFL calendar turns another page, as the 2016 league year officially begins. For the entire league, this means the following:

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2016 on all players who have option clauses in their 2015 contracts

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2015 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit

Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2016 salary cap prior to 4 p.m. ET

All 2015 player contracts expire at 4 p.m. ET

2016 league year and free agency period begins (4 p.m. ET)

Trading period for 2016 begins (4 p.m. ET)

(per CBS)

What does this mean for the New England Patriots? Let's go through it step by step.

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2016 on all players who have option clauses in their 2015 contracts

If the Patriots want to pick up a player's contract option, they have to do so prior to the start of the new league year or the player will become an Unrestricted Free Agent and is therefore eligible to sign with any team in the league.

New England has five players with options in their contracts: Rob Gronkowski, Alan Branch, and Jerod Mayo, as well as Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, who both have an option clause in their rookie contracts.

The options of both Rob Gronkowski and Alan Branch have already been picked up prior to today. This will keep Gronkowski in Foxboro through 2019, while it also means that Branch will play out his two-year deal signed in March 2015. Jerod Mayo's option, on the other hand, will not get picked up by the team as the veteran linebacker is expected to make his already announced retirement official soon.

Under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have the ability to pick up a first round draft pick's fifth year option prior to the player's fourth year in the league. The Patriots did this in April 2015 for both 2012 first rounders Jones and Hightower. Thus, Jones' $7.799 million salary will become fully guaranteed with the start of the new league year, as will Hightower's $7.751 million salary. The Patriots can lower both cap numbers via extending the respective player.

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation

The following Patriots players are Restricted Free Agents:

OT Kevin Hughes

FB James Develin

DT Sealver Siliga

WR Brian Tyms

While we do not yet know the fate of Kevin Hughes, we do know that both Siliga and Tyms will not be tendered by the Patriots and thus become Unrestricted Free Agents at 4:00 p.m. ET. Develin, on the other hand, will reportedly sign a contract-extension with New England or at least a tender sheet.

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2015 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit

The following Patriots players are Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

OT Cameron Fleming

WR Josh Boyce

CB Justin Coleman

DE Rufus Johnson

SS Brandon King

Prior to the start of the new league year, those players can only sign contracts with the Patriots, provided they receive a minimum salary one-year offer. Otherwise, they would become Unrestricted Free Agents at 4:00 p.m.. Expect all players to receive such an offer today, as all but Johnson will reportedly return to New England in 2016.

For more information on the ERFA-process, look at this blog post by patscap.com's Miguel Benzan.

Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2016 salary cap prior to 4 p.m. ET


The 2016 salary cap has been set at $155.27 million. All clubs have to be under this number by the start of the new league year. Right now, according to Miguel, the Patriots are under the cap by about $16.9 million, a number that includes picking up Gronkowski's and Branch's contract options, as well as Jerod Mayo's retirment but not the extension signed by Tom Brady on February 29.

Top-51 means that only a team's top 51 contracts count against the salary cap.

All 2015 player contracts expire at 4 p.m. ET


We and all Patriots players under contract are on to 2016. The rest is set to hit free agency:

RB LeGarrette Blount

CB Tarell Brown

SS Nate Ebner

WR Brandon Gibson

DT Akiem Hicks

RB Steven Jackson

OG Ryan Wendell

SS Tavon Wilson

LB Dekoda Watson


2016 league year and free agency period begins (4 p.m. ET)


The free agency frenzy begins as teams can officially offer contracts that players are officially allowed to sign; something both parties were prohibited to do even during the "legal tampering period".

Trading period for 2016 begins (4 p.m. ET)


Do not expect a lot of trades happen today (if any). This is something that becomes more common the closer we get to the NFL Draft.

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Today will be a busy day. Make sure to check Pats Pulpit regularly to stay informed.